Basic Education and Primary Healthcare

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 Basic Education and Primary Healthcare

School health service should be re-started providing preventive
measures, health promotion, early diagnosis and early treatment

Lt. Gen. Prof. Emeritus Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar
Former Surgeon General/ DGMS (IS), Pakistan Army

Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Shabaz Sharif has recently stated that education is the key to progress of the Nation in every field and endeavor. He has quoted Quaid- e- Azam saying “Education is a matter of life and death for our nation” also stated most importantly “quality education is a great equalizer between the haves and have not’s as it provides opportunities to the underprivileged section of the society for upward socio economics mobility”. In the milieu we live in, plagued as it is by radicalism and extremisms, seats of higher learning can be bulwark against such evil. He has stressed on higher education (university), blamed falling standard of higher education for all the ills. He declared that in spite of spending billions on the higher education, our universities have been ranked amongst the worst bottom of the scale.

In this context I would state that the Basic education matters the most. The education of a child starts in the lap of a mother. If the girls are healthy and educated, healthy babies will be born with well-developed brains i.e. the very basis i.e. foundation of good education will be laid- otherwise it would be poor and faulty. To achieve this girls should be fed well which is unfortunately not done, male children and adults get preferences. It is well known adage that if a mother is educated the whole family becomes educated. If a mother earns she spends over 80% of her earnings on the children. Nutrition of children in early age is important. It is in the first three years that the brain is developed in every way cognitive, motor sensory etc. It has been estimated that over 45% of our children in Pakistan are suffering from malnutrition- major deficiencies are in Iron, Vitamin A and D, Iodine etc. which can be ameliorated by supplementing our basic staple diets without any extra cost. Children suffering from malnutrition develop stunning of growth physically and mentally- the matter is serious as it leads to permanently damaged brains, jeopardizing not only their future but of the nation. This can easily be remedied by providing balanced diet in the school, not costing much, by creating awareness and health education right from the beginning in the schools and in communities through media. There should be school health service providing preventive measures, health promotion and early diagnosis and early treatment. This was available during the British governance- sadly not now.

The most important period of child’s future development is the first three years of life followed by education at primary and secondary level- i.e. first five years and then next five years. If the foundation is sound, the outcome would be excellent. Pakistan’s debacle in the higher education (university) is due to poor foundation. Taking as an example professor Abdul Salam had earlier education at Jhang in 40s- the most backward area at that time but the quality of the British governance was so good that children getting education at the ordinary public school (called topiaries) had the same opportunities to reach the highest positions as the students of the most elitist schools. Dr Abdul Salam not only topped the Punjab matriculation examination (at that time university qualification) but broke all the records. Likewise Allama Iqbal, Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Mr. Gandhi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ch. Muhammad Ali and a large number of academicians’ teachers, doctors, engineers, military officers, corporate executives, studying in the public schools etc. rose to the highest ranks. This is well reflected in the autobiography of Gen. Mahmud ul Hassan an eminent surgeon/ poet of Pakistan, published in the Pulse International August 15-31st 2016. During the British era in the Govt. Public Schools, in the same class children of higher officials like Judges,Bbureaucrats, Business men, public figures used to study in the classes alongside children of poor people like Naib Qasids, Railway Coolies etc. Sadly this is not the case now in a country titled the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.

For quality education the most important factor is the quality of the teacher. A teacher should be well qualified, well paid/ respected, should undergo training, professional courses, continuous assessment, appraisal of work and improvement. At present this is not the case. The teacher is neither well paid, nor respected, provided good status nor training/ professional courses. There is no reliable system for assessment, promotion, incentives etc. which should be done. In 1961 the British Queen and the Duke of Edinburg visited Pakistan. There were children well coming the royal couple at the airport. The Duke asked children one by one about the children’s future career aspirations. The children answered by wishing to be a pilots, Army/ naval officers, civil servants, police officers, business owners etc. - none for the profession of teaching. The Duke addressed President Ayub saying “Mr. President you are in trouble- none wants to be a teacher”. So after over 50 years Pakistan is in massive trouble all around. Following teachers reforms, there is a dire need to have proper infra-structure, well ventilated rooms, fans, proper sanitation, boundary walls, potable water/ wash rooms which are not available at a large number of schools repelling students particularly females. Well-equipped libraries and laboratories are essential which are not there. Priority is given to the luxurious projects like metro, orange line etc. serving a small segment of population.

Curriculum and syllabi need periodic review, updating, changing which is not being done. Mr. Shahbaz Sharif’s assertion that curriculum/ syllabi changes be carried at the university level will not resources/ efforts serve the efforts. We need to remove hate material, bigotry right from the beginning and replace it with humanitarianism, interfaith harmony- condemnation of the prevalent culture of hero worshiping of invaders.

Basic health and basic education are fundamental human rights and equally important is equity i.e. equal opportunities for everyone. Unfortunately in Pakistan there are multiple systems of education which should be replaced with one system which is successfully done in many countries including low income countries like Sri Lanka and others. Unfortunately Pakistan has heavily drifted towards elitism with high Gini index co-efficient with resources and opportunities concentrated in a small elite segment of population which is against the basic principles of Islam and of Pakistan’s raison deter as envisaged by the founder of Pakistan and enshrined in the constitution. Pakistan is following the unregulated exploitative capitalistic system prevalent in the USA and not the welfare democratic system in vogue in Canada, Europe (best in the Scandinavia) Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and many other progressive countries. Secondary education at the college level should receive next priority followed by the higher/ tertiary education.