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June 22, 2015

Educating the net generation

Opinion

June 22, 2015

The generation gap has never been so pronounced as it is today. Parents, teachers, and policymakers seem to be at odds with teens in more than one ways. Elders either intrude too much in what teens think is their private sphere – or, conversely, they turn a blind eye to their activities.
In extreme cases, one can see elders and teens changing their traditional roles. In a changing new world, it is extremely important to understand the implications of the internet on learning and socialisation.
I am a little above the threshold of ‘youth’ in terms of age but the way I think and perceive things is strikingly different from those who are a little younger. For many, this difference of perception may be illusionary or even socially constructed.
The belief that no extraordinary change has occurred or can occur with the advent of the internet reflects itself in setting policy goals and budgetary allocation for different projects.
In this context, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman talking about the need for transition to a knowledge-based economy in a country like Pakistan is a cry in the wilderness. Leaders and for that matter all of us have certain beliefs about education and the world around us that do not hold true today.
One such belief relates to the importance of the physical context in which learning takes place. Traditionally, it was unthinkable to learn without physical interaction between teacher and students with special emphasis on structured contents and discipline. One had to learn a particular course from a single teacher and a prescribed textbook. Only a more demanding teacher would ever direct students to some additional reference material.
Now the internet has radically changed the space-time contours of education. Besides access to distance learning programmes offered by prestigious institutions, students have access to online material in multimedia (text, audio, and video). A teacher can no longer claim to be infallible and indispensible.

My son, who studies medicine in Khyber Medical University, jokingly points to the laptop as his all-rounder teacher.
Though not yet in Pakistan but elsewhere in the world the traditional role of librarian and the library has undergone profound change. One of the main demands of regulatory bodies, such as the Higher Education Commission and Pakistan Engineering Council, from universities is to maintain a reasonable stock of books and journals (in physical form) to qualify for accreditation.
A modern library has to have more books and journals in soft form and access to online sources than wasting money on stuff that no one would have a chance to read.
The most crucial aspect of teaching the internet generation is how to engage students in productive activities. Unless challenged and engaged, students will show up in class only to fulfil attendance requirements. A boring and stick-to-the-slides lecture ends up in students’ frustration which they express by playing games, watching movies, and surfing the net during class.
Teaching methodology, which depends exclusively on lectures and is accompanied by student memorisation of facts, dates, and names, is out of sync with this era of interactivity. Most educational institutions in Pakistan are good at teaching and testing facts but students are not prepared to apply those facts to solving problems. Research in pedagogy shows that learning is most effective when all human faculties are, in some way, involved in the learning process. Interactive methods, such as case study, demonstration, and group discussion etc should supplement the traditional lecture method.
More than before, contemporary education should be grounded in morality. Unfortunately, morality is taken for granted and more emphasis is placed on producing technicians but not human beings. The commercialisation and commoditisation of education has regressed the importance of general education. Subjects like sociology, ethics, psychology, and Islamic/Pakistan studies are considered redundant and both teachers and students treat them with disdain.
One reason, especially in the case of Islamic and Pakistan Studies, is the monotonous nature of contents. One can hardly find any striking difference between the course contents of Grade 8 and FA/FSc.
We need to reorient the education system to accomplish our national objectives of accelerating economic development, creating social harmony, and ensuring territorial integrity.
This demands changing the landscape of traditional education by harnessing the potential of information technology, modernising the content, training the teachers, and above all creating an environment that encourages creativity and critical thinking rather than blindly following traditions to have robots running organisations.
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]

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