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Opinion

August 30, 2016

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What education is not

What education is not

At times it may be risky to raise questions about widely-held beliefs and established traditions but it is the only tested way to open up the mind and enter an amazing new world of ideas.

Developments and discoveries in any field of life owe a great deal to this critical attitude. Ideally, educational institutions should provide a platform and a marketplace to students to challenge existing ideas and ideologies so that they can come up with something different and unique without turning anything into a cult. Education in, essence, is a learning-unlearning-relearning process.

This process can either be active or passive. Learning is active when it is acquired by direct experience, by observation and experiment, or by logical reasoning. Our relations are mostly based on direct experience, scientific knowledge is developed through observation and experimentation, and philosophy owes its existence and growth to logical reasoning.

We achieve knowledge passively by being told something by someone else. Most of the learning that takes place in classroom and what comes to us by watching TV or reading newspapers is passive.

The kind of education system we have in Pakistan is, sadly, suffocating and predominantly passive in character. From the very beginning, students are exposed to an environment of fear of failure. They are ridiculed and most often punished for making mistakes.

In order to avoid punishment, students always look to teachers for specific instructions to perform a particular task and never dare to deviate from the stated guidelines. Over time, students develop a robotic attitude and mechanical skills. They solve mathematical problems given at the end of every chapter by performing step-by-step operations but are confused when a small twist is added to the problem.

That is because the emphasis is on mechanical rather than logical learning. This is true for almost all subjects.

Another hindrance to true learning relates to curriculum design. I have seen class five and six students struggling to learn highly abstract/metaphysical concepts. Regardless of how one tries to teach such concepts, students will simply not grasp them. For example, the science book of class six begins with an introduction to the scientific method which is riddled with so many abstract notions that students can hardly understand it.

Similarly, students of age five through twelve, who have not yet understood their physical environment, are expected to understand metaphysical religious beliefs. Unable to understand conceptually, they have no choice but to resort to cramming. Logically, curriculum design should follow the principle of moving students from easy to complex and concrete to abstract phenomenon.

What is more intriguing is the authoritarian style of teaching at all levels of education. Instead of encouraging students to question authority and conventional wisdom, teachers in general pose themselves as all-knowing (omniscient) and infallible authority on the subject.

Having been trained in an environment of conformity for so long, students develop trained incapacity. Later in life, they follow every advice and suggestion without recourse to independent thinking and rational analysis.

Previously, family and teachers were thought to be the dominant, and sometime the only, influence on children. Today, however, the influence exerted by the media is greater.

Modern advertising typically bombards the public with slogans by celebrities. Advertisements are designed to appeal to emotions and instant pleasure. They often portray play as more fulfilling than work, self-gratification as more desirable than self-control, and materialism as more desirable than spirituality and idealism.

In such a situation, teachers should develop rather than envelop students’ abilities to think beyond the apparent, to read between the lines, and to hear what is not said. Filling the empty mind of students with more and more information is not education.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University. Email: [email protected]

 

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