By Zubeida Mustafa
THE paradox of education in Pakistan is that the children of the poor are not getting enough of it, while the offspring of the rich get a surfeit. Neither is good for the child.
The privileged class faces a dilemma due to the commercialisation of the education system. Mothers with young children complain about the burden of classwork and tuitions. What they worry about is the overload of studies that overflows from school hours to tuition time.
In this context, it is but natural that some enterprising mothers are looking for solutions. A novel one that is becoming increasingly popular is homeschooling. There are a few mothers in Lahore and a growing number in Karachi who have opted to withdraw their young children from school or have not sent them to school at all.
Some mothers have found a solution in homeschooling.
All of them are dissatisfied with our current school system — the highly elitist and the not so elitist. The most commonly heard complaint is that our schools rob the child of their childhood. Under the present system, the child is denied the joy of learning. The schools are suppressing critical thinking and destroying creativity, they say.
One angry mother pulled her children out of school when her daughter was appointed the monitor and asked to report those children who spoke Urdu in school. She found this distasteful.
Homeschooling — one mother prefers to call it home education — is thus the public’s response to the authorities’ failure to address the issue of pedagogy and the content of education adequately. The Karachi homeschoolers are loosely organised into two groups — one in the DHA area and the other in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. The idea of getting together is not so much to regulate their working rigidly as to learn from one another’s experience and make a collective contribution to their children’s learning process.
Visiting the group in DHA gave me the opportunity to watch the children at work. They seemed to be playing and having fun. Actually, they were learning. It was Wednesday, when mothers meet at the weekly Book Club to draw up their work plans. There were nearly 20 children and eight or so mothers.
When I joined them, one of the mothers was teaching the children — from ages four to ten — something about plants. When the class ended the students trooped out into the garden for some real-life experience. As an introductory exercise, they had already visited a farm and studied the different species of trees there.
Since the mothers were highly educated themselves they appeared to be coping well. Normally, a mother might be homeschooling her own children and also those from another family. There is plenty of interaction among them and the atmosphere was relaxed. The groups are of mixed ages with the older ones helping their younger siblings.
Forever in quest of solutions, many mothers had arranged for tutors for older children to teach subjects at a higher level such as science and mathematics. Ultimately, they aim to prepare children to sit for their ‘O’-levels examinations privately.
It appeared to be an experiment that held promise but many issues come to mind about which the mothers themselves are sceptical. They say that the experiment is so new in Pakistan that they do not have a yardstick to measure its effectiveness. Unlike the US where homeschooling operates in a strictly regulated environment, home schools in Pakistan have no constraints. In the US and other Western countries, mechanisms have been created to test the children’s progress periodically.
The mothers acknowledge that they had to muster courage not to conform; even now they feel they have to ultimately aim at fitting their child into the conventional world of higher education and professional life. One said she may ultimately move back to the US from where she returned to serve her country. She was candid enough to tell me that after a year of homeschooling her younger son still misses the regular school he had been attending earlier. But the older one who has learning problems says he would never want to go back to school.
What perturbed me was the limited social exposure of homeschooled children to diversity in society. One mother, who is teaching her children at home, told me that homeschooling mothers have to be ‘quirky’ by their very nature. They have to have strong ideas about education and should be prepared to take risks. That is why they tend to come from the same socio-economic class with similar ideological beliefs.
Having studied in a convent school where a diversity of class, faiths and culture enriched the classroom environment, I wonder how children growing up in a secluded group with an identical outlook learn to coexist with the ‘other’.
It is time to seriously rethink education. Wouldn’t it be advisable for parents to concentrate their efforts on reforms in the school sector?
Source: Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2016