The powerful always manage to assume the center stage in this country while the decrepit poor continue to silently gaze at their theatrics. Theirs is a bewildering gaze as this coterie of affluent individuals dance to the beat of wealth, entitlement, and graft.

In line with this deft display of privilege, another controversy has unfolded in the elite quarters of Pakistan.  The principal of Aitchison College, a Raj-era institution recognized for its distinguished alumni, has tendered his resignation citing ‘brazen directives’ by the government to tamper and skew established school policies in their favor.

Governor Punjab, who belongs to the ruling party, has overturned the school policy by allowing seat retention and facilitating fee waivers for the children of Mr. Ahad Cheema, a federal minister in Mr. Sharif’s cabinet.

As the issue came to the forefront, sycophants of the ruling party arranged press conferences to defend the minister.

Conversely, the opposition parties seized this as a perfect opportunity to reaffirm their criticism of the PML-N as a dynastic unit that has consistently displayed a blatant disregard for the law.

Similarly, students and parents held protests and demanded the immediate reinstatement of the principal while journalists invited individuals from across the political spectrum to comment on the issue. In no time, this fiasco was successfully embedded into our national discourse.

This disproportionate attention to this thoroughly elitist saga has brilliantly stripped bare the priorities of our social and political elites who have proven that the luxury of timely action and immediate attention is, like every other thing in Pakistan, also afforded only to the ultra-rich. It is a microcosm of the power structures and inequalities that were once implemented by our masterful British colonizers and are now being successfully furthered and upheld by their loyal subjects.

This comes with the damning realization that the 26.2 million out-of-school children in Pakistan have never been important enough to elicit the same kind of urgent, widespread attention from policymakers and other stakeholders. Journalists understand that devoting a show to the abysmal state of public education in Pakistan will not evoke sensationalism in the way a show with a government minister offering his view on the controversy will. How many of us will abandon our comfort to protest governmental neglect of the looming education crisis in Pakistan?

The greatest national tragedy is that the future of millions of children is being destroyed at the behest of an indifferent, self-aggrandizing, and corrupt elite.

Even a cursory glance at the current situation will reveal the atrocious manner in which we have failed our children. Lack of infrastructure, poor quality-adjusted learning levels, alarmingly high rate of malnutrition, and a growing gender gap are just some of the problems that continue to plague our public education system.

According to the Pakistan Education Statistics, twenty-four percent of government primary schools across the country do not have usable toilets. Basic provisions like clean water and protective boundary walls are also scarce at these schools. In fact, the quality of education being provided at these schools is also severely compromised with almost sixty-five percent of children failing to achieve a minimum proficiency level by the time they complete primary school.

This means that a large number of our children continue to struggle with basic competencies like reading and arithmetic. Many of them cannot read sentences in Urdu or English while others struggle with basic two-digit subtraction.

These statistics have done little to alarm our policymakers whose action is limited to election manifestos and un-notified, poorly worded acts whose implementation remains an aspiration even today. Despite such salient inequalities, our stakeholders continue to voice their optimism for a bright future by reposing their confidence in a tiny stratum of privileged children who are educated at some of the finest private schools in the country.

The future these political elites bet on is one where their heir will succeed them in replicating the same repulsive spectacle of wealth and indifference with great panache.

In ‘The Judge’, Pablo Neruda asks, ‘How did the land become so bitter for poor children?’ As I reflect on this, I cannot help but think of our role in enabling this neglect. The theatre where the political elites perform also houses people like you and me who decide to comfortably sit in the audience as onlookers – carefully observing their movements, articulately commenting on their performance, and deeply invested in their next move.

We have done little to shift our focus on these impoverished, deprived, and neglected families who continue to bear the brunt of our collective excesses. However, if Pakistan is to have any chance at sustainable development and progress, we need to do more than just munching popcorn and deriving entertainment from this saga.

There is an urgent need to correct our lens, shift our priorities, and play an active role in ensuring timely, systematic, and proper investment in human development lest a gloomy, dreadful future becomes our ultimate reality.

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