Why do our graduates want to leave the country? Curriculum’s Relevance to Social Impact

Curriculum’s Relevance to Social Impact: Why do our graduates want to leave the country?

Why do our elite schools derive their prestige from the fact that their graduates get immediate placements in Western countries? Why do our highest performers of our universities consider their destiny to leave this country and build their life in well settled countries such as USA or UK? Why the ranking and rating criteria of HEC is geared towards acceptability of our graduates and their research in West? Why is PEC so eager to get our graduates accepted worldwide through Washington accord?

My hypothesis is that the implicit mission of elite schools, elite universities, and accreditation agencies such as HEC and PEC is NOT to create an impact on society or economy of Pakistan, but is ACTUALLY to produce workforce for the developed countries at lower cost! This is evident from the policies of the accreditation bodies and examination boards and their emphasis on curriculum, communication skills, text books, teaching methodologies and educational environment. They all combine together to produce graduates who are misfits for Pakistan. In contrast, the developed countries benefit from obtaining highly motivated and intellectually charged youth without any investment in their health, schooling, and other costs related to the development of a superior workforce.

For example, curriculum committees at national, provincial and federal level are more concerned about how much our curriculum matches the demands of the developed world’s curriculum. There is no debate on the major problems of Pakistan and how they are incorporated in our curriculum. HEC and bodies like PEC keep on emphasizing communication skills in English and ignore the deterioration in the standards of local languages and their importance in improving the intellect of common people and streamlining their interaction with government departments. Provinces and Federal Government are more interested in promoting English, and less interested in improving the communication between the ruling elites and the masses as Zubaida Mustafa and other experts have been pointing out for long. HEC and PEC always want to ensure that we buy latest edition books by prominent Western publishers and authors and they in fact specify those books in their “standardized” curricula, and they look down at the local authors and publishers and have no plans for indigenizing of the local content [See how Georgians are preserving their language through localization of the textbooks].

HEC’s criteria for PhD award is approval by experts from “developed” countries! The only impact that HEC is interested in measuring is how many citations of the research are there in international journals recognized by “Thomson Reuters”. This criteria effectively rules out practical “action research” conducted by the likes of Edhi, Saylani, Dr Adeeb Riziv [SIUT], Dr Abdul Bari Khan [Indus Hospital] and many others. HEC keeps on sending memos about how to incorporate latest technologies imported from West. They spend millions of dollars of poor people’s tax money in the travel jaunts to favorite countries of their officials with some sprinkling in the form of a few teachers also enjoying some of these jaunts. 

A qualitative research of the official published documents of these bodies can establish this hypothesis.

With all this emphasis on the requirements of the developed countries, which is only to be expected from the recipients of the lavish grants from World Bank and USAID, the result can be no different than what the behavior of our graduates reveal: The highest performers graduating from these schools and universities are like fish out of water. Their knowledge, their understandings, their communication skills, inter personal skills do not match the local environment and its demands. Our highest performers cannot even hold a decent communication with the common man on the street. They do not see local problems as a challenge that they need to solve, they were never mentally prepared to tackle these problems, and cannot even understand the problems let alone have the guts to solve them. The only thing they want to achieve in this life is to run away from Pakistan, fast and never to return. They are cheered in this flight by their parents, their family, their community, and above all their schools and universities and even the educational authorities __ the real education that the “system” provides in Pakistan.

I propose, that if there is an Impact Factor that HEC or PEC should consider, it should be the impact on society and industry of Pakistan. But, that is nowhere to be found in their priorities, except as a side note.

It is no wonder that the conventional wisdom in our industry screams from every pillar to post that what is taught in the books in schools and universities is useless and irrelevant. Just see the list of experts in the published curricula of HEC of nearly all the disciplines, and you would see the local industry specialists conspicuous by their absence. Consequently, industry ignores HEC’s rankings and criteria and quietly sets itself an additional task to make our graduates unlearn, to give them a reality doze and to prepare them for the challenges of the local environments through on-job training. Our graduates who are not at the top of the elitist school/university ladder are therefore often the ones who most easily assimilate and then contribute much more to the societal impact. May be the university’s unsuccessful attempt in preparing them for the developed countries was a blessing in disguise for Pakistan. Although they were penalized by lower grades for not getting the real intended “learning” and their learning was not hardened enough, they were able to unlearn quickly what little they have learned, and are more beneficial to our economy. All those with the highest grades which indicate adequate preparation for the requirements of the developed countries had already left for the greener pastures much earlier. For example see this post by Javed Chaudhry on the Gold Medalists and choosing a career.

Our universities and schools would only be relevant to Pakistan, if their curriculum can show that it addresses the real problems afflicting our society. Let’s make a list of 15 biggest problems in Pakistan and see if the curricula of our schools or universities addresses them. Please note that these are inter-locking problems which every citizen in Pakistan faces daily. Each problem is linked with most of the other problems. Hence these are complex problems and all the more reason why our educational system must address them, squarely. Let’s catch the bull by the horn. Here is my quick list in no particular order:

Major Problems in Pakistan

1. Cruelty, Zulm and Violence
2. Corruption and Nepotism: Government of the elites, for the elites and by the elites
3. Lack of prompt justice and fair play
4. Personal Management and Emotional Control
5. Lying and Hiding the Truth
6. Time Management and Fulfilling the Commitments
7. Traffic mess
8. Personal Accountability and Responsibility: Buck passing
9. Pollution
10. Garbage littering
11. Educational irrelevance
12. Health Management
13. Drinking water and its availability
14. Property disputes
15. Encroachments on public rights

Why can’t the elite schools, universities, HEC and other accreditation bodies select a list of major problems in Pakistan and start measuring the relevance of education through the impact that the graduates of each institution create in these areas. This should be the real measure of the prestige of a school or a university, and the actual impact factor.

Problems like these cannot be relegated to specializations and special degree programs. These are real problems and must form the core of any curricula in Pakistan. Only then would our industry and people believe that our schools and universities are teaching relevant things that are practical. Please note that these issues have been resolved to a great extent in USA and other developed countries, hence we do not see a corresponding emphasis in their curriculum. For us, they are a matter of our survival and our future. Our curriculum must be measured in its relevance to their solution and should not just be a copy and paste from the developed countries’ curriculum. Our curriculum is therefore woefully inadequate to prepare the graduates for the challenges here.

Consider why nearly all the graduates of Aga Khan University decide to go abroad? Consider why people stand in line for days just to get admission form from the Karachi Grammar School? Consider why it is the dream of every position holder to go abroad and settle there? When graduates of these elite institutions run away from Pakistan, it is NOT the sign of their success, it is the sign of the failure of the schools, universities and boards in equipping their students with the knowledge and skills that can make them progress here and contribute to the development of Pakistan.


  1. Anonymous Avatar

    you see things differently

  2. Seeing things differently is the essential first step in critical thinking that leads to creativity. We all need creative solutions for the problems we are in. If we continue to do the same things, again and again, year after year, and expect a different outcome then it is definitely foolish.

  3. Well written and relevant too. There are some people who acknowledge these things are also at the helm of affairs too but their impact on decision making is very less. I will try to forward this to one of those.
    Besides, there is also debate on the curricula in the west but that is more on absence of ethics and less on relevance.

  4. This post actually grew out of the preamble of an initiative that we have launched with the students to tackle one of the social problems in the list given above. The preamble grew to a full fledge post. I will be describing the concrete project in one of my later posts.

  5. Dr Shakil Khoja sent this via email:

    I hope life is treating you well. Just read your last blog on 'elite
    schools' and agree to every word of it. Despite the fact that even my
    children go ta a branded school: which is due to sheer social
    pressure: I believe that the school is constantly damaging kids'
    behaviors, and the values that we wanted to put in are totally
    neglected. And the irony is that we are paying for it 🙂

  6. Aftab Nasir Avatar
    Aftab Nasir

    Dear Irfan sahab,

    It feels extremely personal and I can fully relate to your words. The problems you mentioned are indeed playing havoc in our soceity and it is precisely the absence of any substentive counter-narrative in our textbooks that these problems are growing exponentially, along with our population. I am a PhD scholar, working at a development research institute in Germany, and my research deals with the problem of language barrier in our society, especially the educational and judicial sector. Having done field work in Pakistan last year, i see your post much more relevant and as one cmopelling reason why we should say it out loud. My understanding is that it is only through creating more sensibilities of these issues that we can forge some solution out of these situation we are so deeply entrenched in now. Thanks for the post and looking forward to reading about the project that you mentioned.

  7. I would like to know about your research project. How can I help. I have a few faculty members in the communication department of CBM who may like to involve themselves in a joint project with your supervisor or university related to language issues.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    A very relevant writing, I have ever read.
    In my opinion elite schools or colleges of Pakistan do not teach its students to solve problems of people or society of Pakistan, rather, they treat its students as customers and prepare them to return their parents’ financial investment (charged by these schools in terms of heavy fee) with a great margin/interest. Another thing is that students of elite schools, colleges and their families do not face majority of above mentioned 15 problems as they are blessed with plenty of money and money can buy sufficient life facilitation in Pakistan.
    In region like ours where traces of patriotism are rarely found in wealthy families (as it is evident from behavior of politicians, civil and forces bureaucrats & businessmen and also endorsed by Panama leaks), students who come from lower and middle class strata of Pakistani society and government educational institutions can only solve the problems of Pakistani society because they are genuine stakeholders of Pakistani society and face all the above highlighted 15 problems and beyond. So need is that we focus on those students who are genuine stake holders and should leave that portion which is not from us and not for us. They will continue leaving this country because their priorities are different but yes we should try to nurture those who are from us and for us.

    Muhammad Hanif
    PhD Fellow

  9. The new program at CBM of BS Social Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship has been designed after a lot of thinking on this topic for the last several years: http://www.cbm.iobm.edu.pk/cbm-program/bs-social-entrepreneurship-leadership/

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Sir, Most of the Electrical and Electronics Engineers are leaving Pakistan, because most of them are over qualified for the local industry, the local industry needs are sufficiently meet by technicians, the RND sector jobs are almost negligible, the skill set we develop is not effectively utilized here, the very best of my batch mates had no other option but to leave Pakistan, after spending four years and spending 10 lakh on the degree, who wants to settle for a 20K 30K job, the job prospects here in Pakistan are horrible, entrepreneurship is also not a piece of cake, for it takes at least 3 to 4 years to set a stable business if things go ideally, the industry has not yet reached to the level to utilize the talent of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, a few firms require the given skill set, most of us engineers end up having to suffice on Sales, Marketing jobs, Build High tech, RND based Industry here that needs such Resources or develop such intellectual institutions that are able to create such fields of study that are equally intellectually engaging and relevant to our society, Regards, your Fan!!!

  11. Nice work brother keep it up.

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