Pakistan has recently been ranked 2nd in the world in the number of out-of-school children, estimated to be 22.6 million. Pakistan has the world’s lowest literacy rate, which is only 58%. Moreover, according to UNICEF, Pakistan also has the world’s lowest expenditure on education, only 2.8% of its GDP in 2022. Problems such as poor curricula and teacher training are other significant factors making the situation even worse, along with poor infrastructure and facilities for students and teachers, etc. Gender inequality is another major issue, with girls being particularly disadvantaged in Pakistan, having significantly lower enrolment rates and higher dropout rates than boys.
Pakistan has a patriarchal society that considers it normal to give preference to male children over female children, resulting in lower enrolment of girls in schools. Only a very small fraction of the female population can reach higher standards of education.
These and other related problems were discussed in a consultation session jointly organised by Ibtidah for Education and Shaheed Bhutto Foundation at SZABIST (Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science & Technology), Islamabad Campus. Academics, researchers, human rights activists, and members of civil society participated and contributed to the discussion, with special reference to democratic education and the process of democratisation in Pakistan.
There is a need for a student-centric educational system rather than a conventional one, which has a dominance of teachers or trainers over the students so that students as learners can contribute their experiences and create a new body of knowledge. Democratic educational practices are based on the principles of democracy, such as participation, equality, and respect for individual rights. Only democratic education can give students a greater degree of agency and control over their learning process. Even students can be involved in the decision-making process. According to the participants, democratic education can play a motivating role for students to be more involved in their learning process, which could foster creativity and inclusion among students. Alternative forms of schooling and non-traditional pedagogical approaches that favour student-centric learning practices are at the core of democratic education. Zeba Hassan, an academician, shared her experiences in running a free school for disadvantaged children. She emphasised the need for individualised interaction with the child to inculcate creativity and learning through the induction of insight rather than just focusing on memorising text in the education process. Asif Baig, another academic and researcher, stressed the need to increase enrolment rates and pointed out that we can learn from countries like Iran and Sri Lanka in this regard, as these countries have more than 90% enrolment rates in their educational institutions. Liaqat Masih, a researcher representing an organisation of the Christian community Youth Development Association, highlighted the class-related issues of education and advocated for a prejudice-free syllabus for all students. Dr. Bukhari, an academic and researcher, expressed his opinion that the state could only offer high school-level education for free; higher education has to be charged, as it is the normal practice everywhere. Mrs. Sobia, a psychologist, shared her experiences of working with children with special needs. She pointed out that stigmatisation and labelling could discourage these children from playing an active role in society, which is also harmful to their psychological well-being and against the principle of equality in a democratic society. Mrs. Fozia, a civil society activist, Mrs. Shazia, a lawyer, and Ms. Imrana, a journalist, highlighted the social dynamics of the democratisation process and considered it important in the prevention of prejudiced behaviour towards minorities and marginalised groups in society. Mr. Asif Ali Khan, CEO of Bhutto Shaheed Foundation, highlighted that democracy is not just related to politics and governance but has a lot to do with the way we deal with marginalised communities. Democratic values, attitudes, and behaviours are important if we want our society to function in a democratic way. Education can play an important role in this process. Dr. Bashir H. Shah, a psychologist and human rights activist, while moderating the session, asked the participants for their opinions regarding student unions in educational institutions. Most of the participants expressed their opinions in favour of student unions, though some also gave a cautious response and related the functioning of student unions to violence in the past. The discussion led to the conclusion that educational institutions have witnessed violence even without having student unions, so how violence can only be related to student unions. There was a general consensus among the participants that student unions are necessary and that no other student bodies, including student councils in some educational institutions, could substitute for student unions. The participants also highlighted the role of student unions in providing the best of the politicians and facilitating democratic traditions in the country.
Democratic education can take many different forms, ranging from alternative schools that operate outside of traditional educational systems to pedagogical approaches that prioritise student-centred learning. Some examples of democratic education include Montessori schools, Sudbury schools, and the “free school” movement.
The Democratization Of Education:
This is the process of making education more widely available and accessible to all members of society. It can involve a variety of efforts, such as increasing funding for education, implementing policies that promote equity and inclusion, and addressing systemic barriers that prevent certain groups from accessing education. Education Is A Fundamental Human Right: Education is recognised as a fundamental human right by numerous international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is therefore essential to democratise quality education to promote human dignity and well-being.