The Pakistan’s Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) recently decided to bar students below 14 years of age from appearing in the Class IX examination. The decision was greeted with a lot of hue and cry from students, parents, academia, and civil society. The pernicious decision of the IBCC reflects, yet again, the authoritarian psyche set out to ruin the future of students.
Education is the right of every child and individual. Education should not be restrained by placing upper and lower age limits. It can be started at any point of time, age and at any phase of life. Education is limitless; the more one learns the more one is able to develop. One is never too old or too young for this; one can learn and educate oneself at any time. Besides, education is the only thing that is above all barriers as it helps in clearing up the barriers.
The IBCC, instead of handing down the verdict, should have constituted a panel of independent psychologists, doctors, and teachers to evaluate students’ ability to appear in the examinations. The IBCC should learn from the examples of USA, England, India, Kenya and Australia in this regard.
American Elizabeth Codd graduated summa cum laude with a double major in mathematics and music from Rhode Island College this month. Elizabeth became the second-youngest graduate in college history at the age of 18. Fellow compatriot Danielle McBurnett also graduated summa cum laude to become the youngest person in the history of Arizona State University's College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation to receive a bachelor's of science in nursing on May 13. She received her high school diploma and her associate degree (with a 4.0 grade point average) when she was 15.
In yet another example of giving more consideration to intelligence and ability instead of age, St George's, University of London in June 2008 awarded MBBS degree to 22-year old Heenal Raichura of Indian-origin. Heenal is believed to have become the youngest ever medical doctor in the United Kingdom. She was accepted into university to study medicine in 2002 when she was 16.
The former child prodigy and holder of several world records, Michael Kevin Kearney of Hawaii, USA, started teaching college at the age of 17. He spoke his first words at four months. At the age of six months, he told his pediatrician: "I have a left ear infection". Michael finished high school at age 6, enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College at the age of six, graduating at 8 with an Associate of Science in Geology. He is listed in the Guinness Book as the world's youngest university graduate at the age of 10, receiving a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of South Alabama.
Another inspiring story is that of 20-year old Tathagat Avatar Tulsi from Bangalore, India. At the age of three years, he told his parents that he did not want to go to regular school because he knew the entire syllabi. And then at six, he decided that he wanted to finish schooling as soon as possible and get into research. Tathagat completed B.Sc. when 10 years old, M.Sc. at 12 and in December 2008 became the youngest PhD
degree holder from Indian Institute of Science.
Tathagat, holder of a Guinness World Record, is listed as one of the most gifted Asian youngsters by TIME magazine, mentioned as "Superteen" by SCIENCE, "Physics Prodigy" by The TIMES, "Master Mind" by The WEEK and listed by OUTLOOK as one of the smartest Indian youngsters.
In Pakistan we have the success story of Muhammad Affan Yasin. Due to the financial problems of his family he dropped out of school after class III. He sat for his class X papers as a private student and became the youngest student to pass matriculation exam at the age of 11 in 2006. His feat was recognized by former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who awarded him Rs 20,000 and announced that the government would finance his education up to graduation.
On the other hand, one is also not too old to learn. The justification that a person has attained eighteen years of age and should therefore be not allowed in school is not justifiable. The financial and domestic situation of the person should be taken into consideration before denying him/her entry into school. Many families, especially in Pakistan, due to the economic crunch and unequal distribution of wealth are not in a position to bear the financial burden of sending their children to schools. One of the root causes of child labor in the country is access to quality primary education. The former International Labor Organization’s director-general Michel Hansenne rightly had said: "child labor only perpetuates an endless cycle of illiteracy and poverty."
Later in life when their living standard improves and these uneducated children want to continue with their education, the doors of educational institutions are slammed on their faces. The simple reason being that they are over-aged! Education should not be limited; it is one thing that can be started at any point of time as shown by the Kenyans and Australian.
Hannah Wambui Kinyanjui, a 56-year-old mother in Nyandarua North district, Kenya, stunned the whole world after she joined the free primary education program and joined class one. Fellow Kenyan Kimani Nganga Maruge at the age of 85 made history in 2004 when he enrolled at Kapkenduywa Primary in Eldoret, after Kenya's government introduced free primary schooling in 2003. Two of his 30 grandchildren attend the same school but they are in more senior grades. Australian Phyllis Turner began her graduate studies at the age of 90. At 70, she enrolled at the University of Adelaide and at 72, she won a 12-month scholarship to study at the University of California. The 94-year-old great-great-grandmother is the world’s oldest recipient of a master’s degree in medical science.
The importance of education cannot be neglected by any nation. And in today’s world, the role of education has become even more vital. It is an absolute necessity for economic and social development of any nation. It is unfair to introduce an age limit for education. Education must be for all, irrespective of age. Before placing numbers on education the concerned agencies should consider the opinion of experts.