When nuclear physicist and educator Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy opined that Pakistan would never produce another Abdus Salam, the country’s first Nobel Laureate, no one challenged him. The country, as a whole, has accepted that its educational institutions are no longer geared toward producing someone like Salam, who once wrote about his schooldays:
“When I was at school in about 1936, I remember the teacher giving us a lecture on the basic forces in Nature. He began with gravity. Of course we had all heard of gravity.” In 1938, he was in college where “the majority of students in the college were Hindu and it was my good fortune that I had some of the exceptionally learned and most affectionate teachers assigned to me.”
A 2013 UNESCO study of Pakistani schools found that 34% of children in grade-V could not read a grade-II level Urdu story while 47% of grade-III children could not read sentences in Urdu compared to 43% in the previous year. Similarly, 30% of grade-I children could not read letters in Urdu as compared to 29% in 2012.
Religious education dominates early schooling and that continues till the university level. Rural schoolteachers are the most downtrodden class. They symbolically take off their shirts as they protest unpaid salaries in the big cities. In Sindh, ministers recruit illiterates in the thousands as teachers after taking a “fee” from them. In 2009, Swat, one of the best educated regions, was Islamized by warlord Fazlullah who burned down all girls’ schools. In 2018, madrassas are doing well while the state-run primary school is in decline.
Russia produced great literature before it was conquered by ideology. Allama Iqbal and Faiz were produced before Pakistan came into being and went ideological. Today Pakistan tacitly accepts that it can longer produce another genius like Abdus Salam.