Education & power

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Haider Khan:

EDUCATION is commonly thought to be a social good, and by some, considered a cure, or solution. Education, we are told, can be the driver of social change, create economic growth, and promises social mobility.
A year, I spent with unemployed university graduates in Lahore paints a different picture of what education means in Pakistan today.

The experience of being highly educated and unemployed should make us question some of the received wisdom, and to recognize the significance of social status. It also begs the question: what is the problem to which education is considered the solution?
International advocates including Gordon Brown and Michael Barber have referred to the transformational capability of education. For them, Pakistan is in need of development and education is the means to achieving that end. The World Bank views education as a crucial ingredient for economic growth, capable of reducing poverty. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai argues that education is a harbinger of a bright future.

Local politicians echo some of these sentiments, highlighting the potential shift to a ‘knowledge economy’. Other local advocates, who have a more nuanced view, see an education crisis, involving 25 million children between the ages of five and 16 years estimated to be out of school in Pakistan. But what we all have in common is an unquestioning belief in the economic and emancipatory power of education. Or do we?

Some unemployed graduates see education differently. While there is a strong faith in the cognitive abilities granted by further studies, there is a view that education is part of a strategy of securing a job along with status in a highly competitive environment. Thus, while learning is not unimportant, it gets lost in the quest for high marks, for employment, and for prestige. I began to understand that the other part of the education strategy involves applying for government jobs, which in turn means that test scores and qualifications are the key instruments in the race. In a way, this tightly competitive scramble is driven by the quest for prestige, a stable income, and perks and privileges.

The significance of education in this race may have something to do with the nature of the competition. Over 23, 403 candidates had applied for the CSS competitive examination 2019, of the 14, 521 appeared and only 372 cleared the written exam. The pass percentage of the appeared candidates was 2.56 percent. This crushing competition should be seen in the context of an increasingly educated labour force.
Estimates by the State Bank of Pakistan indicate that two million individuals enter the labor force annually. The Higher Education Commission statistics indicate that more than half of those entrants may have a university degree.
In light of these demographic and economic pressures, what does education mean today? What the two different conceptions of education share are the belief that attaining an education enables social mobility. But where the two different perspectives diverge reveals the way education falls short of the great expectations it cultivates. This gap illustrates how education is deeply connected to a system of status and power.

For young men with degrees but without jobs, that system positions people in government hierarchies and redirects highly trained professionals including engineers and doctors towards the elite bureaucracy. But without contacts, guidance, mentoring, and above all, power, education becomes a limited springboard for their aspiration of joining another class.
This experience confirms what other studies have shown in other parts of the world, as access to education…

The author is currently serving as an assistant focal person in education department at civil secretariat Quetta. 

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