Article 13.1 of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ratified by Pakistan) decrees that education is “directed to the full development of the human personality and sense of dignity”
Our public education system is in need of dire reform, we cannot be among the developed nations without education for all, our universities need to improve, literacy and attendance are not alternatives to quality and so on and so forth. Speeches, declarations, policy statements and promises galore. We’ve heard dozens of proposals as well, on television, in classrooms, and elsewhere. But… a new subject? Sorry to break your bubble sir, but we already have up to 25 elective and 10 technical subjects for both HSC and SSC. With a burdensome load of 8 compulsory subjects for SSC and seven for HSC, why another?
Let’s rephrase that: why more subjects when we already have our plates full with subjects we mostly throw out the moment we walk out of an exam or get admissions? We hardly gain much traction in life from learning Jinnah’s 14 points, long division, or names of scientists. So, here goes. The Oxford dictionary defines education dually, as the process of giving and receiving systematic instruction (education) and as an enlightening experience (‘an’ education). Enlightening-giving greater understanding. The primary purpose of education is enlightening lives, equipping individuals with the gear necessary. In light of this criterion, the pre-existing subjects do empower individuals by offering professional placement, but hardly anything else. Our educational system is hardly able to make, and then siphon out future leaders. It employs an array of topics with little practical application in the hope that leaders will emerge from the emulsion. The upshot? Education and life seem to be antagonistic at worst and exclusive of each other at best.
No offense intended for the existing compulsory subjects, but we require another one to caulk the spaces left by the existing ones. Education up till university has to be practical, with subjects and topics having pre-defined applications in life. It must facilitate the acquisition of skills, values, and beliefs. Article 13.1 of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ratified by Pakistan) decrees that education is “directed to the full development of the human personality and sense of dignity”. Clause 2(b) of the same covenant declares secondary education to consist of technical and vocational education. We in Pakistan have assigned this facet of education to the anonymity of the electives. Informal and open education has been largely overlooked, probably due to social and cultural stigmas attached to learning from places besides traditional campuses. Our education system ends where autodidactism (self-learning) commences: we are content with spoon-feeding our students from textbooks, with no focus on extensive learning. Students learn from topics, as opposed to problems (problem-based learning). It cannot be emphasised enough that research stems from problem-solving buttressed by necessary instruction. There is a need for a major overhaul and faith in our own judgment rather than zealously following international practices.
Prior to giving proposals, I would like to state that the inspiration for this article came from the single ‘Don’t go to school’, by Boyinaband. If you have the time, go through the lyrics to get the gist of this all. If implemented extensively and properly examined, this reform has the potential to render Pakistani students superior in the international job market. The proposal, folks, is for an additional subject titled ‘Life skills’, or something in that direction. Student disquiet over this is hardly justified, as the subject can’t, and shouldn’t, be taught using textbooks or some other absolutes. A guidebook may be necessary. At present, the material under this subject is probably being taught under various subjects. There is a need to bring the wings together into a new fledgling, through a much ruminated-over plan, culminating in integration as a compulsory subject (separate from technical and professional development wings).
Massive online open courses (MOOCs) will be gold in improving the free and uninhibited dissemination of subject material and practice
Salient features of the proposed life skills program are:
1) Inclusion of life skills into the national curriculum from the inception of primary education, with small compulsory courses among the core even in university
2) A separate life skills program within the federal and provincial education wings
3) The inclusion of the following topics into the curriculum:
- a) Cardinal features of the constitution, penal code and selected acts and amendments, along with an overview of the judicial system. This will improve on the non-existent appreciation of rights and obligations among Pakistanis. An accurate and impartial commentary on the successes and warts of the legal system is vital as well. Informal training can revolve around mock parliamentary sessions, court proceedings, and information sessions.
- b) History, structure, rules of procedure and important charters (especially the UN charter, ICESCR, Geneva convention and Law of the Sea). This will serve as a guide to understanding international events, forming a strong and informed public opinion. Combined with a), this will improve understanding of our own laws. Commentary on international relations and flaws in the UN framework or implementation will be vital. Training may involve model united nation sessions and information sessions, especially on current events.
- c) An impartial commentary on the sociopolitical systems, including class and gender inequality. Informal training may revolve around scenarios, and case studies, as well as home assignments focusing on observance and recording of social norms. The argument on conflicts between social norms and the law will be central to learning.
- d) Training on budgeting and disbursement of income, financial management, and taxation, along with property and insurance practices. Easily one of the most practical additions here, as it will improve national spending trends, and improve the economy significantly. Understanding of property laws will deal a heavy blow to property corruption.
- e) Elementary principles of accounting, economics, stocks, investment, banking and the origins of money. Coordinated internships will help boost understanding in these subject areas.
- f) An overview of practical skills such as time-management, study technique, household circuitry, basic carpentry, automotive parts, marketing, architecture, town planning, labor handling, etc. Internships and occasional apprenticeships will not just improve practical skills but will improve social standing of the skilled laborer as an occasional teacher.
- g) Emergency handling, especially basic first aid, medicine and recognising diseases and conditions. This will effectively train the household for many emergency procedures, and save millions of lives. Simulations, training with workers and internships can help further this knowledge.
- h) Family management, with a focus on parenting, family structures and dealing with peers. This may improve social harmony (e.g. reduce domestic and honor-related abuse) as long as training involves informal procedures.
- i) Labour rights, duties and worksmanship. This will improve the quality of both skilled and unskilled labor through better handling.
- j) Self-defence. This can help reduce crime rates, including gender-based assault.
- k) Overview of the agriculture and livestock regime in Pakistan. This will help improve understanding of shortcomings and raise awareness regarding rights of tenants and the marketing system. Students will appreciate the importance of agricultural workers to the national economy, improving their effective social standing.
- l) Details of the electoral system, with emphasis on careful and impartial analysis of contestants. Improvement in understanding of the process will naturally curb electoral rigging.
- m) Appreciation of the arts and popular culture. This will help revive interest in the national productions, with improvement in the entertainment industry a result.
- n) Industrial, environmental and retail ethics. Amelioration in consumer awareness and public pressure to implement restrictions have predicted improvements.
- o) Community work. Regular community work (e.g. doing away with sweepers and sharing the work among the students, visits and internships in infirmaries, orphanages, etc) would be vital to the development of a community-centred approach.
- p) Leadership and public-speaking. Our educational system cannot expect responsible and distinguished leaders if it doesn’t educate individuals regarding the criterion of a leader.
- q) Individuality. This includes it all. Self-identification (Iqbal’s ‘khudi’), gender study, prevention of social bias, group handling, etc. In fact, this should form the core of all social topics covered.
- r) An overview of Pakistan’s creation, ideology and raison d’etre (the purpose of existence). Seriously, we all know the events that led to independence. The question remains: What is Pakistan’s long-term purpose in the greater scope of things? How do we go about achieving this purpose? There is no national consensus on the answers to these questions. This topic would probably be highly subjective, and contrasting views should be tolerated as long as it all stays academic.
- s) Comparative religion. This will be among the core topics, helping to curb bigotry, inter and intra faith tensions. Regular visits to the centres of worship of various religions will be central to improved understanding.
- t) Global perspectives and research. This will develop thinking, communication, reasoning and research skills. As team-based research is at the heart of technological develoment, this may help development by stimulating minds towards critical analysis and the principle of ‘Why not instead of Why’.
- u) International education systems. Improved understanding of international education pathways, in combination with international relations and partnerships with countries over student exchange, will certainly improve international student placement. The target should be to improve educational collaboration to the extent that renowned educational institutions set up franchise campuses in Pakistan (such as NYU Shanghai for China). This will help improve competition and general standards of higher education in Pakistan. This topic must be dealt with during SSC.
- v) Employment. This would focus on the job market, reasons for unemployment and how to avoid it. Should involve market leaders frequently interacting with students through information sessions. Ideally, this topic should be taken up for HSC.
4) All necessary arrangements be made to bring the federal and provincial syllabi in line with each other.
Whew. Although it may seem a lot, it must be emphasised that the subject areas would be covered over at least 10 years (grades 3-12), with a need-based allocation of topics to the respective grades. The importance of well-managed and coordinated internships, apprenticeships and workshops cannot be overstated if this is to be successfully implemented. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) will be gold in improving the free and uninhibited dissemination of subject material and practice.
Perhaps the single greatest upshot of this subject would be to improve the situation of employment in Pakistan. By briefly exposing students to a vast array of subjects, this will certainly impress upon them that education is much more than engineering, medicine and business management, helping to deviate pressure from these professions and improving the job market as well. Adventitious results would be improvement in national security, community-centred approaches, human rights situation, public awareness, and patriotism.