I think I may just have set a world record – even for myself.  Though I am currently cruising at 500 mph from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, having just officiated the groundbreaking of a new building for Beaconhouse-Newlands Kuala Lumpur (http://goo.gl/I9BKEb), I may as well have written my blog 8 months ago (last entry) and put it on a donkey tasked to circumnavigate the globe before personally delivering it to the editing team of TBT. Indeed, as Mr Bilawal Bhutto Zardari recently declared, if the UK can have the Royal Ascot and the Arabs can have their camel races, why can’t Pakistan launch the Donkey Derby – as part of the proposed Sindh Festival? Perhaps I will request young Bilawal to follow up on this gem so that my future blogs may reach TBT a little sooner. (For those who are confused by all this talk of Bilawal and donkeys: this was an elaborate apology to all TBT readers who have had to suffer the ‘CE’s Blog’ advertisement for the greater part of 2013.)

In other news: each time I visit Malaysia – which too I may hold some kind of secret record for – I cannot help but marvel at the progress that the country has made since it gained independence in August 1957 – exactly ten years after Pakistan.  We have all heard stories of the eager government delegation from Malaysia that visited Pakistan in the 1960s to learn how Pakistan, then a fledgling country, had made so much progress since its inception. Older Pakistanis recall that Malay nobility and would-be kings, lacking solid schooling opportunities in their own country, used to study at boarding schools in Pakistan in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  (I have heard more than once from a certain uncle how he shared a classroom with a future Malay king at Aitchison College – though this is sadly not such a huge claim to fame since nine of Malaysia’s thirteen states have sultans – and they get 5-year stints at being king.) So then what happened? Why is it that today, Malaysia is one of Asia’s most sought-after destinations (‘Malaysia, Truly Asia!’) while Pakistan struggles to pay its foreign debt and is home to the TTP?  Why is Malaysian currency sitting pretty at 3.25 ringgits to a dollar while the PKR is falling down a spiral faster than finance minister Ishaq Dar can issue idiotic new promises? Why does Malaysia share the top spot (with Dubai) for Pakistanis wishing to invest abroad or live abroad?  (Let’s not even talk of Dubai which, at the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947, was an obscure fishing village…)

The answer to all the ‘whys’ above is somewhat complex (though in some ways may be summed up by one word – leadership), but here is a small message of hope: how is it that a Pakistan-origin school network like Beaconhouse has made so much progress in Malaysia with 12 successful schools and preschools educating over 3,000 Malaysians? There is but one simple answer: the private education sector in Pakistan is more vibrant than it is in Malaysia, even today.  It is more competitive, more progressive, more student-centered and better aligned with emerging international practice in K-12 education.  Admittedly, this buoyancy is partially explained by the vacuum created by the failure of state sector schools in Pakistan, but to attribute it entirely to this phenomenon would be unfair because many other developing countries also have mediocre or poor state schools but few can boast the kind of private sector engagement in education that we see in Pakistan.  Case in point: the largest independent school network in Bangladesh, a country of comparable population and demographics, boasts about 6,000 students. Beaconhouse and its associate schools alone educate over a quarter of a million young people.

But what are we doing in Pakistan to celebrate this success?  Successive governments, having failed to improve the ‘state of state schools’ (despite some interesting claims from the Punjab government and their foreign consultants), have now decided to target independent schools. Certain sections of media and ‘civil society’ are not far behind. A popular talk show host (best known for his inflammatory shows) has recently vowed to do a series of shows “exposing” independent schools – including the one where his child studies (which makes one wonder why he doesn’t withdraw his child from that school if he is so disenchanted with it….but then this is the million-dollar question that defines these love-hate relationships between independent schools and their patrons who, despite their many grievances, will happily entrust their most precious asset – their children – to such schools).

So how did we get from the globetrotting donkey to here?

My point is that despite Malaysia’s many successes, there may be something that Pakistan is slightly better at.  Most expatriate Pakistani doctors, bankers and entrepreneurs, for instance, have benefited from private education in this country – whether from the missionary schools established by our former colonial masters or the many independent/private schools set up after partition or post-1978. Indeed, most of our politicians have attended independent schools – from the top leadership of the PPP to the PML(N) to the PTI (does Aitchison College ring a bell?  Did it not afford a certain Captain the opportunities that led him to attend Oxford or famously win the World Cup?)

So, as we approach the end of 2013, my one hope is that people may start to understand (if not fully appreciate) the many contributions of the independent education sector in Pakistan.  Yes, we charge money because good teachers are not cheap – nor do they offer their services free of cost; equally oddly, nobody seems willing to offer accommodation, electricity, and other essentials to independent schools at zero cost.

Anyway, here’s to a great 2014 – in Malaysia, Pakistan, and elsewhere – and may the Pakistan People’s Party’s Donkey Derby live up to our full expectations!  Perhaps this will compel the PML(N) to launch their own Gadha Games?

  11 Responses to “The Donkey Derby and other comments…”

  1. Dear Sir,

    I must thank you for creating a blog and taking out time to write something.

    No doubt, Beaconhouse is making progress day by day and is facilitating its fans. I, as a teacher know it is not easy to open branches in different countries and them hiring experienced faculty, bear the expenses and then providing a safe learning environment.

    Hats off to you and your whole team.

    Keep up your efforts and do open a branch in Dubai as well as there are many eager fans of Beaconhouse waiting over there.

    Wish you best of luck.

  2. No doubt that BSS is creating a well-educated nation within Pakistan and in Asia Pacific countries. All the best to you for the enormous growth of BSS worldwide.

  3. I feel so glad to have been a part of BSS. Congratulations sir. Though I am not with BSS anymore, I still cherish the time I spent here. Wish you and your organization all the best.

  4. Masha Allah, a well-written post. Yes, Pakistan has plenty of talent but the worst problem we are currently facing is the imbalance in circulation of money. We have never been sincere with Pakistan. My advice to all youngsters would be “work hard, know your hidden talents, polish your skills and accept challenges.” Once you do so, I bet no one can change your destiny, except the one and only Allah. Sir, I appreciate your efforts at BSS and I feel proud to be a part of BSS Alumni Club.

  5. To learn is to teach and to teach is to learn. Private sector educational institutions contributed a lot in the development of this nation. Furthermore these are the institutions which provided vision, aim, objectives and the concept of achieving targets in Pakistan. These private sectors schools provided modern, blended curriculum and introduced the trend of education technology.The Govt must learn from these Private Sectors Schools.

    As far as media in Pakistan is concerned, unfortunately it follows the trends but it follows very late. I totally agree with Mr Kasim Kasuri….Keep up your great work as an educational leader. We need leaders like you.

  6. Proud to be a part of Beaconhouse. If one institution in this country can do wonders why can’t others follow. The answer is that there is a lack of good leadership. We have dearth of visionaries who can take us out of our current situation. Personally, I feel that in a way BSS is catering to that as well by grooming students who will take us on the road to development. Let us all get together and give the nation our best.

  7. Congratulations on the initiation of Beaconhouse-Newlands Kuala Lumpur. Indeed, the contributions made by independent schools is praiseworthy. It’s a proud thing for Pakistanis that in the challenging global sector of education, Beaconhouse is successfully bringing Pakistan to the limelight.

  8. Quite insightful and thought provoking, Sir. Enjoyed reading it and felt proud indeed, to be associated with BSS! Congratulations on the launch of Beaconhouse-Newlands in Malaysia.

    • We are a leading institute and yes – for all the right reasons. Whether it’s Malaysia or Pakistan, independent schools or state-driven schools, education sector or any other field – good work, success and fame is all about leadership. A true leader is a visionary and is capable of raising a good team. In the words of Bill Gates, ‘As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.’ This empowerment is so obvious in a trickle down effect from the top levels of the organization to the teacher and student in every Beaconhouse school. Together, we strive for excellence and celebrate the achievements of BSS. I wish to see Beaconhouse flourishing even more in the coming years.

  9. During the bleak, freezing days (and nights) with rampant electricity and gas load shedding, being a part of the Beaconhouse School System and getting recognition at an international level is indeed something to be proud of! It is really heart-warming to know that at least something related to Pakistan is appreciated around the world!

    As for the Donkey Derby …. It is a Derby after all!!!! With so many donkeys on the loose we can’t have horses for a race!

  10. My two children are studying at Beaconhouse. As we have to move from one place to another, we at times have to change schools. We spent a couple of years abroad too. I feel satisfied with BSS as the system suits me.Proud to see our system introduced and being appreciated in Malaysia. As far as the fees is concerned, after I see the work done by my children I feel my money is not going to waste, but it may differ for some parents as paying the fees due to inflation might be difficult. Government schools don’t provide this standard of education and training but this is also true for some private schools. Some private schools must be monitored who are only minting money and not providing good education.

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