My years of teaching experience have led me to understand that our lecture rooms are a hotspot for disparity rather than a dedicated place for an open discussion. Our education system leads to have a fixed perception in our minds, closing the door of dialogue and dissent. For example, the vast majority thinks that chastity is the sole responsibility of women while men can go scot free and have the privilege of indulging in extramarital affairs. These disparities have persisted into the present day and cannot be removed until our learning institutions cultivate new thoughts and promote research and reflection. Most erroneous beliefs have gained a foothold because they have never been tested, particularly in our schools, colleges and universities.
As for example, when a textbook decides the specific role for a woman without accentuating its importance and inevitability and how it helps us to evolve, it is never an issue for learners. They take it for granted in the first place and then make a complaint when such textbook standards are foisted on them. Briefly put, if students are at variance with the dominant narrative then they must express their disapproval in the classroom and articulate a rationale for their disagreement.
It is essential to realise the fact that the students of today are the leaders of tomorrow and they have more duties at their disposal to perform. On that account, it is their primary responsibility to come forward to ask well-informed questions to the class. There are two significant realisations for them. First, a classroom is meant for students to learn, which requires acceptance and acknowledgement of others’ strengths and weaknesses. Secondly, students need to respect their teachers by listening to them and disagreeing with them with legitimate points and convincing reasons.
Our mental structures are formed through a variety of channels such as schooling, parenting, friendships, social media and literature. However, the situation is worsened when the duties of a teacher are merely confined to marking students’ attendance and finishing off the given syllabus on time that too without challenging undue pay cuts or demurring institutional penalties for lack of commitment to adapting updated teaching methodologies.
Of course it falls beyond the scope of the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014, as it behoves teachers and educators to be adaptive to the growing age of technology and update themselves with modern teaching methods and strategies. They must engage with their students in a constructive dialogue to shape up their creativity and enhance their cognitive development.
Particular attention must be paid to acquiring such soft skills as effective communication and interpersonal skills. Teachers must also incorporate friendly gestures, be open-minded and permissive and encourage students with reassuring body language. The education ministry should play its part by holding teacher training programmes, updating textbooks with the latest scientific and technological developments, as well as encouraging institutions through a performance-based grant system to upgrade their libraries with modern features in line with the needs of students.
To begin with, teachers must become a role model for their students and encourage them to share their views without fear of reprisal or ridicule. As a role model, they should desist from dismissing their questions as foolish or silly since it has a disabling effect on students and they may lose their confidence or level of certitude.
To build a functioning inclusive environment, educational institutions need to introduce a uniform teaching code aimed at promoting and fostering a culture of open dialogue between students and teachers. Teachers must be appraised on the basis of their performance in the classroom and their efforts must be acknowledged with performance-based incentives in different forms, such as delegation of power, salary increment or paid sabbatical leaves for research and writing. Aggrieved teachers should be welcomed to register their complaints and grievances. Institutions that fail to deliver should not be allowed to enrol students beyond the enforced limit or quota.
This is indeed a tall order which cannot be achieved without involving all stakeholders including students, teachers, institutions and the government in the reformatory process. That being the case, we must take responsibility and rise to the occasion to actualise the commitment of the government enshrined in Article 25 A of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973.
The writer is a columnist and can be reached at mawraraja @ protonmail.com.
This article was originally published in SouthAsia Magazine.