Around ten years back, the daughter of a relative returned to Pakistan after obtaining degrees in science and mathematics and teaching abroad for a couple of years. She applied to the school she had studied in for a job and was immediately hired for a princely amount. She applied to another elite school and was offered thirty percent more. So she again asked the principal of the first school if they could match the offer of the other school. They agreed immediately. Naturally, she asked why salaries of experienced teachers were higher than those of business graduates and engineers, they told her that there was a serious shortage of science and math teachers in the country.

When I was in school in the 1950s, science and mathematics were the most unpopular subjects. Despite the caning and humiliation meted out to bad students, it was with the greatest difficulty that they were able to get passing marks in these subjects. When schools and colleges were nationalized, teaching standards deteriorated further.

There was a time when even government schools produced very good students who sometimes topped in the matric exams. After the indiscriminate nationalization of private schools the quality of education fell and now you come across people who don’t know how many zeroes there are in a million or billion. Another result of the poor education standard in the country is the country’s information minister claiming that the cost of fuel for a helicopter ride is only Rs. 55 per kilometer. Or Imran Khan saying that in China there are trains which run at the speed of light. And whenever I say something like “250 million years ago, most living things died due to volcanic eruptions, or 65 million years back there was a mass extinction due to a comet striking the earth”, they wonder if they should take me to the nearest psychiatrist. Like most scientifically illiterate people, they believe that the age of the earth cannot be more than six thousand years.

Even in elite schools, the emphasis is on rote learning. Kids are told to memorize math and physics problems before tests. I once taught my grandson an easier way to solve geometry and trigonometry problems, he got a zero because his teacher had told him to memorize them the way she had dictated them to him.

We used to read a lot in our teens. My father would buy two morning and three evening newspapers, besides subscribing to Time, Life magazine and the Readers Digest as well as buying many novels and books every month. If only our leaders had not given up reading, we’d never have heard statements like Jesus not being mentioned in history books or trains in China travelling at the speed of light. Or that vicious killers like Hitler would not have failed if they had taken U-turns.

Before the advent of TV (1968-69), reading occupied most of our time. I know that most of our ministers don’t even have time to read newspapers, they only rely on their yes-men to tell them that everything is fine, the people are very happy, so they don’t know the torture the common man has to go through due to their failed policies.

In our culture, it’s enough to have a bachelor’s degree to be called educated. The really educated person continues to learn right up to the day he dies. If degree holders don’t read a single book after graduation, they cannot be called educated. Most so-called literate people I know would rather do anything than read a book. With smart phone usage increasing, most people like to watch frivolous video clips sent to them by their illiterate friends and relatives.

So I’m afraid I don’t see any improvement in the situation in the near future. More than anything else, we need to make our people realize that education is necessary for survival. To conquer a nation, you don’t have to kill its people; you only have to make them stop reading so they will stop thinking and will accept as true whatever an illiterate cleric or politician tells them. Today’s Pakistan is already a country of slaves, a land where people are like sheep waiting to be led to the slaughterhouse.

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2019.