Every year the government of Pakistan publishes some report or the other about education. If not specifically about education, at least the Economic Survey of Pakistan, carries a chapter on education. These reports confess that the literacy rate is low, the rate of participation in education at all levels is low and the country is spending too little in this area. Then there one brave promises about the future such as the achievement of hundred percent literacy and increasing the spending on education which has been hovering around 2 percent of the GNP since 1995 to at least 4 percent and so on. Not much is done, though increases in the number of schools, universities and religious seminaries (madrassas) is recorded. The private sector mints millions of rupees and thousands of graduates throng the market not getting the jobs they aspired to. The field of education is a graveyard of these aspirations. The following indicators point grimly to where Pakistan stands in South Asia.
THE HISTORICAL LEGACY
South Asia is heir to a very ancient tradition of both formal and informal learning. These traditions varied from region to region and, more importantly, between different socio-economic classes. The very poorest people generally got no education at all while those on the upper echelons of the social hierarchy learned languages, literature, theology and a few other subjects.
According to G.W Leitner, the well known functionary of the British empire who said that the British colonial venture had ruined indigenous education in the Punjab, there were 300,000 pupils in indigenous schools before the conquest of that province in 1849 whereas in 1860-61 these numbers had come down to 60, 168 pupils (however, Leitner also has a higher figure of 120,000 pupils).2 Leitner’s report does not establish the higher figures but it is useful in that it tells us what kind of schools existed and names some of the texts taught in them.
To confine ourselves to the education of South Asian Muslims, who are in a majority in Pakistan (96.16 percent) which in the focus of this survey, there were the maktabs (Persian schools) and madrassas (Arabic Schools). As there were more Persian than Arabic schools 3 it seems that the aim of education was primarily pragmatic i.e. to equip one’s self for the business of this world rather than the other. Persian being the language of the highest domains of power---the government, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, education etc---it was necessary to learn it in order to function as munshis (clerks), muallims (teachers) and generally as a functionary of the state.
The British substituted English for Persian 4 and also introduced Urdu, the informal lingua franca of North India but one which had hitherto not been taught formally in schools by Muslim rulers, to the education system 5. This was a revolution as it created a new basis for socio-economic stratification. The very poorest people, especially those living in the peripheries, continued to remain illiterate, as there were no schools, or at least not affordable ones, where they lived. Some of them did, however, study in the madrassas which, being charitable organizations, not only charged no tuition fees but even gave free food and lodging. Working class, lower middle class, and middle class children attended the vernacular-medium schools established by the British authorities. The upper classes and children of the higher Indian officers of the British bureaucracy and military attended English-medium institutions. In short, the medium of instruction roughly corresponded to one’s position on the hierarchy of wealth and power in the state.
In the areas now comprising Pakistan, Urdu was the most commonly used medium of instruction in government schools. In the province of Sindh, However, Sindhi was also used. There were convent schools and armed forces schools for the rich and the powerful, which used English...