Interview NEWS

American scholar on how Pakistan can compete in education on the global stage

“Education system in Pakistan is as unstable as the overall political and economic situation of the country. It is not necessarily underdeveloped or bad, it is just unstable and inconsistent,” said Adam Weinstein, an American scholar at Quincy Institute in an exclusive interview with Academia Magazine.

‘Pakistan has some of the best educational institutions in the world or the region, at least. But it has these wide gaps in education that need to be improved,’ he asserted while talking about his perspective on the education system of Pakistan.

He believes that private universities like LUMS and public universities like Quaid e Azam are as good as other universities in the world. Talking about them, he said he is impressed with the faculty and students of QAU.

However, he expressed his disappointment by stating that access to education in Pakistan is dependent upon the class you belong to. ‘Particularly, the pre-university education is inconsistent depending upon class and geography and this is where Pakistan is lagging behind the most’ he added.

The research scholar has a great interest in the foreign policy of Afghanistan and Pakistan. When asked about his research interests in Pakistan, he keenly responded, ‘Pak-US relations are dysfunctional and they have enough potential to make it interesting.’

Both of these nations without a doubt have a great potential for relations considering the history of co-dependency in security programs and multiple development programs. These relations, along with a strong foreign policy, can be affected greatly through the student exchanges that are currently happening and can be increased.

Currently, after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the region also faced a great deal of instability. Pakistan had a huge influx of immigrants and many students from Afghanistan started taking admissions to Pakistani institutes. This is definitely a great step to accommodate these students, but does Pakistan have enough resources for that? Adam Weinstein stated that our government has not cared about it enough. He explained that Pakistan can take a lead from a human rights perspective to particularly supporting the education of Afghan girls who have been excluded from high school. ‘That’s a good opportunity for Pakistan to assert itself as a leader.’ he expressed.

Weinstein has also been a member of the American-Pakistan Foundation’s leadership, which he thinks is working effectively bridging the gap between the youth of both the countries by providing opportunities like fellowships and scholarship programs to Pakistani students.

Thousands of Pakistani students are currently studying in the US. Some are studying on scholarships and exchange programs and others are self-supporting their studies by working there. Weinstein spoke about the keen interest among Pakistani students to acquire higher education in the US. ‘There is immense potential in the exchange programs. Pakistani students go to the US and study at elite institutions and the American population is exposed to them in a way it has never been before.’

He smiled as he said, ‘You see the vlogging videos. Those do nothing. These exchanges do something.’ Moreover, he thinks that Pakistan needs to develop to increase these exchanges to Pakistan too.

He is of the view that the students from the US and Europe should also study in Pakistan.

Do we have enough resources or a good infrastructure to offer international students from countries like the US some exchange programs? Weinstein believes that this is indeed possible, and that Pakistan has a lot to offer to these students. ‘It can be a six months exchange. The students can study language, climate research, research related to irrigation, water tables, and other agriculture programs,’ he further added. “Pakistan is faced with issues like climate change, drought issues, irrigation, air quality, etc. It should be selling itself for these issues, he stated.

But does Pakistan have enough resources for an endeavor like this? “Funds for this can be generated by requesting investments from private investors or international bodies.”

When asked about the resources Weinstein said, ‘It does not have to be detrimental if you do it in a more intelligent way by seeking funding from the UK, US, UN, and the private philanthropists.’

This won’t be the first time a third world country will offer exchange programs to international students. India is an example of one such country.

The scholar raised the question as to why people are studying Urdu in Lucknow and not in Karachi or Lahore.

‘Pakistan needs to create conditions for academic exchanges and must take the lead. A lot of this doesn’t have to do anything with security but just with feeling organized’, he said.

The discussion moved to analyzing the education system and the drawbacks in it. ‘Pakistan needs to have consistent high-quality education at the lower level for the younger ages that isn’t class dependent and isn’t geography dependent,’ he commented.

According to him the biggest issue facing education in Pakistan is not in the education system itself, it is in the job market.

Pakistan is developing these educated youth who have master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and PhDs, and what is waiting for them when they graduate?”, he asked.

‘No society can remain healthy if they have an educated young population that has no prospects. That is a recipe for disaster, it is a recipe for political unrest, and it is a recipe for dissatisfaction’, Weinstein asserted.

What happens to the talented people who graduate with a high skill set but are not welcomed by the market because there are not enough avenues where they can apply their skills and earn? The result is brain drain which is what Pakistan is currently facing. The brightest people want to get out of this country. They go to get master’s degrees and never come back. Do they not like living in Pakistan? Talking about this issue Adam said, ‘This should be considered almost a national security crisis for Pakistan to have this kind of brain drain.’ He is of the view that the state should create incentives for youth emergently because there needs to be a payoff for education.

Another important concern to Pakistan is to earn a place in the global knowledge economy. But why is Pakistan lagging in the knowledge-based economy? Pakistani students either want to be bureaucrats or leave for another country where there are better prospects.

‘This situation is not good for business. Without indigenizing its education, it makes Pakistanis go abroad and never come back. It should allow them to flourish in Pakistan. The Pakistani education system needs to have value in and of itself inside the country. It should not be seen as a pathway out of Pakistan.’ he emphasized.

Moreover, there is a huge British influence on the curriculum or the overall education of Pakistan. ‘Students are studying for British tests and you have to think if that is what the education system should be focused on. All of this money and all of this focus is going to a UK-based test, how does it even make sense.’ Adam examined while cross-questioning the situation.

When asked where does he see the women in the education system of Pakistan, he was more hopeful, excited, and satisfied than anyone in the country itself. He believes that Pakistani women are everywhere in the government. “They have and are serving as the Prime Minister, ambassadors to the UN, in foreign services, leaders in political parties, and the military.” he added.

According to Adam, Pakistani women are quite educated and a part of public life. ‘This is what Pakistan should be proud of but it doesn’t brag about it enough. Pakistan should be talking about it all the time but they don’t’ he expressed.

He concluded the interview commenting on an important problem but with a positive statement, ‘Freedom in Pakistan depends upon where you are and who your relatives are. That could be improved but Pakistan should be proud of what it has achieved thus far.”

Related: NED to complete 100-year academic journey by this year: Prof Lodi


NED to complete 100 year academic journey by this year: Prof Lodi

“The State Bank of Pakistan will issue 50 thousand commemorative coins to mark the 100 year academic journey of the NED University of Engineering and Technology (NEDUET) on 1st July 2021. However, owing to the ongoing wave of the Covid-19, the NEDUET might have to postpone the 100-year celebration”, says Dr Lodi, in an exclusive interview with The Academia Magazine.

The NEDUET Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr. Sarosh Hashmat Lodi asserts that the NED alumni and teachers gathered in 2019 on-campus to plan the celebration of the varsity’s 100 year academic journey. During the meeting, it was decided that faculty members and alumni would collect donations as well as concerned authorities would be contacted to make this historic occasion memorable.

Prof Lodi informs that earlier this year, the varsity approached the federal secretary of science and technology requesting him to assist the varsity in issuing commemorative coins on the completion of 100-year of NED.

“The secretary forwarded our application to the Pakistan Mint Lahore. Later, the concerned official asked the administration of NED for a final design of the coin.  After sending the final design the federal cabinet approved that the State Bank of Pakistan would issue 50 thousand commemorative coins on July 1, 2021”., he further states.

Prof Lodi also mentions that the varsity is in contact with Pakistan Post so that a commemorative postage stamp could be printed to mark the 100 years of NED. “We have received a very positive response from the officials of the Pakistan Post. We have already sent our final design to the officials concerned for approval. It is expected that Pakistan Post will approve the postage”, he adds.

According to Prof Lodi, they haven’t yet mentioned the value of the postage and the date of issuance. “It is a polished design. The Government of Pakistan will decide the value of the postage. I think it will be Rs. 20”, he expresses.

NED 100 year journey

Expressing his concerns about the current wave of Covid-19, Prof Lodi says: “It seems that we won’t be able to celebrate this historic of NEDUET. However, if the situation improves, we would hold a 100-year celebration of the varsity in December 2021”

Speaking about academic activities, he says that NEDUET has shifted to classes online. “The varsity is conducting regular online classes. However, the fact is that the quality of teaching has been comprised.”, he claims.

According to Prof Lodi, the NEDUET had started its academic journey from training a group of students as civil engineers for the construction of Sukkur Barrage. In 2021, when the Prince of Wales visited Karachi on behalf of his father King George V, the foundation of the college was also laid.

Initially, the college was named as Wales the Prince Engineering College to mark the visit. By August 29, 1921, the college enrolled around 50 students and meanwhile applied for affiliation with Bombay University.

Bombay University rejected the application on grounds of insufficient funding and lack of facilities. But, Puribai, Becharbai Trust, Vishandas Fatehchand Brothers and Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw contributed huge donations to construct a new building for the college.

Later on, the Prince of Wales Engineering College was renamed in memory of Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw (NED), the eldest son of the college building’s landowner and philanthropist, Seth Edulji Dinshaw for his hefty amount of donation to the college’s fund. Finally, Bombay University provisionally awarded affiliation to the college on May 23, 1923. After the partition, the college was affiliated with the University of Karachi in 1951.

In 1964, the college administration made a plan to shift the college from Strachan Road, which is a congested downtown area of Karachi, to its present location, adjoining the KU. In 1975, NED College was moved to the new campus. The old campus is now a protected heritage site. On March 1, 1977, the Sindh government through NED University of Engineering and Technology Act promoted the college to a university. Since then, the varsity has been producing engineers who play their role in the development of the country.

E Magazine Interview Issue 10 January 2020

Baela Raza Jamil: At War With Illiteracy


If there is one person who knows education in Pakistan like the back of one’s hand, it is Baela Raza Jamil. Cutting a towering figure, she has been a leading voice calling for educational reforms and has led the movement from the front with various policy suggestions, frameworks and research. Sehrish Khan talks to Baela about many things education and what Pakistan needs to be doing to get its educational act sorted.

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Considering your immense exposure to and experience with the education sector in Pakistan, where do you think the fault lines lie? Are we bidding at teaching, have a sub-par curriculum or do we simply do not regard education the way the world does?

Baela Raza Jamil: We are bad at teaching, by and large, and you can read some excellent reports on the subject. Our curriculum is sub-par too, it’s 13 Years old and badly in need of revision, including textbooks, teacher prep and training, pedagogy and assessment system for sure. The problem is seen as that we simply do not regard education as the world does. Education is not a part of any national/provincial agenda – political or economic. If it was, you would not have such a sub-par budget consistently and even more sub-par spending. Even more troubling is the sub-par state of affairs of post primary opportunities and facilities. Our education system is designed for ‘push outs’ and low learning. It is shocking to think that it is not a national priority, despite being a fundamental constitutional right.

At present, around 23 million children are out of school. How do you think this crippling national disease should be approached by the state and the people?

Baela Raza Jamil: This is indeed shameful and needs to be addressed firmly with results in the shortest period of time, I would say 5-7 years as an all-out effort. At Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi, we have some great solutions for OOSC and second chance learning (Chalo Parho Barho/CPB and Siyani Sahelian) that have been tested. CPB has huge potential but the government is not taking this seriously. Files keep moving from table to table as we cannot sort out ‘procurement and PPRA rules”. After all, the OOSC is the government’s responsibility, not its development partners’. 

The uniform curriculum debate concerns only 3-4% of population – the 2% students in Madrassas and just over 1% that use O/A levels/American and IB curriculum – the remaining 96-97% use the National Curriculum 2006. How much more uniform can we get?

For some time now, there has been talk of a uniform curriculum in the entire country. How do you weigh the idea?

Baela Raza Jamil: I am confused and also appalled. It is essentially an issue of 3-4% population of the country – just 2% of students in Madrassas use the Islamic curriculum and just over 1% use the elitist O/A levels/American and IB curriculum – the remaining 96-97% use the National Curriculum 2006. How much more uniform can we get? Having said that, I think the 

  1. The NC 2006 needs to be revised as it has been 13 years since its revision. Unlike Tertiary Education, the basic /school education curriculum is not revised on a rolling basis every 5 years. No one seems to know why. So there is an urgency to revise it for the right reasons and for the 4th industrial revolution, 21st century reasons, AI/etc. 
  2. The challenge is to ensure that the National Curriculum gets to the teachers, headteachers, schools, citizens, assessors, textbook writers and training institutions so that the right pedagogies are transacted and the right assessments are constructed. Our disconnect is with curriculum and textbooks, training pedagogy and assessment. Who will bridge that disconnect? How will the most vulnerable be ensured quality learning? How will those excluded be included in the learning business? These are the billion-dollar questions that need answering. We are not talking about such real issues, only what is essentially politically attractive. Let us get our metrics and basics right. Faisal Bari also wrote about this in Dawn. I am, mercifully, not the lone voice. 
We have also been hearing about going back to teaching in Urdu? What do think will cut the mustard, Urdu or actually devising curriculum based on myriad regional languages that Pakistan is blessed with? 

Baela Raza Jamil: I think the discussion is underway in Punjab because of what was shared with authorities several years back by many of us. We explained that English medium did not make sense when teachers in both public and private sector did not have the skills, besides children losing out on a language of communication. We need clear policies in this regard. In the NEP 2009, the issue of medium of instruction is seen as ‘equity’, with suggestions that early years or up to primary, the medium of instruction should be in mother tongue /Urdu with English added as a subject at some point, then moving on to a mix of language in Post-Secondary with English being used for Science and Math and of course, English. Sindh has Sindhi medium, KP remains confused on language. Teachers are most comfortable with Pashto as the language in classroom, but Urdu as a medium for examinations. Punjab refuses to embrace Punjabi at any level- making its children most unhappy emotionally. This decision has stuck since colonial times – and a language has been rendered an orphan.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has brought some key aspects to light over the years. Do you feel the exceptional work done has led to some real-time efforts on the ground? 

Baela Raza Jamil: ASER Pakistan (2010-2019) is the most benchmarked report on learning in Pakistan. It has brought attention to the centrality of ‘learning’ provincially, nationally and globally. Today education is only related to learning and the World Bank has used two of our metrics on citizen-led assessment in their concept of “Learning Poverty” or the number of 10-year-olds out of school and not learning and those in school and learning. The Punjab Government, and now other provincial governments, are using the instruments of ASER for Learning & Numeracy Drives (LND) on tablets etc. TCF and many other organizations nationwide are using ASER Tool. The low primary indicator on learning (ASER) has become a Tier I indicator for SDG 4.1.1 (having earlier been thrown out by many and downgraded) It is now a rigorous indicator of learning acknowledged by the world, (we have 15 countries using this indicator and methodology) www.palnetwork.orgASER has now got disability tools (hearing/visual). It also does disability prevalence surveys of 5-16 years old (CFM Tool). From what we have found, the government must be hurrying to act, for a large number of children are enrolled in govt/private schools but the government does not know how to prepare teachers for children with disabilities! ASER is now also conducting research on early years too (Feb/March 2020) – it is a great methodology for finding out fast about the learning crisis, and an even faster way to go from Assessment to Action! Having said this, Pakistan has a long way for committing and ensuring that ALL CHILDREN LEARN! Backed by imagination and resources and the will of politicians and the people. 

A key malaise of our education system has been the continually falling pride society associated with teaching and the subsequent diminishing quality of teachers. What has led to all of this? And what is the way ahead?

Baela Raza Jamil: The teaching profession over the decades has been relegated to a second class, or a profession of last resort. We have a ‘When all else fails one becomes a teacher’ attitude. However, it is important to have a course correction in our perception. The profession has been overhauled in a big way in terms of ‘conditions and salary/pay scale’ in the public sector, where 50%-60% of the total teaching force serves (Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-19). The salary packages have improved rapidly over the past decade and a half. Teaching has become a coveted/sought after profession for 2 reasons:

a) Higher pay and 

b) Lifetime service with little possibility of being chucked out due to non-performance.

Biometrics has also improved absenteeism and attendance accountability of teachers across Pakistan, especially in Sindh. However, what still remains a dream distance is the pride taken in teaching, the passion for delivering and the excellence for transforming the lives of students. Some of this has to do with poor support for in-service training and continuous professional development. In the private sector, the salaries are driven by market rates and also the owners/management, but their accountability and hire/fire authority remain intact, pushing the teachers to deliver (not necessarily with passion). This is the case with most of the private school spectrum – from low/no fee schools to ones charging the highest fee. So, all in all, I do not agree with this perception of “continually falling pride society associates with teaching and the subsequent diminishing quality of teachers”. I think that teaching is a preferred profession for a majority now, but we do need a turn around on the cliché and also a communication strategy to upgrade the profession and showcase better results where ever they may be found due to excellence in profession. This is urgently needed in our society. This is a time of co-creating the curriculum and pedagogy in the 21st century. The possibilities for the profession are immense. 

Higher education in Pakistan has become a lucrative business and higher education become just that, a business. What measures must the state take to make private universities worth their salt?

Baela Raza Jamil: What we need is better regulation with quality assurance that can be implemented in letter and spirit by both HEC (federal and provincial). Lack of regulation and/or excessive meaningless regulations do not produce results. We also need to ensure that students are not being fleeced in a one-sided manner and there is accountability of private institutes as well students’ voice on quality of service. 

Everyone seems to agree with the idea of reviving student unions. Do you think there is a need to frame a regulatory perimeter to not make student unions become yet another pressure group that gets away with all?

Baela Raza Jamil: When there is poor governance, every freedom or fundamental freedom becomes a threat to the state. The challenge is improving overall governance where the state performs its responsibilities and society lends a hand. Currently, when you have events like we have had in universities in Mardan, Punjab, Karachi and many more where the management becomes complicit in politics and gain, unions become a threat. Yes, all unions need a regulatory framework, but more than that, they need substance of objectives and methods to achieve them constructively. Unions mean voice for social improvement, not destruction or negativity.

Our education system is designed for ‘push outs’ and low learning. It is shocking to think that it is not a national priority, despite being a fundamental constitutional right

What is the role of community in ensuring quality of education? Any success stories?

Baela Raza Jamil: There is an immense role the community can play if given the space and voice. Since 1971, the state has remained ambivalent about community being brought back. We have been on a push and pull ride over community engagement, such as through SMCs/PTAs/PTCs etc. In government schools, the community is sometimes asked to be active and other times not to be so. If community is made part of the school and its annual improvement programs, delegated as an important part of the eco system for schools, communities can deliver and there are many success stories everywhere in Pakistan at all levels. But it will only happen when the community is included for school support and school quality. People must not be dismissed as illiterate, poor and ignorant.