An opportunity?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN tandem with Islamabad, the Sindh government has announced that the students who were scheduled to sit for their Grades IX to XII Board examinations this summer will be promoted to the next class without being tested.

In the absence of an alternative, this can be deemed to have been a sensible step. Moreover, the fact is that the exams we have been holding for the last several decades are no less than an ‘immaculate deception’. They are rife with corruption, and candidates resort to unfair means while massive sums change hands to manipulate results.

As a consequence, the real learning outcome of the students is appalling. Education in Pakistan is exam-oriented and these exams are a farce, leaving no incentive for the students to study. For them, it is a paper chase for the certificate/degree.

Now is also the time for the government to come clean on its failure to educate the children of this country as it is required to do under Article 25-A of the Constitution. The pandemic lockdown and the disruption it has caused are a blessing in disguise. The government should now rise to the occasion to bring about radical changes in our education system.

The sermonising in our textbooks should stop.

It is important to make it responsive to the indigenous needs of our people. A system that promotes inequity, oppression, exploitation and is tailored to meet the demands of the corporate sector that now controls our neoliberal economy needs to be discarded right away. It needs to be made more relevant to our conditions and should be child-centred.

From press reports, it appears that with the exception of upscale institutions, where children have access to digital technology, the schools for the children of the masses will remain closed indefinitely though teachers are expected to be present.

Just before the lockdown, the government was working on a new curriculum. Now is the time for our rulers to do some rethinking. Many sacred cows of our education system need to be demolished and some simple goals set without having to adopt elaborate procedures.

We should, for starters, not be afraid of confessing honestly that our proclaimed educational goals, namely to instil religious values, patriotism and reverence for ideology, have remained beyond our reach even after 72 years of narrow goals. In the process, much damage has been done.

The more the authorities have persisted in emphasising religion in education, the more society has moved away from morality, ethics and integrity. The greater the effort to Islamicise and ideologise the curricula, the more have selfishness, corruption and untruth been enhanced in all spheres of our national life. This sorry state of affairs testifies to our pedagogical failure to reform society through religion in education.

In the process, we have also failed to produce students who can think critically and possess problem-solving capability. Some, but not the majority, acquire professional skills but still need further training to learn how to apply them. Most of them cannot even communicate coherently — neither verbally nor in writing — in any language.

That is because they are the products of a system in which rote learning is inbuilt. Worst of all, we cannot even inculcate civility, integrity, ethical values or civic sense in the young who pass through our education system.

I do not blame them. They are what they are because our education has made them so. I attribute this to the duplicity and confusion we create in the child’s mind at the formative stage. The student picks up a textbook to read and gets a heavy dose of sermonising. He looks around and finds that society behaves quite contrarily. The message? Be smart and do the forbidden so long as you can get away with it.

The sermonising in our textbooks should stop. Let the child follow her natural potential. Just be kind to her and she will learn kindness. Allow her to explore her natural skills and she will develop happily and enjoy it. She will imbibe the goodness you create in the classroom.

Remember, she must also be facilitated to develop her communication skills — obviously in a language that she doesn’t have to struggle with. Thus her cognition will grow and in a few years she would be so highly motivated that nothing would stop her from going after what her aptitude is suited to. Hopefully, she will then be ready to explore the formal curricular scheme if she is allowed a measure of freedom.

From newspaper reports, it emerges that schools may not open for some time but teachers are expected to attend. This is an opportunity to provide the teachers some in-service training. This is what should be the focus of the authorities. They should drop their rigidity and work out a simple plan to transform pedagogy, which can be transmitted to the teachers online through the school managements.

Source: Dawn