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Why are Pakistan’s Best and Brightest Students in Academics Failing to Drive Economic Growth?

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela

Despite knowing the crucial fact that education has always been the backbone of a country’s economy, we are still poor in this sector.

Education varies from country to country across the world, but there is a clear relationship between a country’s education system and its general economic status. Education shapes the economy, either positively or negatively. In this article, the focus will be on the case of why students in Pakistan, despite having 90 percent marks or above, are not making any great achievements in their lives that can be recorded in the historical dictionary of renowned figures. 

Why are they unable to justify their high grades in practical life? 

So, it's obvious that when our educational institutions only produce good learners but not innovators, entrepreneurs, physicians, chemists, political scientists, debaters, artists, painters, ambassadors, rational journalists, and business tycoons, then ultimately our economy will be disturbed. 

Marks and grades can reflect the student’s memorization and comprehension of the subjects, but skills provide insight into practical capability, in which we are poorer than so many countries. 

At first, I will try to figure out some ponderous reasons behind the issue of why high grades do not help relieve our economy and boost it over time by making a brief comparison with other countries. 

The education system of Pakistan is not leading to well-stabled and settled students performing a significant role in the economy because of the following reasons: 

Lack of mentorship and guidance from the very beginning of schooling, especially at the primary level, because career advisers, alumni, and professionals in every institution are necessary to identify the strengths and interests of the students through informal assessments, including mostly observations. It is very important to understand that “the origin lies in the schooling.”

The lack of a questioning environment is the most important factor behind the failure to produce innovative students in Pakistan. Questioning directly depicts your critical thinking, but in our institutions, students are often discouraged from asking questions or challenging the authority of the teacher, which stifles their natural curiosity and ability to think. That’s why our students are just like parrots, focusing on cramming, not being able to make judgments, and not being able to form well-informed opinions. In the Western context, usually questioning is encouraged at every level, and they even appreciate the “silly and stupid” questions. 

Only the “test of memory” is generally the goal of educational institutions in Pakistan, which is not sufficient for the development of skills and critical thinking in students. The exams are based on a limited syllabus taught by the teachers; students have no habit of reading some additional content from books; they totally depend upon the handouts provided by the respective instructors. 

There are no “research systems” at the middle level, at matriculation, or the intermediate level. Independent research can be observed only in postgraduate and doctoral studies, which is also a major drawback of our education system. 

Fewer public and private libraries in Pakistan are also another reason behind the lack of creativity and skill improvement in students. There are 3,667 public libraries, including mobile libraries, with 7.3 million active borrowers at libraries in the UK, and 214 million visits to public libraries took place across the year. Pakistan has only around three hundred public libraries, with some small libraries in the private sector but with limited access. India has 1.5 million libraries in total, including the majority of libraries in schools, for building the habit of learning from the beginning. 

The lack of reading habits in our education system is very limited compared to other developed countries. Reading beyond textbooks and exam preparation is not encouraged. Approximately 40% of adults in Pakistan lack basic reading skills. Countries like the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia have highly developed reading cultures, with 95% of adults having basic reading skills. In Canada, reading is valued, with a strong public library system and programs promoting book access like Reading Town Canada. Similarly, in the UK, reading is prioritized, with different strategies and initiatives like the Book Trust providing free books to children. We badly need to do such programs in which we offer books from different fields to our students so that they can be motivated towards reading because so many students cannot afford to purchase the books. 

The Pakistani education sector’s “lack of interdisciplinary approach” is indeed a significant obstacle to producing brilliant and scientific minds. There is limited exposure to hands-on experiments, projects, and research as compared to highly developed countries (e.g., the USA, Canada, Singapore, and Finland). In these countries, there is a strong focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) and its intersection with other subjects. Finland’s phenomenon-based learning approach integrates subjects like science, math, and language arts to explore real-world phenomena. Singapore’s STEM education focuses on hands-on learning, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Canada’s STEM education emphasizes interdisciplinary projects and collaborations. A 2022 study published in the Journal of Education and Research found that only 22% of Pakistani universities offer interdisciplinary courses, and 75% of faculty members reported needing training in interdisciplinary teaching methods. A 2023 report by the British Council found that 70% of employers in Pakistan reported that graduates lack the skills to apply knowledge in practical settings, and 80% of employers reported that graduates lack critical thinking and problem-solving skills despite achieving good grades in academics. 

Lack of experimentation due to the smaller number of computer and science labs is another hurdle to producing brilliant minds and skilled graduates in Pakistan. Then, the lack of proper and modern equipment in labs is also hindering the comprehension of technological and scientific concepts. A 2023 report by the Pakistan Education Task Force found that 55% of public schools in Pakistan still lack science labs, 60% lack computer labs, and only 20% of schools have internet access. According to a 2024 survey by the Higher Education System (HEC) of Pakistan, only 35% of universities in Pakistan have adequately equipped science labs, and 27% have adequately equipped computer labs. 

Pakistan ranked 136th out of 141 countries in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2023, indicating a persistent gap in innovation and technological advancement. The country’s expenditure on research and development remains low, at around 0.4% of its GDP in 2022–2023.

Pakistan’s education system follows a hierarchical structure, which limits the flexibility and discussions among the students and their instructors. Finland’s education system emphasizes student autonomy, with no standardized testing until age 16 and still having a 100% literacy rate with great minds. 

I will mention some attributes of Finland’s education system that I feel are missing in our context. They prefer and dwell on "equity” over “excellence," providing equal chances and opportunities to all students regardless of their background or capacities; there is no standardized testing or assessment in Finland. Students are marked and graded individually by their instructors and teachers. Finland does not focus on the cramming power of students or the comparative grading system; rather, they place high stress on common-sense practices and a holistic teaching environment that strives for equity over excellence. 

Japan is considered one of the best in the world regarding its education system, and it emphasizes group learning and projects. They offer highly effective and organized vocational courses, including those in various departments. Japan’s education system focuses on morals and ethics through a holistic approach. 

In my university life, I was never offered any field trips, despite the demands of my subjects. So, I feel that field trips are an essential part of real learning, and unfortunately, they are not commonly offered by governmental institutions in Pakistan. In other Western countries, field trips are a regular part of the curriculum, with students visiting different museums, historical sites, science centers, industrial sites, and NASA centers. 

The current generation is captivated by the allure of mobile devices, devoting extensive time to useless activities and digital entertainment. As a result, there has been a notable decline in creativity and innovative mindsets. That is the major reason for not paying attention to nature. 

It seems a bit odd that there is a relationship between nature and innovation, discoveries, and the economy, but yes, there is a deep connection because many groundbreaking discoveries have been inspired by nature, including some examples: 

  • Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming from a mold growing on bread, leading to the development of antibiotics. 

  • DNA structure by James Watson and Francis Crick: they discovered the double helix structure of DNA inspired by the arrangement of fruit and nuts in nature. 

  • Wind turbines, Velcro, spider silk, solar cells, and many other discoveries have been inspired by nature. 

In short, the education system of Pakistan is struggling, with so many issues that are still unsolved and need attention from the higher authorities and government. The country is producing a great number of PhD students and students with an amazing result annually, but it is not leading towards any great discoveries or providing any significant advantage to the economy because of the reasons mentioned above. We are poor in our scientific publications as compared to many other countries. Pakistan allocates only 2.8% of its GDP to the education sector, below UNESCO’s recommended range of 4–6%, leading to regional imbalances in infrastructure, well-trained staff availability, and vocational courses for boosting the skills of students and adults. 

Pakistan needs to invest more in the education sector so that our intelligent students can invest their skills, energy, and knowledge in their own country. Pakistan also needs to provide some great opportunities to our graduates so that they can apply their freshly acquired knowledge in the right place. Pakistan has a very centralized curriculum, which needs to be enhanced with the addition of some interdisciplinary approaches. These challenges need attention from the government for the betterment of our education sector and the economy of the country. 

 

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