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Teaching to unlearn: Uniformity or diversity?

Yaseen Iqbal

Education is the communication of knowledge through different ways, and the underlying aim has always been to prepare youth for a safe and bright future. Naturally, it begins with parent-children communication to share the experiences the parents went through during different stages of their lives. Gradually, when the wisemen were identified in the primitive societies, people started learning in the form of groups, and then used to send their kids to learned intellectuals which took the shape of a formal class-room, then school, college, and finally the mankind saw the University of Bologna, Italy founded in 1088. Jamia Al-Azhar was there even before that but was given university status in 1961.

Throughout the human history, teachers have been believed to be the most learned and honest people and were trusted to introduce the best possible curriculum to educate the youth. Visionary policymakers always tried to encourage diversity to equip the graduates with skills to handle diverse challenging situations and problems. The students also demand for diversity to study subjects of their choice for their desired careers. Even the modern-day advanced societies try their best to diversify their curricula to create opportunities consistent with the individual and national needs. Uniformity is important and needed at school or college level in core courses such as reading, writing, and mathematics along with some exposure to basic and social sciences. Here again, we will have to tailor our curricula to train our youth at par with the technologically advanced countries. For example, we can easily exclude Urdu as compulsory subject after matriculation and offer both the mathematics and biology at intermediate level. This will open both the engineering and medical tracks to our science students. In parallel, Urdu is and must be available up to PhD level as an optional subject without any compromise on its significance. This will not only save students time spent on additional mathematics / biology but will enhance the academic level of our students as well.

The present education standards are not satisfactory throughout the country. Our previous CSS results demonstrate that our learning outcomes are continuously going down and there is an urgent to address. Obviously, the teaching methods and to some extent our curricula need drastic measures.

Different schools of thought have developed and introduced different methods for this. For example, in Dars-i-Nizami, the curricula introduced by Muslims were uniform but with enough diversity to equip the graduates with skills like logical thinking, intellectual reasoning, and business in addition to faith, tib (medicine) and skills to earn for livelihood. European philosophers focussed upon promoting liberal and critical thinking and encouraged inquisitive teaching. This means, the learning methods are being modified with time to improve it, and the train of education goes on; however, non-uniformity has never been an issue.

Unfortunately, the education system of Pakistan is devised and run by specific groups intelligent enough to seduce successive governments, hypnotise the government to release funds and show their short-term results. Obviously, these groups work very hard and even sleep in three-piece suits to prove their vigilance and competence, consistent with our social norms. When these vigilant educationists observed the economic development of some nations and saw their products in global market, they started beating their drums for knowledge-based economy and spent billions on this.

How many knowledge-based economy sectors could we bring to or develop in Pakistan, the relevant authorities may know better, but the current state of our economy proves that it has gone down. In contrast, the wise educationists established their own institutions which grew exponentially, reflecting their skills and wisdom, and of course, honesty and patriotism. More recently, the developed world moved towards a relatively more diverse ‘disruptive education’, but our government is interested in uniformity. I don’t think the government means uniformity in university education as we need diversity in this. If the government means uniformity in school and college level education system, then this gives rise to the following important questions?

Do we need uniformity to lower the standards of some private institutions and make these at par with the government institutions? Obviously not, as it will be a great loss, and hence no need of uniformity. Instead, the private institutions performing excellently should be encouraged more to continue their good work.

Is it because the private sector charge huge fees, inconsistent with their facilities? If yes, then this is a problem of poor governance and the concerned regulatory authorities / bodies should address this and hence, does not need uniformity.

Is it because some private institutions influence the concerned examination boards to secure top positions for their students to attract more students and earn more money? If yes, then this is again poor governance and has nothing to do with uniformity.

Is it because, our three different systems of education produce three different schools of thought or mentalities? If yes, then, similar missionary/religious, public and private schools are everywhere, even in Britain. This needs proper governance and does not need uniformity.

Is it because the performance of government run schools is worse than the private sector? If yes, then again, good governance is needed.

The most important point which a teacher can understand is this. If the government wants uniformity in the curricula taught in our schools and colleges, then some of subjects being taught in the best private sector institutions with proven excellence should be adopted as it is and get rid of the government curriculum experts which failed and embarrassed the government consistently over the years. Here again, we must be careful to take care of the local languages, cultures and socio-economic conditions.

Furthermore, our education standards have gone down not because of uniformity or diversity but due to merit violation, dishonesty and corruption at every level. After every five years, the political leadership / government asks the concerned authorities about the causes. Obviously, none will say that I am the main problem as I/we have no expertise in education, fire us and appoint relevant experts to address the issues? But these authorities rather divert the attention of the government via opening new pandora boxes as they are always more experienced in dealing with successive governments and succeed in pushing the dirt under the carpet for another 5 years. To convince government, they need nation-wide propaganda which is successfully done by the wise and vigilant mafia.

The actual problem is how to manage our education? In the past, teachers were properly trained, rules and regulations were followed in letter and spirit, examinations were conducted with utmost honesty, and the outcome was at least not bad.

When everyone (including the government) started violation of rules evident from court cases, the downfall of our education started. Now, seniors advise their juniors to do nothing and focus on paper work as the government cares only about paper work, and the society needs degrees only, and a large number of publications.

To address these issues, there must be a honest national education regulatory authority to keep an eye on this sensitive and most important sector. Please, don’t waste time on uniformity. If a single teacher can produce only one excellent student with a unique curriculum, he/she should be encouraged, may be one Aristotle produces only one Socrates, and that will be much better than ten thousand useless graduates with numerous publications. What the government needs to do is to:

Focus upon raising the standard of government institutions by ensuring merit in the appointment of teachers and everyone involved at every level which is not being done despite claims and promises

Ensure a practicable reward and punishment system for whoever deserves it as under the current rules and regulations accompanied by the trade unions, it is difficult to remove a useless government servant

Ensure fair and uniform examination for all and then watch what people opt for their children

Another important issue of our country is the lack of honesty and personal integrity of all those involved including the authorities. Our education system has never been abused by the uneducated and semieducated parents but by the highly educated parents ranging from teachers themselves to civil servants and ministers who use their influence to admit their kids, ensure the best possible grades in exams and hence, the best jobs. This needs wise leadership and sincere administration from schools to secretariat level to Identify and empower the honest and capable educationists to help the government in addressing these issues. Do our education ministers and other high-ups have the relevant expertise or follow the guidelines of those who know? If teaching is a missionary profession, then we must keep this in mind while appointing people for this sacred job. The people should also come forward to tell the truth as the “all ok” reports to decision-makers by nears and dears have always been the real cause of problems. This will enable the government to raise the education standards, and identify the educationists misusing the public funds and opportunities. So, in addition to uniformity at lower level, diversity is equally important at higher level but with clean hands through clean minds with clean history. Without removing the dead rat, the well cannot be declared clean even if we take all its water out.

Now coming to the most important issue of our education which is our national social attitude. Making of minds for the development of a peace-loving, decent and prosperous society is, without any doubt, the responsibility of the teacher and educational institution. However, the support of society and government is equally important. It can be observed that people don’t vote for educated and deserving candidates, and a good number of policy-makers and law-makers happen to be those who fail to graduate?

The candidates with good grades in academics are not selected for jobs even in our institutions but the ones with poor grades are selected obviously through unfair means?

One can extend this analysis to national level and judge that do we honour education, knowledge, honesty and merit as a nation? Consequently, those who fail or thrown out of educational institutions lead, and those who pass follow which is not only in violation of merit and logic but unnatural as well.

Thus, our students learn in practical life that what we teach in our institutions is the other way around. In this scenario, the responsibility of a teacher is doubled.

First, the teacher will have to teach to unlearn the lesson what the students learn every day in the practical life and then, the teacher will have to teach them to learn the lessons being taught in the institution. Yes, the lessons like “HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY”, “DO JUSTICE”, “WORK HARD FOR A SUCCEFUL CAREER” and “EARN HALAL BREAD”. If we cannot teach unlearning, the well cannot be declared clean, and we will keep on drinking dirty water.





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