Mashal, in collaboration with Oxford University Press, organised a symposium “Reviving Education in Pakistan” in Islamabad on January 29, 1999. The symposium had four sessions and a concluding session. Each of the session was dedicated to a specific aspect of education in Pakistan with reference to the book Education and the State: Fifty Years of Pakistan. The topics of the five sessions were as follows:
1- Ideology and Purpose of Pakistani Education
2- The Economics of Education
3- Community Participation in Education
4- Higher Education in Pakistan: Problems and Prospects
5- Concluding Session: Reconstructing Pakistani Education
Among the speakers were: Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali former minister of education, Dr. Eqbal Ahmad the well-known academic and political scientist, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr. A.H. Nayyar and Dr. Tariq Rehman of Quaid-e-Azam University, Prof. Mohammad Nasim, economist, Dr. Shahrukh Rafi Khan of SDPI, Dr. Tahir Andrabi, economist, Dr. Sara Tirmizi the Country Director of Action-Aid, Dr. Qurutul Ain Bakhtiari, a prominent community development activist and Dr. Abdullah Sadiq, the Director of Pakistan Institute of Applied Sciences.
Prof. Hoodbhoy, the editor of the book, said that the education bureaucracy was not just incompetent and apathetic, in general, but had developed deep-rooted vested interests in keeping things the way they are. The alternative was to focus on generating and supporting new initiatives in the private sector.
He suggested that the monopolies created by the inept and decadent Boards of Education and the associated text book boards need to be broken. This could be achieved by the constitution of private Boards of Examination, somewhat on the pattern of the O and A-levels of the British system. These should be free to frame their own curricula and to conduct their own examination. The quality or otherwise of the Boards so formed would be judged by their clientele, the general public and the prospective employers of the graduates from those boards. The main point being that unlike the present Boards of Education, these Boards would be accountable to those who would pay for their services.
Such Boards would be free to institute quality examination without political and other compulsions. Competition among them would ensure their efforts for quality. Once a pattern is set where examination tests real understanding and not rote learning, it would open up the doors for the publication of quality textbooks. An open text book policy, which the present Text Book Boards have been resisting to protect their own interests, could thus be initiated, as students would be free to select books which cater better to their needs.
Prof. Hoodbhoy also underscored the need for utilising the opportunities presented by modern telecommunication, use of televised lectures by competent teachers could go a long way in overcoming the shortage of good teachers.