Friday, September 18, 2015

The Marketization of Education in Pakistan


Maryam Sakeenah

The sleek car that zoomed past sported a sticker telling passers-by that the owner was a ‘proud parent’ of a child at a certain institution. The pride of course was for the fact that this institution was exclusive to the privileged elite on account of its appallingly high tuition fee. My initial reaction was openmouthed disbelief. Eventually it sank in… the reason for the parent’s pride was not the child’s achievement or act of merit, but the fact that they could pay that outrageously high fee for a select, exclusive education. The distasteful sticker was issued, of course, by the school itself. The particular school happens to be top-notch within a system that metes out education according to buying power. It consists of schools varying in standards of education and resources according to the tuition fee rates. Such a system helps to perpetuate a rigid social stratification based on class, utterly ruining any semblance of meritocracy within which an education system truly delivers, making social mobility possible.

This is marketized education at its worst; education reduced to a commodity. It defies the idea that education is a universal birthright to better the lives of all human beings, and is an affront to egalitarian social ideals. And yet this marketization of education in urban Pakistan has been subtly under way since years, and no one batted an eyelid. Its consequences which are only beginning to show up, are nightmarish, privileging the financial elite by education, enabling them to be at the helm of positions of power and influence in the bureaucracy and industry, media and education. Those denied the privilege for their financial inability are forever condemned to menial working class positions demanding clerical servility to perpetuate the system made by and for the financial elite.

This has largely been made possible through the rise of the business executive as educator and policymaker. Graduates in business, marketing and management run administrations of educational institutions, equipped with all the clever arts of moneymaking, profiteering, competing and selling. They have never stood on the giving end of a classroom, are completely ignorant of human psychology and educational philosophy, unaware of the nuances of the complex process of learning. Trained in the art of selling for profit, they lack the vision to educate for the sake of education. They educate for business, and so function as indispensable, core elements of the commercialized private schooling system.

The great irony is when this system places the average business graduate as educational administrator over the academic, making and dictating educational policy. Such policy then is driven primarily by the profit motive. In this commercialized milieu, the educator, teacher and giver of knowledge is a worker in the system serving a clientele that generates the money. Hence the client is cosseted to perfect satisfaction for his money, and the educator slavedriven to provide that to impossible perfection. Teachers in Pakistan’s private schools continue to be heavily overworked and perpetually underpaid.    

The subjugation of the academic to the professional businessman is at the core of the marketization of education. Business graduates trained to keep up the utilitarian-capitalist economy administer the system, making policy that utterly lacks any understanding of the functions and nature of education as well as any genuine concern for social uplift, human empowerment and liberation through education. In my experience as a teacher, I have come across among most urban English-medium private schools a systematic and deliberate trend discouraging value education and traditional disciplines like oriental languages or religious studies because they have little material worth in a cutthroat economy. Students graduate with the ruinous notion that a spattering of accented English gives them the right to social superiority and is enough to sweep anyone off their feet; or that a skill at gadgetry is of highest value in landing oneself a high paying job. Their years of education often fail to humanize, enlighten and enrich them with wisdom, compassion or humility even as they sport all the paraphernalia of wealth and good taste. They are perfectly finished products of the system- cogs in the machine, and yet unable to truly live the enervating yet edifying epic struggles of human life.

In the private education system, the business graduate not only takes the fattest cheque home, he helps to keep in place the system that created him and put him over the educator, visionary and academic. The human products of marketized education are a tawdry triumph of this system that privileges a particular social class over the rest.