Democracy through education

Education is one of the most important things in today’s world, yet Pakistan’s literacy rate remains low as compared to many other countries. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) was allocated Rs 15.7 billion in the budget 2010-11 as compared to Rs 22.5 billion in the previous year. So far only Rs 1.5 billion has been released to the HEC. In view of the financial crunch following the devastating floods, the government had decided to cut development funds. Vice chancellors of 72 public sector universities had threatened to resign and close down the universities by September 20 if the government goes ahead with its proposed cuts. They also protested against blocking the 50 percent pay raise for university employees. Prime Minister Gilani has taken note of the situation and directed federal Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh to address the issue. Mr Shaikh has now constituted a six-member committee to examine the problem.

No doubt the floods have wreaked havoc all over the country and we need to do some cost-cutting but to slash the education budget and then withhold funds is highly objectionable. The government has to get its priorities straight. If it was simply a case of arithmetic, any accountant could have done that but government is not just about rupees and paisas; it is about vision and policy. Already much of Pakistan’s problems are due to lack of education. Our public sector education system has deteriorated over the years, partly because of inadequate spending on the education sector by the state. Mismanagement of the available resources and funds has further added to our educational woes. For democracy to flourish, our education system needs to be improved. Instead of overhauling the system, the state is bent upon saving money for short-term economic reasons while losing sight of long-term development goals. No country can progress if its masses are left uneducated. If this is how the government wants to run things, then it should be woken up from its deep slumber. Democratic values are imparted to the public through proper education. Without knowledge, the people of this country would remain in darkness and would not be able to understand their basic democratic rights. Without democracy, we cannot make progress.

If the government wants to do some cost-cutting, it should start with the defence budget. Pakistan spends a huge chunk of its budget on defence. We should not be spending more on buying weaponry to safeguard us against territorial enemies while the situation on the ground forces us to divert more money to the flood affectees. In the long run, Pakistan must play its part in ensuring that the region is peaceful and we maintain good ties with all our neighbours, particularly India, Afghanistan and Iran. When peace prevails in the region, there would be no need to spend so much money on buying weapons and in maintaining a large army in any case. Through diplomacy and a sound foreign policy, we can achieve this goal. In the interim period, the military should be asked to review its budget and make cuts wherever possible in the light of the floods and financial crunch. The armed forces should also not ask for ‘payment’ for their ‘services’ rendered for the flood affected victims, as they are doing. The military is often hailed as the country’s ‘saviour’. It should not disappoint the country in this hour of need. It should show its support to the government by functioning as a part of it instead of coming across as a state within the state.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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