Pakistan’s Embassy Schools: From Par To Pity

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Falling under the jurisdiction of Federal Board of Education, embassy schools cater to the educational needs of children of overseas Pakistanis. These schools were once a safe haven for Pakistani nationals to not only receive quality education at affordable fees but also a great way to stay connected to one’s roots. But like many things in Pakistan, they might also be in a decline. Aisha Saeed narrates.

ith the civil war in Syria continuing unabated, education has been one of the biggest casualties of war. But one school that has been one of the first to resume educational services to children in a country ravaged by war does not belong to the Syrian government or some private organization working for education in Syria. That school is run by none other than Pakistan’s embassy in Syria. The Pakistani embassy’s commitment to continue this noble service in a chaotic landscape is indeed laudable, but the state of these embassy schools might not be as inspiring in other parts of the world, where peace is the way of life.  Not long ago, Pakistani schools in much of the Gulf region were synonymous with offering quality education. And besides Pakistani’s may parents of other nationalities thought it apt to send their children to these embassy run schools for want of a good education.

I, too, was enrolled in one of these embassy schools in the Saudi city of Taif. The school had a good number of students on its rolls and had separate sections for boys and girls, as is the custom in the kingdom. It offered education in both English and Urdu, which we used to refer to as ‘English Medium’ and ‘Urdu Medium’, right from kindergarten to intermediate. And because the school offered education in English, children from other communities were also enrolled in the school in large numbers. The reason for this was twofold – 1) the school’s standard of education and facilities were nothing short of par and 2) it was very affordable. Students from other communities brought quite the diversity and tolerance in the school’s environment. We celebrated much and everything and embraced every culture as our own. They say friendships formed in school life can last a life time. This holds true, as I am still in touch with my school friends from Egypt. 

A majority of teachers were hired from Pakistan by the consulate or the embassy and many had years of experience under their belts teaching at some of the best institutions in Pakistan. There was never a shortage of teachers, and the quality of education being imparted could be compared to almost all international schools in the region. The curriculum itself was a blend of Oxford and Punjab Text Book Board, but after 8th grade, the curriculum shifted entirely to the one followed by the Federal Board of Education to prepare students for secondary and higher secondary exams.

Change

If I recall now, I do not think I can find any real reason to complain or lament over the few good years I happened to be part of the embassy school in Saudi. But I am not exactly sure if students enrolled in such schools across the world feel the same nowadays. Given the steady decline education has seen over the years right under the nose of authorities at home, it is only natural to expect a similar change in fortunes of schools run by Pakistani authorities thousands of miles away.

Through and friends and family in Saudi, I have come to know that what I feared for my school is indeed true. The promises that was once a melting pot of varied cultures has now turned into a substandard perimeter offering only mediocrity at best. Staff shortages have become routine, extra and co-curricular activities, especially in the girls’ section, are nothing to write home about, the library is neglect personified and the school has become a breeding ground for staff and administration politics. Most of the old and experienced teaching staff has left and the new lot, sadly, is a product of favoritism on part of those who run the show. As a result, many Pakistani parents who can afford marginally higher fees have opted to move their children to other schools in the area. We tried reaching out to the school administration several times for a comment on the present state of affairs, but our repeated requests were, simply, ignored. 

 

Time To Act

Pakistani international schools in foreign lands are not only bastions of knowledge for overseas Pakistanis looking to provide quality education to their children, they are, in fact the face of what Pakistan stands for. They are a window to our world, a showcase of the qualities, attributes and values that we wish to instill in our children. And putting our worst foot forward to the world is hardly the way to garner praises. As the federal government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf toils away to reform the education sector in Pakistan, it must also pay attention to resolving the issues in international schools run by its embassies across the world. The systems must be overhauled and made transparent to eliminate favoritism and nepotism, the facilities should be made up to the mark and the quality of academic and non-academic activities must be enhanced to not only make the schools more appealing to a wider audience, but also turn them into healthy communal spaces.

Not long ago, children from other communities also enrolled in Pakistani schools in large numbers. The reason for this was twofold – 1) the school’s standard of education and facilities were nothing short of par and 2) it was very affordable.

 

Make schools run by the Pakistani government exemplary institutions can be one of the easiest and most effective ways we can portray the good we truly embody. And that is something we can really make use of in current times.