Teaching the next generation

September 4, 2022

There is a need to rethink the teaching methods often adopted by local educators

Teaching the next generation

Ahmad* has been studying for his bachelor's in nursing at a private institute in Peshawar. He and his class fellows have been assigned the task by his anatomy teacher to prepare 100 multiple choice questions (MCQs) from the lecture slides they have received from the teacher.

"What is the purpose behind this effort"? I ask him. "Our teachers have told us to do so," he replies. "They ask to just make MCQs from the lecture slides and then memorise them. The examinations are usually limited to the content of the lecture slides ". Some of them claim that some teachers have told them that there is no need to waste time reading thick books.

I try to persuade him that he should read the books instead of guessing or memorising the MCQs. I fail, maybe because he has been ‘educated’ in a society where marks and grades matter more than the comprehension and application of actual knowledge.

Ahmad's case represents a trend followed and promoted by many private schools and colleges across the country. Given my long experience as a teacher in Pakistan, having taught students from primary to tertiary level, I have observed that the institutes attract more students (read customers) if their students grab positions on examination boards.

Going through their MCQs for eight semesters, I wonder how these students will write their research reports. A final-year undergraduate student tells me that by God's grace, his research proposal has been accepted by the supervisor. "What was your research question?" I ask him. He smiles shyly and tells me that while it was nursing-related, he couldn't remember the topic. He also tells me that he and all his class fellows - around 50 students – are being supervised by the worthy principal of the college.

The principal sahib besides supervising these few students, has the responsibilities of a full-time nurse in a government hospital.

Nevertheless, the students of this college, like many others in this country, are proud not only of their high GPAs but also of the fact that they will be caregivers to the nation in the future.

The nursing school is just one example of how not to teach. There are many others. The primary education sector is no different.

The purpose of primary education is to develop all aspects of a child's personality, i.e., physical and emotional as well as cultural and intellectual. Therefore, academic success should not be defined in such narrow terms as preparing students for a particular examination. Instead, it should aim at refining the child's overall potential.

Seventy-five years after independence, it is high time to reflect on our educational journey and figure out the way we are heading.

At the primary level, games and group interaction are seminally consequential. It is through teamwork and games that children acquire a sense of respect for fellow humans, recognise what is right and wrong, learn how to cooperate and share their personal belongings with others, negotiate and resolve conflicts peacefully, obey rules and directions, demand their rights peacefully and express themselves politely. In short, primary education must grow our children socially and emotionally to prepare them not only for passing their written examinations but also for living a good life. Though the theory depicts a very promising future for our youngsters, the situation on the ground is different.

Zara, my nine-year-old niece who attends a nearby Government Girls Primary School, informs me that they are permitted to enjoy their recess inside their classrooms only. Being inside the classrooms, these little girls are allowed to eat or talk in low tones but not allowed to move around or make a noise.

"Why? What about the playground and the equipment the government has installed in it?" I ask her.

"Ma'am says you people make noise while playing in the ground, so she has put thorny woods in the slides and the see-saw and has locked the swing set with metal chains," she reports.

The agonising effect of this information notwithstanding, it isn't breaking news for me. I have been to many schools like this where this type of strictness, commonly known as 'good discipline' is appreciated.

Similar practices are observed in many private schools. At a local private school where this scribe worked as a teacher some years ago, the principal sahib – who had once been a taxi driver in Saudi Arabia and had passed his BA as a private candidate - asked the teachers to keep the students quiet inside the classrooms during the break. He argued that he wanted to impress the guests he usually received at that time in his office.

When I tried to explain to him that this policy would stunt students physically and mentally, he retorted by saying "this is not England or America. Our people love schools where there's good discipline. Don't you ever create problems by explaining these things to our kids."

Having limited options, I devised a plan to facilitate the students while avoiding the boss's ire at the same time. Thus, one of the students would keep an eye on the principal's office door while other students were allowed to sit, stand and stretch, albeit quietly.

Seventy-five years after independence, it is high time to reflect on our educational journey and figure out the way we are heading.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

The writer has studied English literature, history and politics and taught students from primary to tertiary levels. He can be reached at nadeemkhankpk13@gmail.com

Teaching the next generation