‘Education Sans Value System Counts For Nothing’

The Dar-e-Arqam School Network is one of the largest school systems in Pakistan, with more than 170,000 students and over 660 branches across Pakistan. Arsalan Haider talks to its CEO Waqas Anjum Jaffri about where the school is and where it is heading. 

Question 1. Tell us about Dar-e-Arqam and how did the idea of setting up this network come about?

WAJ: Since 1947, we have failed to identify that what our education should be and how it should work. There are a number of problems are under discussion in our country including curriculum, medium of education, level, quality, infrastructure and many others as this is hot topic nowadays. In a country like Pakistan, there are different mediums of education available, which are further divided on sectarian, public, private, not for profit organizations etc, lines.  Keeping this situation in mind, some like-minded people gathered in 1990 and decided to start an initiative where we could cover these disparities. We decided that there must be contemporary education, but the ideology of founding fathers of Pakistan must be taught to students as well.

Question 2. How do you think the franchise culture has affected the education sector? 

WAJ: A phenomenon which is gaining success all around the world, including Pakistan, is that local success should be nationalized or globalized as this makes a sense of inspiration for the initiator that his initiative is not only successful for his own interests, but for other people as well. To exemplify it, I would say that it was possible for Newton to present the law of gravity after he observed an apple falling, but he still needed an organization like NASA to reach the moon. In developing countries like Pakistan, state or government does not deliver per its requirement, so the franchise culture, naturally, grows.

Question 3. How do you see the importance of Islamic education along with conventional education?

WAJ: In my own experience at Dar e Arqam, there is a want for Islamic education along with conventional education. If we see consider education for the sake of education, it becomes a completely material pursuit if a value system is not delivered. This value system was a gap in the education sector that was filled by the Dar-e-Arqam netwrok. 

Question 4. What do you see as key challenges in the education sector in Pakistan?

WAJ: Education has never been our priority. There have been no capable people at the helm of affairs. Even after 70 years, there are 25 million children that are out of schools. Many countries of Europe have lower population than our out of school children. 

I think we didn’t take up this matter seriously before. There have been a number of educational conferences and we have presented more than 14 education policies. There is a lot of discussion on whether education should be a federal subject or a provincial one. But in today’s era when the world is progressing on the base of education, we have not done anything. There is poor management in this regard and we have even failed to find out what we should be teaching our students. This government has a vision of uniform education system, but we must see what it does practically. We must depoliticise the education sector and there must be continuity of education policies. 

Question 5. Do you think private education is more convenient to common man than public sector education?

WAJ: Education is a basic responsibility of the state, but when the state fails to deliver, the gap must be filled by people themselves. If the government starts improving its own educational institutions, private education will get wiped out in due time. This may take some time, but it could happen. You can see people prefer public universities or medical colleges for higher education because they provide quality education and the fee is subsidized. If it can happen at the higher education level, why not at the school level.

Question 6. Do you think government’s decision of changing medium of education to Urdu is a wise move? 

WAJ: Urdu is our national language and one that is understood in all provinces, so the move has its merit. I am also a supporter of offering initial education be in mother language and Urdu has that capacity.Before the creation of Pakistan, Jamia Usmania Haiderabad Deccan offered medical education in Urdu. During my visit to Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, I saw medical education being imparted in Pashto. We have been a colony of British, so we adopted English. But we cannot ignore English, as it is a global language. We must be accommodative in taking this decision. 

Question 7. What are your expectations from the incumbent government regarding education policies? 

WAJ: With a year gone, the government should start focusing on working rather than blaming everything on the previous governments. This government was elected with great hopes of a better tomorrow and the failure of this government would be a failure of hope. The party in power promised a new Pakistan, but things are the same, if not worse, even after the passage of one year. With regards to education, the government has created an environment of fear, which is a strategic mistake. Imran Khan’s manifesto was centred on education and he also talked about uniform education system. The time for rhetoric is gone. The government must now act on its promises.

Question 8. To which extent has the model of Dar-e-Arqam been successful?

WAJ: We have bound ourselves to schools but still there is a gap in college and higher education sector. There is no district in Punjab where Dar-e-Arqam School is not operating. We offer affordable education to middle and lower-middle class, but even our limited fee is out of reach for a number of people at times. We are focusing on teachers’ training and raising the quality of education. We don’t have much infrastructure and are trying to deliver quality education against low fee.  It’s our appeal to Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas and Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood to at least own the private sector, which is playing its part in educating the next generation.