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The Mess That Is Higher Education: Is Only HEC To Blame?

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With Higher Education Commission of Pakistan being the apex regulatory body of educational institutions in Pakistan, it often finds itself at the receiving end of almost all criticism aimed at the state of higher education in Pakistan. But is it the only culprit? Dr Sameen Motahhir explains why it isn’t.

he HEC has always been considered as a regulatory body for higher educational institutes in Pakistan, so if there are problems in higher education institutes or those that are affiliated with higher education- then the HEC must be at fault. Possibly.The problems that Dr Bari outlined in his article (Dawn, 19-4-19) suggests that PhD holders in Pakistan are essentially products of a failed higher educational system that was not thought through and, in the rush to create comparable institutes and partake in a global educational race, the HEC feverishly doled out PhD scholarships and encouraged PhD programs at local universities. So, it would seem that the HEC is at fault. Possibly.Instead of instinctively blaming the HEC and budget cuts, the question that warrants investigation requires a closer look at how and what is being questioned. Are we questioning the educational system in Pakistan, the creation and mandate given to the HEC, the mismanaged educational budget that has dwindled or the insipid motivational and moral attitude towards educational currency?

HEC: 60 in race for HEC Chairman’s SlotThe climate of complacency with declining standards in the higher educational institutions is really the result of a torrent of prolific questions with little or no attempt in providing answers. Such as questions as to why well-established universities in Pakistan, that have been around for 30+ years and that boast foreign highly qualified PhD faculty, have still not been able to break into the Times Higher Educational Index (THE) at even 500 or with all the incredible talented foreign faculty and teaching staff at universities, why is it that our universities cannot attract international students?

 

Cues From The West

In order to look for a solution, a very brief study at the top 50 ranked higher educational institutes (THE), reveals that they are primarily in the US, UK and Australia and that all are not only nations of native-English speakers but that their educational institutes are magnets for international students from developing countries giving them billion-dollar revenues (Australia – $32 Billion in 2018 and the US- $39 Billion in 2019). Even though in many of these countries, especially the US, the budget for fighting wars is significantly higher than its budget for fighting illiteracy or developing research, yet these countries are known for churning out PhDs. How does this information help us find a solution to Pakistan’s educational fiasco? It seems that the solution may not rest on the increase or decrease of the educational budget, or the HECs draconian and unrealistic expectations but it might just come down to the way that higher educational institutions in Pakistan view the notion of researching and more importantly ‘teaching’.

Instead of instinctively blaming the HEC and budget cuts, the question that warrants investigation requires a closer look at how and what is being questioned. Are we questioning the educational system in Pakistan, the creation and mandate given to the HEC, the mismanaged educational budget that has dwindled or the insipid motivational and moral attitude towards educational currency?

While teaching English at Melbourne University’s Trinity College, I recall teaching students whose first question was – why. There was never a question on what the course content was, where the class would be or even how I was going to teach and develop the course during the year. The only question was – why. This is the typical behavior that ignites an out-of-the-box answer to what can only be safely assumed is an out-of-the-box question. The truth is that it was not the content that I relayed but the fact that I was happy to relate that made all the difference. 

 

Teach It Right

In essence, teaching requires communication between student and teacher/lecturer/professor- which means that teaching is not only about being able to speak in the language/lingo that you need the student to learn, in this case it was English, but also the behavior you need to have when teaching.So, in reality, it is not only what you teach but how you teach it that needs to be addressed. In conversations with highly qualified faculty members all one hears are complaints about the poor quality of English academic writing skills, student behavior, and then the solution by some to “teach only the few that they think deserve to be taught”. This is certainly not the fault of budget cuts, the HEC, the administration, or even the students- this is the fault of not knowing the value of teaching. Jobless PhDs, unemployed IT professionals or engineers are either taught by bad teachers or are bad teachers themselves. This self-perpetuating cycle of incompetency has to be rectified immediately if the decline of educational standards in Pakistan is to be seriously addressed.

Jobless PhDs, unemployed IT professionals or engineers are either taught by bad teachers or are bad teachers themselves. This self-perpetuating cycle of incompetency has to be rectified immediately if the decline of educational standards in Pakistan is to be seriously addressed.

It all comes down to a solution that is simple and yet so complicated. The HEC needs to train teachers to teach with the intent to instigate, encourage and motivate their students. The belief that anything and everything is possible is vital if students are to begin visualizing creative solutions and adopting innovative strategies to solve problems.The first step would be to train English language teachers to teach English so that students have access to and comprehend ideas in a language that has become a lingua franca.

This language platform would help students reach out and learn not only from within the classroom but outside. English would cease to become a language- instead it would be seen as a communicative medium that had the power and potential to permeate all disciplines.English Labs, like EL3 (English Language Learning Lab) launched at Information Technology University, are just the beginning of this nascent revolutionary strategy and what the country needs is many more labs that research, educate, innovate and create course content and teaching strategies that help students not only in English language acquisition but ‘learning acquisition’.

Dr Sameen Motahhir is an Australian Pakistani who taught English at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne and is currently an Assistant Professor at Information Technology University in Lahore and the Director of EL3 (English Language Learning Lab) at ITU.