“You will have to pay extra money for dental materials from now on,” our lab teacher announced, as we sat carving partial dentures in hot wax on plaster teeth models in our dental lab. ‘Why?’ was our immediate question. “We have already paid the university such an exorbitant fee, they could surely manage to supply us with the materials in that amount,’ said a girl sitting next to me. Others nodded in approval knowing very well how much they had paid. And since dental materials are not cheap to buy, we were all concerned.
Many students were already having difficulty in paying the current fee (despite being admitted on basis of merit in a government college) let alone extra money for dental material supply. After hearing her, many were all set to protest and stand up against the unfair money demand. But this was unavoidable, she told us, saying that no amount of protesting would be able to change the situation because the university was running short of funds, and therefore, could not arrange the materials by itself now. We would either have to pay the extra amount and carry on with our work, or not at all.
A few days later, the issue was a hot topic in the media. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) had been forced to cut short funding to many government universities (including mine) due to their own lack of funds from the government. It was a sad state of affairs. Senior members of our staff mentioned how it was getting difficult for the university to supply even teachers and technicians their salaries. We students had to bear the brunt of the problem though, and eventually had to pay the extra money so we could complete out partial dentures. When did education become so linked with money?
Then today, on 22nd September, many government universities (seventy two, to be exact) remained closed across the country in protest. Teachers and students were out on the streets holding placards and chanting slogans instead of focusing on their ABC’s in classrooms. In a country like Pakistan, where the literacy level is already low (adult literacy rate is only 55%), it is depressing to see the education process suffer further still. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” said Nelson Mandela. If we want to make changes in our country and worldwide, education is the key. We cannot progress without it. "Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained." said also James A. Garfield. If we want to maintain our independence, it cannot be without education gaining prime importance.
Ten thousand schools have been destroyed by the floods. This is the time to increasingly invest in the education sector rather than spending money on foreign trips and other useless institutes, not to mention the initial sum of Rs.34 billion that was allocated for the Benazir income support program. There wouldn't be a need for such a support program in the first place, if people got a shot at education and were then able to earn for themselves.
“Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.” observed Mark Twain. Our society is not short of its fare of criminals. In fact, there has been a recent surge in violence across the country with some terrible, blood-curdling incidents brought to light, like the lynching of the Sialkot brothers. If we need anything - urgently- during these difficult times, it's education, for only education can eliminate intolerance and ignorance. So, please, let the wagon of education go on. We don’t need an eleven million statue of Benazir Bhutto. Pray, build a university in her name. Let her legacy be education. Let education be the best revenge.
Note: This article was published in Express tribune. It was written prior to the release of the funds for education, that were eventually released by the government after pressurization from the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Media publicity of the incident also boosted in the release of the necessary funds. Also read: