Educating the uneducated  



“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.” –Oscar Wilde

Not to undermine teaching but Oscar Wilde rightly points out that education cannot come from books alone. There is a world of difference between education and learning. Unfortunately, our system, with a few exceptions, equates learning with memorisation. How many of us remember all we were made to memorise in school? The missing link here is teaching of the teachers, not memorisation by the students. Teachers teach the same course year after year without making it interesting and adding or subtracting to it as per changing times.

Dr Ayza Yadani Abid, PhD in Educational Psychology (learning issues and EMDR specialist), says, “Times change, generations come and go. In one person’s lifetime living styles and technological advancements take place so that by the time half a century passes, the requirements of life and world have drastically changed. Cultures which understand this principle of human life are progressive and effective. When change is resisted, stagnation occurs. Disorder and decay sets in. Pakistan’s education system is one such example, where despite having a comprehensive network of schools and teachers, 5.5 million children are still out of schools; research in universities is of abysmally low standard, and a lack of ethics leads to corruption at all levels. Any discussion regarding how to improve education, tends to be circular – more money, latest books, train teachers, curriculum, buildings, security, etc. Thus how does one develop an effective educational system, where all the individual desires of 190 million come on the same page?

“Instead of lecturing, a term that is substituted for teaching, our teachers need to be taught to learn first to ‘explain’ to the students. In my over a decade of university teaching, I’ve hardly come across teachers who would have the courage to tell a student,” I don’t know the answer to that but will tell you in the next class.”

A student must leave the class with a clear understanding of the subject and a thirst to know more. This is the best thing a teacher can possibly do for the student i.e., to imbibe an interest in the given subject in the hearts of the students.

Coming to junior school teaching, a friend, with a boy too intelligent for the teachers to handle, was repeatedly called to the school. The complaint was he finished a 45-minute or more assignment in 15 minutes The work was neat and always correct. Then he disrupted the class. His teachers, used to pliant students, found it difficult to handle him. They did not like his analytical questions geared to ‘lecture’ students and focused on student memorisation. The best they could do was to whine to the principal who in turn called the parents. The boy’s comment was revealing: “They do not challenge me mentally.” Individual approach is generally discouraged. Herd mentality is accepted as it does not pose a challenge to our lecturing teachers. The focus of mass education is standardised. It overlooks the need to access individual strengths and weakness to become productive, proactive and healthy members of the society. Was it not Einstein who said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” We in our society are focused on making the fish climb a tree.

“The next step is developing procedures for teacher selection and placement. At present, schoolteachers are given subjects and classes irrespective of their qualification, aptitude or skills. They are employed to fill vacancies in schools, teacher-training takes place after. A trend is to have the sponsoring publisher give workshops as to introduce the material being taught, or in-house workshops by private schools which focus on standard topics. Training for mental or physical health and enabling teachers to identify and screen children for early identification is not part of the schools’ agendas. Encouraging debate, questioning where teachers do not judge or penalise will develop sound moral concepts; development of teachers as role models is an essential part of the education and character building process. To make education in Pakistan truly a game changer, or rather a life changer, incorporating healthier practices in schools will ensure that in mere 10 years, the change will be underway,” says Dr Ayza. Let me add here, the training is done to train teachers of ‘teaching’ standardised curriculum.

Although it is important to bring government and private schools on the same page in terms of curriculum, the huge difference in terms of financial inputs in both make it almost impossible to impart education in both equally. Further, private educational institutions have become too commercialised. The ‘branded’ educational institutions are a cut above other private institutions that themselves fall into different categories based on fees being charged, which itself depends on many variable factors.

An interesting correct comment by a newspaper states, “Moreover, schools with branches (read franchises) all over the country suffer from a lack of consistency. You cannot take a student from one city to another and then expect the child to pick up on everything without a hitch. There are entirely different cultures between these branches, yet exactly the same fee structures.” (September 12, 2015)

The objective of education should be learning, not teaching. An aspect understood by few and overlooked in favour of standardisation. Mediocrity is drummed in students in the name of education. Creativity and individuality is systematically stifled.

John Stuart Mill in his celebrated work On Liberty (1869), talking about individuality in Chapter III, states, “In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others. There is a greater fullness of life about his own existence, and when there is more life in the units, there is more in the mass which is composed of them.”

Friedrich Nietzsche is right when he says, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

But who will educate the uneducated?


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