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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Our textbooks and the lies they teach

Our textbooks and the lies they teach

The Medicine Wheel - 3 of 3

The Medicine Wheel - 2 of 3

The Medicine Wheel - 1 of 3

HEC devolution should be is spirit of 18th Amendment: Rais

A fascinating Durantian note on life.

"In the inexhaustible activity of the atom, in the endless resourcefulness of plants, in the teeming fertility of animals, in the hunger and movement of infants, in the laughter and play of children, in the love and devotion of youth, in the restless ambition of fathers and the lifelong sacrifice of mothers, in the undiscourageable researches of scientists and the sufferings of genius, in the crucifixion of prophets and the martyrdom of saints -- in all things I saw the passion of life for growth and greatness, the drama of everlasting creation. I came to think of myself, not as a dance and chaos of molecules, but as a brief and minute portion of that majestic process. I became almost reconciled to mortality, knowing that my spirit would survive me enshrined in a fairer mold ... and that my little worth would somehow be preserved in the heritage of men. In a measure the Great Sadness was lifted from me, and, where I had seen omnipresent death, I saw now everywhere the pageant and triumph of life"...Will Durant
http://www.willdurant.com/home.html

Friday, 1 April 2011

Let students explore for themselves.

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan.

If you happen to go inside a secondary school classroom ask the students to write a short essay on ‘My favourite personality’. Check the answers and most of them would have written that their favourite personality is the Quaid-e-Azam, or the Prophet (PBUH). They would have enumerated all the great qualities and virtues that these great men had. Ask them about the real meaning and worth of those qualities because of which they have praised these personalities and very little do they know. Then try to make the students write on the topic ‘ My favourite book’. Almost all the students would write that their favourite book is the Holy Quran. And then they would have reproduced whatever has been written to them by the teacher or has been memorized from a guidebook. Ask the students a question: have you read, understood and enjoyed the Holy Quran? And the answer: ‘NO’, Obviously! ‘But if you have not read, understood, or enjoyed a book , how can you say that that is your favourite book? And the answer from the students: ‘Sir the essay has been written to us by our teacher.’ Or, ‘we have learnt the essay from an essays book.’ What does this tell us? : That our teachers do not train students to come with their own ideas, in their own words, which should be the real purpose of creative writing in schools, but to memorize things written to them to be reproduced by them in the exams to get through them.
Now do another thing: Ask students in a secondary school to write an essay on ‘My favourite teacher’. The answers you get will be the exact copies of each other. The essays written by all students would begin like this: ‘My favourite teacher is Mr.Ahamd. He is a perfect gentleman. He is,………………..’ And lo and behold, Mr.Ahmad is the favourite teacher of each and every student in the whole class. This may be another story that Mr.Ahamd, some metaphysical being, actually known to no student but to the teacher only who has narrated this essay on ‘My favourite teacher’ to the class. Students have done one thing only: they have learnt the essay word to word by heart. And that is what they have reproduced on the paper. Actually they will reproduce the same essay whenever they are asked about their favourite teacher for the rest of their life. So no use of brain, no brainstorming, no thinking, nothing. Blind follow and memorization of facts without understanding run supreme here.
It is a normal routine in our schools that as the examinations come closer, students start asking their teachers about the ‘ most important’ topics and questions, likely to be asked in the papers. Language teachers are usually asked about the essays, letters, applications and stories that are ‘important’ i.e. likely to come in the exam papers. Usually most teachers are ‘kind enough’ and ‘pragmatic enough’ to tell some most ‘important’ essays, letters, stories, applications etc, to students. Teachers in schools, especially in private ones’ do this as they have to show good results. Students thus consider those teachers more generous and helpful, who tell them about those ‘ important topics’ to be asked in the papers. Keeping in line with this tradition one of my students asked me to tell him about the ‘important’ essays, letter, applications etc. This is one of the occasions on which I get irritated when students ask me such things. I repeatedly keep on telling them that these things come in the category of creative writing that are not to be memorized but be thought about, organized, created and then put to paper. Some of the students would urge you by telling you that a particular teacher has told his students about the ‘important’ questions. I told that student and the whole class that the purpose of these essays, letters, stories etc. that are included in the paper is to urge students to think for themselves and come up with their own ideas. The purpose is also to check the organizational and analytical skills of students and to know their hold on vocabulary and spellings etc. So this helps them to think and use their brain. To my this argument, the reply of the student was: ‘ Sir, if we start thinking during the paper, the time allotted for solving the paper will come to an end and we would not be able to complete our paper!’ This was an apt reply, a true picture of the way our examination and evaluation process goes. An examination, which does not compel students to think but to fill pages of papers with what, they have memorized by rote. Consequently a student is rewarded, who is good at memorizing, and who writes the ideas of others in the words of others and is considered a learned scholar for all this. The more competent a student is on this account i.e. learning by rote (without understanding), the better are his chances of getting good grades.
Some days ago I tried an experiment with a few ‘ intelligent’ students. I gave them a test in a few essays already know to them and which were written in a book of essays. Most of them got high marks as they had excellently memorized the essays word by word and reproduced them in the test. Then I did another thing. I asked a few comprehension questions about the essay they had written and no one could come up with satisfactory answers. I went further with the experiment. I gave them a topic from day to day life. Instead of writing on the ‘Quaid-e- Azam’, I asked them to write on their friend. And as was expected, no one could write even a few coherent sentences. How is it that a student can write a high quality essay on the ‘ Quaid-e- Azam’, as a ‘favourite personality’, with all the language niceties and grammatical accuracies but fails to write on his own friend, well known to him.
The point is that examinations are flawed, testing not the real knowledge and creative abilities but rote learning and memorizing capabilities of students. More than that as examinations shape the course of education in schools and education is meant to prepare students for examinations. This means examinations need to be revamped to bring about qualitative change in the instruction process in the schools.
Here another interesting phenomenon comes to mind. As is the case with other subjects, Pakistan Studies is taught in no better way. Students are not even made to go through the textbooks. Teachers provide them with readymade ‘notes’, with questions and answers. The only task a student has at hand is to take photocopies of ‘notes’ and learn them by heart. There are no discussions, no arguments or counter arguments in the classrooms, about the historical and constitutional issues and their implications. Ask a student to narrate Jinnah’s ‘ Fourteen Points’, ‘ which are all based on constitutional matters and complexities’, and he starts narrating from point 1 up to point 14th without a pause. Now ask him ‘ what is a constitution?’ and he does not know. Ask him what is a constituent assembly and he does not know. Ask him what is the function of a minister and he does not know. Ask him what is law and he does not know. Ask him what is autonomy? And he does not know. Ask him what is legislature. And he does not know. One wonders what is the point in teaching students in schools, ‘Jinnah’s Fourteen Points’, in all the technical and constitutional language, that is beyond the comprehension of students even at the college and university level! Why not tell them about the ‘Fourteen Points’ in simple language, to help them understand the worth of his points. This approach will not only be of interest but also of worth for the young students.
And now an interesting anecdote. A young boy wanted to learn the art of swimming in a river. He went to a master swimmer to get training from him. The master would daily take the boy to the riverside. He would make the boy stand on the bank of the river. Then the master would himself jump into the water and start swimming, urging the boy to closely examine his moves. The boy would want to jump into the water to practically do as the master did. But the master would not allow him this dangerous thing to do. He insisted that the boy should look at him and learn the art of swimming from the bank. He was afraid that if the boy jumped into the water, he would immediately drown. The practice went on for a long time and in this way the master told all the techniques of swimming to the boy. One day the master was absent and the boy went to the river alone and jumped into it. Do we know what happened? We should know: he got drowned in no time. Why? Because he was never allowed by the master to learn how to swim practically. Can we compare this to the way we teach in our schools? If yes what can be the result? And what should be done? And the saying goes: ‘ Students should sink and swim on their own’.

Writer’s email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

All the wrong priorities

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan.

What do we think of a person who desires to erect a grand multi-storeyed building but who does not like to spend much on providing it with strong and reliable foundations? The foundations remain weak and fragile and the man goes on for adding to the height and beauty and grandeur of the building and spending millions and millions on adding to the beauty (actually the burden) of the building. The building goes on looking more beautiful and grander but the case is the real opposite of what it seems. The foundations of the building are weak and so ultimately to the great dismay of the builder the whole structure comes to the earth causing great damage and disappointment to the person. We can easily compare that building to our education system and the man to our educational administrators. We are spending millions on our higher education but what we are ignoring is our education at the school level, specially our primary school education.
A Persian verse goes: ‘Khisti awwal choon nahad maimaar kuj,
Taa surayya mi rawid deewar kuj’
This means that if the first brick were placed crooked, the wall would remain crooked even if taken to the heights of the skies.
The ‘Khishti awwal’, the root and the foundation of any education system is the primary education. It is the base that provides foundation to the whole structure of the system of education. It is nothing else but insanity to ignore it and go for developing education at the higher level. Unfortunately if we look at the prevalent state of affairs in our country, we can easily come to the point that primary education has been completely ignored by our educational authorities, the government and the society at large. To support my point I would like to point out three main areas regarding our elementary education, which are typically disregarded by the educational authorities. These main areas are: the infrastructure, the teacher and the textbooks at the primary level.
First the infrastructure: education though the most vital aspect of our national life is the most ignored one but the most horrific is the fact the most derelict area is the primary and elementary level education and by this I mean education at the school level, specially at the primary school level. Most of the primary schools provide no facilities helpful in the process of education. Schools are located in dilapidated buildings, some even without buildings under the shadows of trees. No facilities are there for the curricular and co-curricular activities essential for the educational uplift of children. Most schools at the primary level are without furniture, without libraries and laboratories. They are mostly suffocated, as the number of children in most cases remains far greater than the space available in the schools. In such a situation schools do not have any appeal or attraction for the children. No drinking water, no toilet facilities, no facilities for games and for using extra energies beneficially.
Then comes the most important aspect of the school i.e. the teacher. Teachers at the primary level are always those who themselves are directionless. Our required qualification for a person to qualify as a teacher in our primary school is matriculation plus a few months training. This means one can become a primary school teacher in his teens with nominal education and no experience and is thus handed over the foundational task of our nation building. How do we think that a child is good enough to teach other children? A primary teacher thus himself a child and the most incompetent one does not know how to deal with and understand the psychological, social and educational problem of children coming from various backgrounds. Then there is the fact that teachers at the primary level are the least paid ones in the teachers’ pay structure. It is paradoxical that a schoolteacher is paid less than a college teacher and a college teacher is paid less than a university teacher. This means pay not according to the duty and labour of the teacher but according to his/her degrees and qualifications. Had we paid in accordance with the labour and importance of the work of the teacher at the various levels, we would have paid the primary school teacher the most because his task is the most important, fundamental and the most difficult of all. He/she has to outline the course of the whole life from a scuff. Unfortunately this is not the case. A university teacher normally takes one or two classes per day and even in that he/she has to deal such students who are mature and have already got a particular direction and only require a little guidance and a slight push. On the other hand an elementary school teacher’s task is far more difficult. He/she has to remain busy with children throughout the day, has to take care of their discipline, their manners, their character, their personal hygiene, their homework and so many other things. He/she is even held responsible for the academic and co-curricular development of the child. He/she has to start from a scratch, polish that scratch with his blood and sweat and then that polished being is presented to teachers in colleges and universities. But unfortunately he/she gets a lot of frustration when he/she compares his/her socio-economic status with that of the college and university teachers.
As in today’s materialistic world a person’s social status and self-esteem are directly proportional to his economic status so the pathetic economic conditions of the elementary school teachers lead to their miserable social status. A teacher is called ‘Ustad’ in Urdu and it should have been a welcome address but ‘Ustad’ has been associated with so much deprivation and degradation in our society that even a college lecturer or a university professor abhors to be called ‘Ustad’. A poor schoolteacher has no other way but to swallow to be called ‘Ustad’. Somehow he gets a little relieved when called a ‘teacher’ instead of ‘Ustad’. It is perhaps because English people have more regard for their teacher due to their comparatively better economic prospects.
At this an interesting account comes to mind. When I was doing my graduation, one of our professors, would get infuriated when some mischievous students would call him ‘ Ustad jee’ instead of calling him ‘Sir’. The professor would would say, ‘Yaar, why you call me ‘Ustad jee’, I am a professor not a driver or a mechanic or a barber etc. The students would reply, ‘ Sir, in our school days we would call our teachers Ustad jee out of respect and they never mind it’. The professor would say, ‘ Yaar they were school teachers, so could be called ‘Ustad jee’ but I m not a schoolteacher, I am a professor in a college’. This amply shows that even teachers at the college or university level have this contemptuous view of the schoolteachers. But why is this the case? Nothing else but the low socio-economic profile of the primary school teachers has rendered them to this pitiable state.
The third most important factor leading to our weak educational structure is the poor quality of textbooks and the system of evaluation at the primary level. Most of the textbooks taught at the primary level are shoddily written and shabbily presented. There is very little in them to arouse interest in children. Most of them are good for nothing. They are prepared in such a way that they require only blind follow and compliance. These are only good for memorization and for killing the creative impulses in children. Then the evaluation and examination system is only good at testing the memory of the children and urging them to learn facts and figures by heart. Thus from the very beginning of the educational years children become blind followers and this goes on with them to colleges and universities. No wonder then that our graduates, postgraduates and our so-called scholars with PhD degrees are empty from within. Creativity, the original purpose of education and a thinking mind, the ultimate aim of the process of learning is totally absent from the character of our graduates. I wonder if the H.E.C is working for the promotion of education at higher level in Pakistan, is there any commission working for the promotion of education at the grass root level. And if not no wonder then that we have to invite scholars from foreign countries, conceding that our people do not have the capability to become leaders in the field of education. This surely does not look a sound idea.
If we really want to improve our higher education, we have to improve our primary education and to improve primary education; we have to rework our precedence. We have to strengthen our elementary education and for this have to attract more qualified personnel to join primary schools. This can be done when we totally revise our priorities and attach more incentives with teaching at the primary level.

Towards Enlightened -Moderation.

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan.

Enlightened-Moderation is a composite term, presently in currency, especially in Pakistan. Enlightenment and moderation are interrelated terms. Actually moderation to a greater extent is the outcome of enlightenment. We would not be mistaken if we assume that moderation is a bi-product of enlightenment. Who can be a moderate person and how can moderation come? Moderate person is one who does not go to extremes; who does not thoughtlessly and out rightly reject or accept an idea. A person who is rational and uses his reason and his brain to reach viable conclusions and to decide accordingly in the light of analysing facts and figures. Thus to be able to be moderate, one must be able to understand what is right, what is wrong, what is just and what is unjust. Not only this but to be moderate, one needs to know how to make compromises and concessions when the occasion and circumstances demand so. A moderate person does not go for extremes. He does not follow the do or die canon. He weighs, measures, and waits for the proper opportunity to come and changes the course of action if a particular line of action does not produce the desirable results.
The term Enlightened Moderation has got currency in Pakistan recently primarily due to the emphasize it received from the president of Pakistan Gen.Pervaiz Musharraf. In his recent article ‘Enlightened Moderation’, the president of Pakistan once again reiterated and re-emphasised the need for enlightenment and moderation as far as the Muslims societies at large and Pakistan in particular is concerned. The president is of the view that religious extremism and intolerance is one of the root causes of underdevelopment and conflict in the Muslim societies including Pakistan. The president upholds the viewpoint that only liberalism, tolerance, and mutual co-existence can help the Muslims of the world to overcome their manifold miseries and troubles. For Muslims of the world to achieve the cherished dream of progress, development and socio-economic prosperity, the only way forward is compromise with the western world and in the meantime removing their weaknesses in their social, political, educational, and economic institutions.
The president cautions that the world has become increasingly dangerous to live in, primarily due to the fact that ignorance, hostility, mutual hatred and intolerance is the hallmark of the international politics today. As a result of this extremely dangerous trend, the planet earth is at the threshold of destruction and annihilation. President Musharraf Writes, “the world is passing through a tumultuous period ever since the dawn of 90’s, with no sign of relenting. The suffering of the innocent multitudes, particularly my brethren in faith, the Muslims at the hands of the militants, extremists and terrorists has inspired me to contribute towards bringing some order to this disorderly world. It was this very urge which led me to expound on the strategy of ‘ Enlightened moderation’”
President Musharraf further stresses the Muslims of the world to get enlightened and moderate when he says, “ The way forward is to head towards enlightenment and concentrate on human resource development through poverty alleviation, education, health and social justice”. The appeal is realistic and pragmatic, as we all know all these ills are rampantly there in the body politic of the Muslim world. The president further appeals to reason when he says, “ the doctrine of fairness is not always available to us, in the world we live in”. So what should be the more pragmatic course of action for the Muslims? Should they concentrate on combative reactions towards the western powers, despite their continuous and disastrous failures in defeating these powers in the battlefields? Or should they adopt some other, more productive course of action like the Japanese and the Germans did after being defeated in the World War and now can see in the eyes of those who defeated and destroyed them. The saner course of action is of course the second one.
Leaving alone international politics and turning towards our own problems in Pakistan, and finding out how the concept of Enlightened Moderation is achievable in Pakistan. As discussed earlier, extremism, is the outcome of ignorance, injustice, deprivation, socio-political and economic cleavages in the society. So to bring about moderation in our society, we have to pay attention to these problems.
First comes ignorance: if we look at the level of education in our country both in terms of quality and quantity, we come to very disappointing conclusions. With only 2 percent of our GNP allocation for the education, we can have very little hopes for improving the most vital sector of education. The result of the negligence of this vital sector is extremely devastating for us. With one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, very little can be expected of Enlightenment and Moderation. The meagre resources allocated to the education sector, the standard of education is in doldrums. For development in the field of education we have to consider a number of things. We have to radically improve the physical infrastructure, with well-equipped schools, colleges and universities. We have to establish research centres, laboratories and libraries in these educational institutions to make them responsive to our socio-economic needs and to enable them to train our young generation in the best possible way in accordance with the challenges of the 21st century. Another important aspect of the education sector is the educator, i.e. the school, colleges, and university teacher. We have to make efforts to raise the socio-economic status of the builder of the nation. Very little can be expected from teachers, suffering from various socio-economic problems, to apply themselves, wholeheartedly their enormous task of providing quality education to the youth of the nation, and to equipping them with abilities to lead the nation in the highly competitive world. Teaching being one of the lowest ranked professions in terms of economic reward and social status, attract only those, rejected from more lucrative fields of social life. This trend has to be altered by associating more charm with the profession in order to attract more talented people to the profession and consequently to bring quality into the education sector. It is said that the real defence of a nation lies in the hands of the teachers, who take care of the preparation of our youth. So we have to shift our priorities and education should be reformed on wartime basis. It is thought that the problem lies in the religious seminaries, where bigotry and myopic vision is promoted. To some extent that is true but the problem is deeper than that. Actually our public sector education is pre-dominantly retrogressive, with a premium on rot learning and blind follow. Very little independent thinking and freedom is promoted in our public school system. So revolutionary changes are to be brought in this system for bringing about Enlightened Moderation.
Poverty alleviation and eradication of social injustice from the society are of prime importance in promoting the concept of Enlightened Moderation. With more than 40% of the population living below the poverty line, Enlightenment and moderation can only be a wishful dream. People’s sentiments touching the extreme limits, going to suicides and suicide bombings on an increasing momentum is the outcome of economic and social injustices prevalent in our society. A nominal minority affluent with absolutely grabbing each and every financial asset of the state, at the cost of the life of the poor, is adding to the misery and consequently desperation of the poor. The insurmountable economic cleavages between the haves and have-nots lead to disillusionment and extremism. The dilemma of deprivation and suffering of the poor is further supplemented by the fact that the traditional feudal-bureaucratic-elitist culture in the political system promotes and safeguards, the interests of the haves. The common man has no say in the political affairs of the states and not even in the economic policies affecting his life. As a result of the state policy, internal and external, fashioned by the rulers who have been holding the power in the decision making of the state on the basis of heredity, the political culture prevalent in the country does not encourage the masses to participate in the decision-making. In the absence of a genuine democratic order the rulers do not find themselves responsible to the common man. The intermittent process of election through which the so-called representatives of the people reach power corridors has little credibility, leading the traditional lords to assemblies, despite their miserable failure to trim down the miseries and sufferings of the people. Unless people from the middle and lower middle class reach the decision-making positions, no substantial improvement in the life of the common man can be expected. Only a hungry man can feel what hunger means. So bringing down the political process to the common man and making real efforts to make the rulers responsible to the masses, by establishing genuine democratic order in the country would emancipate the people from the abyss of degradation, poverty and deprivation and would pave the way to enlightenment and moderation.

Why do they plagiarise?

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

Editorials and reports in the recent past in newspapers bewail the problem of plagiarism in some Pakistani universities. Reportedly a number of faculty members ranging from the rank of a lecturer to that of the professor were allegedly involved in the ‘highest intellectual crime (plagiarism) that an academic could be accused of’. Keeping in view the level of the ‘crime’ and the ‘depth’ of the malaise of ‘immorality’ rooted in our education system; it was argued for in the editorials and reports that stern action be taken against those academicians who are found guilty of plagiarism. The Higher Education Commission has been commended for its efforts to put a stop to this menace of intellectual deceit. One can only appreciate the HEC for its stand against this ‘crime’ and the editors and reporters of newspapers for supporting this cause and for highlighting the curse of plagiarism. One is also conscious of the fact that prescription and implementation of penalties to check plagiarism will definitely help in reducing the strength of this curse. However limiting the scope of efforts against plagiarism to devising and imposing penalties only would be tantamount to killing the shadow instead of uprooting the real problem. That means there is no problem in prescribing and implementing penalties to discourage plagiarism at the tactical level, but to strategically deal with the problem, long term and strategic efforts should be devised. Unless that is done, imposition of penalties may prove to be superficial and short term solutions.
Keeping in view the above argument, we need to ask a question: How can plagiarism be eradicated (and not just stopped at some level)? To answer this question let me ask another question: Why do the teachers (and the students) plagiarise? Personally I think finding an answer to this and not to the first question, is of fundamental importance. I say this because one cannot cure a disease before diagnosing its causes. But to answer this second question, one need to ask a third question: What does the act of plagiarism on the part of a university teacher tell the conscious mind? There could be two possible answers to this question. One possibility is that the one who involves in plagiarism is oblivious about the very notion of plagiarism being an immoral and illegal act. Plagiarism in such a situation may be called inadvertent. This situation, is, however, very unlikely as one should not expect such an ignorance from a university teacher. The second possibility is that the perpetrator knows about the act of plagiarism as immoral and illegal and still resorts to it, in which case it may be called deliberate plagiarism.
A deliberation on the education system in Pakistan may reveal a number of flaws which may lead to either the first or the second type of plagiarism. One can think of a number of factors leading to such a situation. But it is for sure that the roots are there in the poor quality of lower level (school) education, which does not promote concepts such as originality of thought, creativity and critical thinking. As a matter of fact blind follow, copying and reproduction of facts and rote learning are the most dominant features of our education system. Children in our educational institutions are treated as empty vessels that are sent to the educational institutions to be filled with facts and figures, where teachers serve the purpose of this filling. Teachers being oblivious to the concept themselves seldom make an effort to create awareness among the students about the real aims of the subject(s) that they ‘teach’. There seems to be a state of purposelessness as far as teaching and learning is concerned at the lower level of our education system. Such students after graduation from these schools enter our seats of higher studies with little or no understanding of the purpose of education, which are critical thinking, research and inquiry and creativity. In fact they have never been trained during their long schooling days for independent thinking and research. Consequently it appears no crime to them to copy the thoughts of others in the words of others and present them as their own even when they enter the seats of higher learning as student and even as teachers, as this is the only thing that they have been doing throughout their educational career.
That means that if we really want to get rid of the curse of plagiarism (and academic cheating) at the university level, we need to make a start of the remedial work at the school level. This calls for a comprehensive programme of reform at the school level: Reform of the curricula, the school infrastructure, the teaching-learning processes, the teacher training programmes, the teacher’s socio-economic conditions and the most important of them all, the evaluation system. I identify the evaluation system as the most important one because as far as education process in our public schools is concerned, it predominantly revolves around our examination system. Throughout the academic year the teacher remains busy in preparing the student to get through the exams. A reform in the examination system would definitely lead to a reform in the teaching-learning process and the teacher’s attitude towards teaching. One is of the view as is also revealed by a number of research studies that the present exam system is mostly focused on testing the memorisation capabilities of students and does not test their real understanding and analytical skills. Secondly evaluation should be a continuous process and not a once-a-year or even once-a-life phenomenon, as only then can they be a real reflection of the genuine learning of concepts and an assessment of the overall personality development of the student.
As far as deliberate plagiarism is concerned, it is simply an act of dishonesty and cheating. Why would someone who is a teacher in the highest seat of learning i.e. a university, a position that should ideally carry the highest level of prestige and integrity indulge in this very lowly act of cheating? Once again this is a reflection of a very sad state of affairs. Some of the possible explanations are in order. A university teacher may indulge in plagiarism because he/she lacks the skills to conduct original research, otherwise an essential requirement to move ahead professionally. However he/she may not find it easy to produce original research due a deficiency either in analytical skills or in language skills or in both of them. Both of these deficiencies can easily be traced back to the poor standards of education at the school and college level. These deficiencies may surely hamper his path towards professional development and as a result he may feel constrained to indulge in the otherwise highly condemnable act of plagiarism.
Secondly when I term plagiarism as cheating, I mean something which is morally wrong. In other words when someone indulges in the act of plagiarism, he is displaying an attitude, which shows a lack of morality on the part of the one who indulges in this act. Why would someone who is at the highest level of academic achievement, being a teacher at the university level, resort to an act of cheating? The answer once again seems to lie in the education system at the lower level i.e. at the school and college level. After all one of the definitions of education tell us that education is a process aimed at the overall development of personality of a person. By ‘overall development’ here is meant development of the three domains of personality i.e. The cognitive, The affective and The psychomotor domain. The second domain i.e. The Affective domain (in educational setting) deals predominantly with the development of personality in terms of morality and inculcation of values such as moral integrity, honesty, truthfulness, and a sense of responsibility. A cursory look at the system of education would reveal that no formal mechanism for developing the affective domain or in other words for the inculcation of values such as those mentioned above exists in the present education system. This seems to be one explanation for the lack of regard for moral values and academic integrity on the part of the teacher. A solution therefore once again goes beyond the pail of mere penalties for plagiarism or other cases of academic cheating on the university level.
The solution in this case too lies in dealing with the problem in strategic terms. Besides looking strategically into the various factors mentioned above, the process of teacher intake at all levels and in this case especially at the university level must be rectified in order to recruit teachers of high moral integrity besides being skilled and resourceful. This means a mere adding up of the marks and grades obtained in educational certificates and degrees (or, worse still, nepotism, favouritism and sifarsih) should not be the sole criteria for teacher recruitment. This process should be more comprehensive and meticulous than the one in vogue. One fears as long as this is not done, the plague of academic dishonesty, cheating and plagiarism will continue to mar our education system.

The writer, a Lecturer in Education at Hazara University, Mansehra, is currently pursuing his PhD at the University of Leicester, UK.
Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

Giving students the confidence they need

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

ALI is a student of class VIII and studies in a government school. His father is a labourer, is illiterate and giving his son pocket money every day is out of the question. Ali is unable to eat a samosa — something that he likes — every day during recess, but for many of his classmates this is not a problem.

Ali’s school uniform is usually unkempt and unwashed, because his father cannot afford to buy a new uniform. In fact, let alone buying a new uniform it is difficult for his parents, financially, to wash his uniform regularly or to iron it every day. His books and copies as well are in tatters.

Ali happens to be a very sensitive boy. He observes all that goes around him with frustration and dejection. He thinks that he is inferior compared to his classmates. He is not very friendly, keeps to himself, easily gets disturbed and is not able to utilize all the abilities that he has to his advantage. As a result of his low self-esteem, he does not take part in extra- curricular activities such as sports, debates, dramatics and so on that take place in his school.

He also lacks confidence and courage and finds it difficult to stand up to students who abuse or bully him. As a result of his frame of mind, Ali suffers immensely. He also feels insecure and can be easily influenced and manipulated.

Ali suffers from an inferiority complex, something that can cause considerable harm to the personality of a student. It can have detrimental consequences on the student’s academic performance and may well affect his future. A student who suffers from an inferiority complex is likely to perform below his potential and is unlikely to take on any leadership role.

What are the factors that can cause an inferiority complex in children? These include their socio-economic background, parents and the behaviour of their teachers towards them, physical appearance, intelligence level and abilities and so on.

First let us see what role a student’s socio-economic background can play in shaping his or her personality. It has been observed over the years that children who come from a poor socio-economic background have greater chances of suffering from inferiority complex. The problem worsens when the parents also happen to be illiterate. In such cases most parents tend to be authoritarian and want complete obedience from their children. Also, because of their constant daily struggle just to make ends meet, such parents are prone to frustration and depression. Children, unfortunately, are easy targets for them to vent their frustration. They end up nagging, abusing and sometimes even hitting their children on the smallest of pretexts.

Such children have low self-esteem and remain continuously under stress. Since their parents more or less end up bullying them, they find it extremely difficult to stand up to others who bully them. Such students also tend to envy their counterparts who come from families with a relatively better socio-economic profile and whose parents are educated and understand their genuine problems and needs. Because of this, there are more chances that a child will experience parents taking a keen interest in trying to solve his or her problem.

The role of the teacher is no less important than that of the parents. This is especially true in the case of those children who come from not so well-off backgrounds. Such children get little encouragement from parents and are hence in need of special attention from their teachers. The problem is that in many cases teachers end up adding to a child’s inferiority complex. Because of increasing materialistic tendencies among teachers, understanding the problems of students who come from economically backward backgrounds is on the decline. The irony is that teachers do not usually even know that all such students need is some encouragement, a kind remark, praise if they have done something good and that this could really help lift their esteem.

Here I would like to share a personal experience of a few years ago when I was new in the field of teaching. I was teaching class IV and told one of my students that he was not good at maths, a subject in which he had scored low marks. The student did improve in each test afterward but kept asking me whether I had the same opinion of him. I suppose he was doing this because he wanted the teacher’s approval of his improvement, though the fact that he was obtaining higher marks was proof of that in any case. This really tells us something about the impact a teacher’s remarks can have on the way a student thinks of himself. That is why teachers have such a huge responsibility to deal with their students with care and sympathy.

Another factor that can lead to an inferiority complex and frustration among children is unjustified or unrealistic expectations on the part of either parents or teachers. Parents and teachers both a responsibility to try and understand the child and set goals for him that are realistic and in accordance with the child’s abilities and potential. Unreasonably high expectations lead to failure and low self-esteem.

Another factor that gives rise to an inferiority complex among children is presence of a physical disability. Many such children end up being ridiculed by their classmates and in some very unfortunate cases even by the teachers. They are also sometimes given derogatory nicknames. When this happens, it is the school administration’s job to take action against students or teachers who subject a student to such ridicule.

Close liaison between a student’s home and the school is crucial to giving students the confidence they need to be able to succeed in life. Parents who come from a less affluent and/or uneducated background should be particularly targeted and made aware of their role in fulfilling the psychological needs of their children. This can be done by periodically holding parent- teacher meetings and arranging counselling programmes for educating such parents. The print and electronic media, especially radio and TV, can also be used to create awareness among parents and teachers.

The writer teaches at the Institute Of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

A way out of the silence

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

This is with reference to the article ‘Breaking the culture of silence in class’, written by Mohammed Faiq and published on April 24. The writer is correct in his assertion that classrooms are excessively silent in our schools. The teacher is predominantly the only person in the class who absolutely controls everything going on in the class, while the students remain inactive, silent and indifferent. It is the teacher who steers the train, while the students play the role of silent, unconcerned, irrelevant travellers.

Teaching and learning thus become one-way traffic, flowing from the teacher’s side towards the students. This phenomenon leads to a role for the teacher, which requires unconditional submission from students, and places the teacher in the position of dictator. Traditionally, in our society a lot of respect is associated with the person of a teacher and it is regarded as highly disrespectful if a student does not agree or shows dissent with what the teacher says or does. Anything coming from a teacher, no matter how much against reason or truth is to be obeyed.

This gives the teacher the impression that he or she is right all the time, which leads most teachers to think that they know everything, and that they are the repository and fountainhead of all knowledge and learning. It also makes them think that students are empty pails with no brains of their own who must be filled with knowledge and information.

Thus education moves far away from the mutually cooperative endeavour or exploration of knowledge that it is supposed to be. The result is that the teacher thinks it appropriate that the class remain silent so that he or she gets the students’ maximum attention.

However, the assumption that the behaviour of the teacher is the only factor or even the most important factor causing such a situation to materialize might well seem like an oversimplification. Some pertinent questions that can be asked in this context would be: Why does a teacher behave like a dictator? Why has he or she been given such an authoritative position in our education system? Or, why are students forced to remain passive listeners?

A slight investigation of the situation would lead us to observe that a number of factors other than the teacher’s behaviour cause students to become passive recipients of learning. There is no doubt that, as Mr Faiq says, “silence kills creativity and hinders the interest of the learners” and “therefore, teaching should be based on interactions, discussions, dialogues and cooperative work”. But all these fine things are taught to nearly all teachers in their training programmes and when the study for their B.Ed. or M.Ed. degree.

However, as soon as the teacher joins a school after getting training, he or she starts using the traditional mode of teaching, throwing away most of the knowledge gained during the training.

Then there is the problem of class size. As we all know, in most government schools classes are overcrowded. Average class size can be anything between 70 and 90 students and some classes have over a hundred students. In such a situation, how can a teacher be expected to “productively engage” his or students? Individual attention obviously cannot be given to students in such large classes and discipline also becomes a problem. The result is that if the teacher tries to pay individual attention or allows students to talk and engage in free discussion, he would find himself in a situation resembling pretty much a fish market.

The best possible course for a teacher in such a situation is to keep the class quiet by using coercive methods. This would seem necessary, at least in the mind of the teacher, in order to make the students listen and to bring about some order and discipline to the class.

So, something clearly needs to be done about reducing the number of students in a class because that will reduce chances of teachers becoming dictators. This means more space in schools and this requires more financial resources for the improvement of the physical infrastructure.

Activity-based teaching needs classrooms to be well equipped and laboratories and libraries provided with all other facilities. Unfortunately this is not the case with the majority of schools in Pakisstan for reasons such as lack of resources or financial mismanagement and corruption.

The other factor that contributes to many classrooms being silent is the poor quality of textbooks. Textbooks used by most students in Pakistan are not very challenging for either teachers or students. Teachers teach them in the traditional monotonous way and students remain silent and sit quietly listening to what the teacher is doing (usually reading right from the text). An improvement in the quality of textbooks would be quite helpful in raising the level of interest and participation in classrooms.

The examination and evaluation system, which is predominantly theoretical in nature and which measures only the rote learning skills of the students, also contributes to the phenomenon of silent classes. There is no room for evaluating what has been taught through activity-based assessment or via an application of the acquired knowledge and skills learnt by a student. The examination system places a premium on passive evaluation, hence the ‘silence’ in our classes.

The behaviour of the parents and the environment students have in their homes also add to the problem. Students in government schools mostly come from the financially and socially backward strata of society. In many cases the parents are uneducated or less educated and do not know the damaging consequences of suppressing their children, which they do readily. Such parents would even persuade teachers to physically punish their child if he/she does some mischief.

On the one hand this gives licence to the teacher to suppress the child by any means, and on the other deprives the student of any courage to show dissent or question the authority of the teacher, even when the teacher uses overly coercive methods. This means parents need to be educated in ways how to treat their children. This is possible only by launching campaigns in the print and electronic media to create awareness among the illiterate and less-educated parents about the rights and social and psychological needs of their children.

These are only some of the factors contributing to the harmful trend of silence in many Pakistani classrooms.

It has to be said that this problem is to found mostly in government schools and is almost non-existent in the elite private schools. That is the reason why children from the elite schools are the most active and cheerful, followed by those who study in second-tier private schools (found in smaller towns or cities, or in middle-income neighbourhoods) and then the students in government schools who are the most silent, scared and lack confidence and initiative.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

Are teacher training programmes a complete waste of time?

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

In response to an earlier article ‘A way out of the silence’ (May 1, 2005), a number of emails were received. However, the one that led me to write this piece was from a UK based educator and researcher, Doreen Crawford. She wrote: “You refer to teachers ‘throwing away’ most of the knowledge they gained during their training once they join a school. This is a most disturbing situation and I’d be very pleased if you can explain this to me. Why do they do that? Is it because their training did not include any teaching practice in a school? If so, should that be part of the training?”

Regretfully one cannot help feeling that once teachers join schools, after ‘successfully’ completing their various teacher training courses such as P.T.C, C.T B.Ed., M.Ed., etc., many dispense with it.

The issue was discussed with a number of teachers and school principals. I wanted to ask them what difficulties they faced that prevented them an effective implementation of the knowledge that new teachers gained while enrolled in training programmes. Almost all of the teachers and principals said that training programmes do bring some change in one’s thinking and outlook. However, the ultimate of enabling the teachers to apply what they learn in their teaching was not realized because teachers found it difficult to follow the way of teaching used in a training programme.

Thus there is this problem of a gap between theory and practice. Now the other questions such as why do teachers abandon what is taught to them during the training programmes? Is it because their training does not include any experience of teaching in a school?

Teaching practice is actually a part of nearly all training programmes. It however must be argued that this practical aspect of the training programmes is not adequate either qualitatively and quantitatively. Only a fraction of the training session is allocated to actual teaching in a school. The courses are primarily theoretical in nature and trainee teachers are taught quite a number of subjects that have little practical or applicable value. During the B.Ed. training programme teachers are required to teach for a week initially and later for four weeks, at the end of the training programme. A number of factors are responsible for the attitude of teachers who abandon to a large extent what they have learnt during a training programme. They include the situation on the ground, the physical infrastructure of schools, the quality of textbooks used, the attitude of administrators and parents, and the examination system.

One subject that teachers are taught in training programmes and which is perhaps the most important as far as professional development is concerned is educational psychology. What is the purpose of offering this subject to trainee teachers? This can be understood if we try to understand some of the key concepts of educational psychology. ‘Individual attention’ is one such concept that comes out of educational psychology. This means every individual (student) is a distinct being and needs to be treated uniquely. Every teaching programme aims at teaching trainees to pay individual attention to each student because every student is distinct.

After training, however, when a teacher joins a school, he/she finds him/herself in a class with dozens of students, not the ideal situation to implement the just-learnt concept of providing each student individual attention. Another subject that is a part of a training programme is educational guidance and counselling. For such a practical subject to be more useful, there should be practical guidance and counselling services in schools. This is not the case in most schools in the public sector which means that a teacher who is taught such a course has no opportunity to put in practice what he or she has learnt.

Curriculum planning and development is another course offered during a training programme. However, due to a highly centralized system of education, teachers, especially those starting out in the profession, have no say in the process of curriculum planning and development. Consequently, this aspect of the training programme also goes to waste. There is very little coordination between curriculum planners and schools, and what comes from the education department is accepted by teachers and taught to students without any analysis or examination of its suitability or otherwise.

Also, in their training trainee teachers are told of the harmful effects of treating children harshly and specially on the consequences of using corporal punishment. Despite this, the situation in schools is not improving with reports of corporal punishment frequently appearing in the media. There are many factors that contribute to this and unless they are removed, the problem will not go away.

I discussed this problem of corporal punishment with a number of teachers and principals. One of the principals had two thick canes lying beside his table. He was asked why he kept the canes since corporal punishment was banned. He smiled and said: “The canes are lying here for our own protection. These students come from such backgrounds that the minute you leave the cane they will disrupt everything in the school.”

The principal then went on to complain about the political interference that happens in schools. “We cannot expel a student on grounds of indiscipline because the minute we do that, he goes to a politician or an influential person and we are forced to take him back. So the only choice left for us is to deal with undisciplined students in our own way,” he said.

Another headmaster was also asked about the continuing use of corporal punishment. He said: “There is little or no interest from the parent’s side in the educational development of their children. They do not maintain any contact with the schools to enquire about their children, and hence the only choice we have is to allow teachers to use corporal punishment to force students to follow school rules and to do their homework regularly.”

Trainee teachers are also taught the importance of keeping close coordination with the parents of their students. However due to poor socio-economic backgrounds of most parents (whose children study in government schools), it becomes impossible for any kind of relationship between teachers and parents to develop.

Furthermore, trainee teachers are taught the importance of preparing lesson plans in advance. This requires a lot of time and resources from the teacher’s side, both of which are generally not forthcoming. More often than not, a teacher has to teach five to six classes per day in addition to the extra periods that need to be taken for absent teachers. Not only this, he/she has to teach more than one subject, sometimes three or four different subjects a day. Then, many teachers supplement their government salary by giving tuitions after school. Given all this, there is not enough time to prepare lesson plans for the next day’s teaching. This will partially explain, though not justify, why so many teachers in government schools come to class unprepared.

Many teachers were of the view that the ideas and concepts taught during to them during their training programmes were better suited to the conditions prevailing in the developed counties, where resources were abundant and where education was given top priority and schools provided with all kinds of facilities.

This was obviously not the case with Pakistan and hence the content of the training course seemed a bit out of place. One senior teacher said that in fact unless things were improved on the ground, requiring teachers to enroll in training programmes seemed a complete waste of time and resources.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

Distinguishing between slow and quick learners

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

IF one has studied in a Pakistani government school then one would definitely be familiar with the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare. In fact, given the system, it probably must have been learnt by heart many times over. It’s moral is that slow and steady wins the race.

If one is steady, no matter how much slow he is, he is going to win in the end. Let us compare the hare to that student who is very sharp (the quick learner) and the tortoise to the one who is not so sharp (the slow learner). Does it make any sense to expect the same performance from two students who are entirely different from each other on a number of counts: intelligence, aptitude, attitude, socio-economic background, physical, mental and psychological?

On closer examination one sees that our education system does not seem to discriminate or differentiate between students on the basis of anything and this includes intelligence, achievement and ability.

To do this efficiently we have developed a schooling system where students are taught in the same way. They are expected to show the same performance at the end of the year by going through an examination process and after successfully going through the exams they are promoted to the next grade. In our schools, students are admitted to a particular class mainly keeping in view their chronological age. They are then taught textbooks prepared for that particular age group. It is expected that on the basis of their chronological age students will be able to go through the course content prepared for the class in the time prescribed, which is usually one academic year. This is done without taking into consideration the fact that students radically differ from each other on many counts. How and why do we treat our students who are otherwise completely different from each other in almost the same way?

Course of studies

The course of studies for a particular class right from class one to matric consists of a number of compulsory subjects. With regard for their abilities, intelligence, aptitude, or likes and dislikes students are made to learn the course content (mostly by rote). No matter how much a particular student abhors a particular subject, unless he has passed that subject, he cannot move to next class — despite excellent performance in other subjects. This means that in many cases precious time may be wasted on an endeavour which is of little interest to the student.

Sometimes it happens that a student repeatedly fails in one or more of those ‘compulsory’ subjects and has to drop out of the school as a result. But who cares if a life is ruined because of this rule of passing all subjects? This nuisance of the ‘compulsory’ subject not only affects the slow learner but can also adversely impact the academic progress of quick leaners.

Teaching methods

Another area where we treat our students in the same way without any distinction is in teaching methodology. Generally in our classrooms one-way traffic goes on. The teacher usually acts as if he has all the knowledge in the world and he tries to pour that knowledge into the ‘empty’ heads of the students by lecturing them and giving them prepared notes.

The teacher treats all the students the same way without trying to adjust his teaching to the different level of understanding of the students. Inevitably, the result is severe boredom for most students. The primary task for such teachers is to finish the course in time and ‘prepare’ the students for exams.

Evaluation

The evaluation system is a reflection of our education system. What kind of feeling does the word examination evoke for a student in Pakistan? Complete horror, unpredictability and the fact that it is more like lucky draw where intelligence or hard work do not play much of a role. The most brilliant student can fail and the biggest dullard can come out a winner. You may be the best student in world, a real hard worker, a thorough genius but all this will not save you failure in the exam.

The exams mostly take place at the end of the year and more often than not their purpose is not to judge the real competence or genuine educational accomplishment of the student but to promote those who can best reproduce what they have learnt in class and to fail those who are unable to do that. It seems as if the whole system of education revolves around exams. Students comes to school to prepare for exams, teachers teach (provides notes and tips) them to help pass the exams — and each and every stakeholder has only one thing in mind: how to do well in the exams. In order to be real and comprehensive evaluation must be frequent and a continuous ongoing process. This unfortunately is not the case here. Students are annually examined and this will now change in classes IX and X to one exam at the end of two years. This kind of system will test even the most brilliant of students who will be under considerable stress to do well in this one-time exam.

Also, a student who can accomplish his course in say five months has to wait for twelve months in order to be promoted to the next class. On the other hand, another student who cannot complete the course even in twelve months but may do so in fifteen will probably be held back and spend 24 months in the same class. His nine months will be wasted, and why? Because the system evaluates his academic performance annually.

Why should we keep on counting academic progress by the number of years a student has spent in a particular course of studies? Why not adjust our system?

One way might be to discard the annual system of evaluation and promotion. The curriculum could instead be divided in months. One realistic way to do this would be to divide the course into units of study; the duration of each unit being a maximum three months. A student who goes through a particular unit successfully should move to the next one. A student who fails in the final unit should repeat only that unit, not after waste a whole year.

People need to ask our education policy-makers the logic of making a student repeat a whole year when he may have failed only one or two compulsory subjects. The kind of three-monthly system suggested above is also good for students because it will reduce their burden by dividing the course into more manageable study units.

A school that adopts such a curriculum will have more flexibility in terms of adjusting itself to the needs of students. Another aspect which needs to be addressed is to make the school environment more student-friendly and this can be done by doing away with the ‘compulsory subject’ phenomenon. Often many students drop out because they keep on failing a particular compulsory subject.

For instance mathematics is taught as a compulsory subject from class I to class matric. It is the cause of dropping out of many otherwise talented students. No one can deny the importance of this subject but is it that important that thousands of students be sacrificed for it? It can be a compulsory subject but at least the condition that it passed for promotion to the next class could be dropped. Another point to note here is that the maths textbook used by arts and science students is exactly the same, and this too makes little sense. In most other countries, they would have different textbooks with the one for the science students obviously containing more challenging and relevant content. n

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

Sense and sensitivity in parenting

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

THERE is no denying the fact that parents have the most important, crucial and vital role to play in the life of a child. It is they who are responsible for bringing the child to this world and it is their principal responsibility to shape and support the life of their children.

A child’s family background, and his/her family’s socio-economic and psychological condition play an important in his/her personality development. It is quite a common observation that those parents who understand their children and provide them with a favourable environment help their children lead a very useful and fulfilling life. Contrary to this, parents who lack these essential qualities can cause harmful life-long effects on the personalities of their children.

A number of factors can lead to a situation where parents and their behaviour towards their child prove very harmful. This depends on things like the level of education and maturity of the parents, their socio-economic condition, and also the kind of environment they (the parents) had when they were being brought up.

All these factors are very significant in moulding parental behaviour. Most often, those parents mistreat their children, who themselves were subjected to such treatment by their own parents. Such individuals think only in a prescribed way, which they have inherited from their own parents, who mostly had conservative views on child rearing.

For instance, the adage ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ is something they firmly believe in. Openness or friendliness with children is out of question for them because they think it is harmful and can lead to a situation where the child can become undisciplined and go out of control. Then there are parents who belong to the underprivileged sections of society.

Just to make both ends meet is a constant struggle for them. More often than not, they lead a frustrated existence and do not find it easy to treat their children with love and care. This leads to a very cold relationship between parent and child and as a consequence the personality of the child is damaged.

This in no way is fair on the part of the parents — i.e., to let their frustrations out on their children. However, this is not to say that there aren’t parents who face enormous personal struggles but still manage to keep a happy face in front of their children and try and give them (the children) the best they can. Such parents know how to deal with the problems of life and how to protect their children against the kind of odds they experience in everyday life.

Though significant, the socio-economic status of the parents is not the only factor that affects a child’s personality. Equally important in this regard are the temperament, behaviour and conduct of the parents. A warm, loving, caring and affectionate attitude can lead parents to have a very positive effect on the personalities of their children. Parents who are caring, sensitive and sensible prove the most excellent of teachers for children.

Most important in this regard is the need for parents to try and understand their offspring. All children are not the same. They have different temperaments and perspectives. Children of course can be placed in different categories depending on their life experiences. For example, some children are extremely sensitive and might notice slight behavioural changes in their parents. With such children parents need to be extremely careful.

Children want love, care and respect from their parents. However in many cases they are not fortunate enough to have parents who fulfil the criteria of good parents. In some cases when parents are indifferent to the psychological needs of their children, resentment can lead to estrangement between parents and child. Parents need to understand that children cannot think or act like grown-ups and should not be expected to do so either.

Early social development is of vital importance in shaping the relationship between children and parents. This takes place in the family and surrounding environment. Since it is the beginning of a child’s life, it provides a foundation for a child’s character traits which can later assume permanent shape. Those children who are treated with love and care by their parents in their early childhood become emotionally attached to their parents and have a lot of respect and love for them. This leads to a very happy family life and the result is the child having a balanced personality.

Children who have such an upbringing share their positive outlook on life with everyone else they come in contact with, especially when they grow into adults. The sympathy, love, care and understanding that their parents gave them enable such individuals to have a lot of confidence. This in turn gives these individuals the ability to deal with various problems and challenges in life in a courageously and positive manner. To use a cliche, such children always see light at the end of the tunnel.

So how should parents go about doing this? How should they become good parents? In most cases it does not require them to do anything extraordinary other than to, for example, offer a simple word of appreciation, a slight pat on the back, a smile, a kiss, a hug or anything related that could raise their child’s confidence and self-esteem. On the other hand, being detached and cold will do just the opposite.

Expressing praise and appreciation to a child when he or she has done something good is a better way of building the child’s personality than scolding him/her when something bad has been done.

Some parents are quick to scold and reprimand their child when something wrong has been done. The same parents are also the ones who will remain unresponsive when the child has done something which needs to be commended. Needless to say, such a biased way of treating a child can have a bad effect on his/her personality.

One of my friends has experienced a problem similar to this. While discussing the issue of parental behaviour with him, he told me that he never had good relations with his father, though he tried his best. He said the more he tried the more difficult it became. What came out in further discussions was that his father had always been cold to him, ever since he was a small child.

He narrated a story from his childhood: “One day me and my cousin — I must have been seven — went out of the house and did not come home for quite some time. Our parents got worried. My father and my uncle began to look for us, since it was evening time and getting dark. As they looked for us in the neighbourhood, they saw us returning home. My uncle seemed delighted to see his son and took him in his arms and hugged and kissed him. My father did not do any such thing to me and I felt unwanted and humiliated as a result of what he did. I could never reconcile myself to his behaviour.”

The friend further said: “My father would beat me on the smallest of things. He would never let me play, even in my free time, and never shared a smile with me. That was the reason that I could never ask him anything. As a result I grew up feeling very jealous of those children who did have loving fathers.”

The friend says he suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of elders but could never muster the courage to tell his father, lest his father thought think that he was making everything up and beat him. One can be quite sure that this is not an isolated case. Quite a reasonable proportion of children in our country might be in such situations and quite ironically no one else but their own dear parents are usually responsible for this.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@ yahoo.com

Time to end the suffocation

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

YOUNG people posses enormous amount of energy. This is especially the case during the adolescence period of their life. Roughly speaking, this age group consists of those in the age group of 13-19 years. Teachers and parents both will testify to the fact that it is difficult to deal with people of this age.

Expecting students of this age to keep quiet all the time would be asking for too much. Forcing them to remain passive and obedient would be like blocking a river in the middle not caring of the water that may overflow from either side. A better way out would be to channelize the water, so that it could be used for some productive purpose. The same should be done in the case of teenaged students.

Educational institutions should train young people so that their energies are directed in a manner that tends to benefit both them personally and society as well. Hence, the philosophy behind the working of a school should be based on construction or building of a student’s character rather than on suppression. Schools should not only be places which provide information and knowledge for use in later life but should help their students lead a happy and fulfilling life in the present as well.

This cannot happen unless educational institutions become centres of life and activity. But how is this possible? Well, this can happen only when the traditional concept of a school in our society changes, i.e when there is a close connection between life in school and that outside of it. Schools should therefore reflect what goes in society at large and should take into account the latter’s needs, issues and aspirations. This means a school should itself be a miniature form of the society or community it is situated in.

Let us now see the real situation on the ground. An overwhelming majority of government schools in Pakistan do not fulfil this criterion. There is a visible and unbridgeable disconnect between school life and that outside. Our schools still follow the obsolete concept that their major, and perhaps only, function is to teach the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) and now one more perhaps — indoctrination. Schools are places where students are herded in overcrowded classrooms where they are virtually prisoners condemned to a life term for some offence they don’t know. These hapless creatures are condemned to listen to boring and tiring lectures, that go on hour after hour, day after day and year after year. Their teachers taunt them, mock them, ridicule them and then try and give their ‘advice’, and all of this passes for education.

The fact is that today’s students — especially in our government schools — need to be saluted for bearing with such a torturous existence all in the name of education and for not out rebelling. The famous French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau once wrote “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains”. One could perhaps easily replace the word ‘man’ in this with ‘A student in Pakistan’.

This happens because unfortunately in our society education (that most valuable gift that a country can give to its citizens) is the lowest of priorities. This is all too evident when one takes a look at our public schools, their physical state and the quality of education that they impart. If one wants to gauge how civilized a nation is, he can do so by looking at the condition of its schools and hospitals. In both cases these are far from satisfactory.

Coming back to the issue under discussion, the condition of our schools is such that instead of education, something called ‘de-education’ takes place. Students have to blindly follow instructions. They have to digest facts, figures, information and knowledge without understanding them. This transfer of factual knowledge, regurgitation and indoctrination seems to be the sole aim behind the establishment of our schools.

Students have to spend the precious early years of their lives in this suffocating environment and the result is that most of them end up not being able to think independently on their own. The kind of silent and submissive role that students are made to play out in their schools is something that will stay with many for the rest of their lives. The premium is on rote memorization for doing well in exams, and when that is done one can be promoted to the next class, where the whole boring and tedious daily routine is repeated.

The outcome of all this is a very high dropout rate among our schoolchildren. The main reason for this is that going to school is not a fun thing or even a remotely educating experience but rather a grim ordeal that most students would rather not want to live through. Those who do manage to survive this kind of suffocating environment do not emerge unscathed either. Whenever an opportunity comes by to vent their anger and frustration, they do so by going on a rampage. When they do not find opportunities to constructively vent their anger the result is vandalism.

The recent protests on the cartoons issues, in which many young boys studying in schools and colleges took part, shows a glimpse of this destructive tendency. They also showed that they lacked any sense of responsibility, destroying and damaging everything that came in their path. What happened shows the failure of teachers and parents to educate their children on making decision based on reason and logic and without resorting to emotion or violence. It also shows just how suffocating the environment can be in our educational institutions.

This phenomenon is further accentuated by the total disconnect between the home and the school. Parents simply send their child to school thinking that this is their only responsibility. Teachers and school administrations on the other hand think that their sole responsibility is to impart only factual knowledge in the copies and minds of their students. Since both sides refuse to take any responsibility and lack a sense of ownership on the issue, the situation becomes such that these young students become prone to being misguided and to resorting to violence. The near complete absence of playgrounds and recreational facilities for students inside most schools only adds to the suffocation and frustration.

The only way out is to give education the high priority that it deserves. The education budget needs to be increased significantly to provide schools with all the facilities necessary for education and overall development of students.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

A case for preschools in the public sector

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

Formal education in the public sector starts from the primary school level, which is the lowest rung in the educational ladder. Primary schools in the public sector provide education to the students from five years onwards. A child’s age is recorded in the primary schools by the school administration at the time of admission and in many cases it is only based on an assumption that the child will be at that time around five years of age.

The exact date of birth of most children getting admitted to government primary schools is not known because of the parents of most of these children are illiterate and do not really keep accurate records of the birth of their offspring. Thus, the date of birth recorded by the school administration is more of an estimate. This means that even though a child may actually be six, seven or even eight when he or she starts classes, the school will record the age as five.

Even if it is assumed that all children who enroll in government primary schools are in fact five years old, is that a good thing — in that is it not too late? Modern research in the field of education and child psychology suggests that the initial five years in the life of a child are exceedingly vital in shaping his or her personality. Unfortunately this is something that is lost on our education planners and policymakers.

In Pakistan, preschools (schools which cater to the educational needs of three to five year-olds) are not very common, except in the private sector in some of the larger cities — however in the public sector they are practically non-existent. As a result, the early years of the vast majority of children from financially poor backgrounds are lost and wasted. This however is not the case in the developed countries where education is one of the highest priorities and this vital process starts very early in a child’s life.

A preschool aims at fulfilling the educational needs of very young children by offering them experiences adapted to their needs and necessary for their growth. In preschools an organized programme of learning experiences is carried out by teachers who promote educational objectives through the use of well-planned activities and teaching materials so as to foster a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social development.

Preschool education has significantly positive consequence on the scholastic accomplishment of a child at later stages in life. The process of formal education and schooling should therefore begin well before the fifth year in a child’s life.

Young children have this talent of being able to absorb a lot if the environment and the material within it (the environment) cater to their natural growing and learning urges.

One educator emphasized the importance of preschools by saying: “Anything that a child learns at a preschool can be learnt at home, but the process will be much slower and painful for parents as well as for the child. A child who does not have brothers or sisters of near his own age, becomes everyone’s centre of attention and he begin to grow up thinking that everyone around him exists to wait on him and protect him.”

It is because of its enormous positive impact on the future social and educational life of a child that preschools have received so much importance in developed countries. In Pakistan there are a handful of preschools and these too are in the big cities and mainly in their affluent neighbourhoods, catering to children coming from privileged backgrounds.

Unfortunately due to their high cost, preschools in the private sector are beyond the reach of most middle-income families. Hence, for the preschools that are found, the primary motive in most such cases is to make money on what is seen as an investment. Many parents from middle- or low-income backgrounds want to send their children to such schools but cannot because one, pre-schools are not found in the public sector, two, because the ones that are there are too expensive, and three, because they (the parents) are not given any proper guidance when their children are very young. The result is that their children lag behind in terms of their intellectual and social development compared with children from more affluent backgrounds.

Parents who have nuclear families also feel a need for preschools in the public sector. In nuclear families the parents have to face many problems in the appropriate rearing of their children, particularly if one or both of the parents suffer from some kind of infirmity or face other problems. One common issue is having to work long hours to make both ends meet, the result being that children remain at home lonely and uneducated. Besides this, families from financially unsound backgrounds have small houses, sometimes consisting of a single room and with no space for children to play and such a living environment can be very suffocating for young children.

Then there are parents who only have one child. This child has certain social and psychological needs and should interact with other children of his age group. This is not going to happen unless the child is ready to be sent to school, which will not happen till the time he is five years old. In such a situation, the child can become very fussy as he grows up and also too dependent on his parents. In such a situation, the option to be able to send the child to a preschool can well be a blessing in disguise.

Another benefit — which I think is perhaps the most important one — is that such schools provide an opportunity for working mothers to get on with their jobs despite having young children. This allows them to earn a decent living and to add to the family’s income and this can lead to a better quality of life and standard of living for the whole family. There are numerous instances of women leaving their jobs in order to take care of a young child. This can cause a big economic loss for not only to the mother but also for the whole family.

One other problem that preschools can solve is that in many cases both or one of the parents is uneducated and does not know how to properly look after the child. Sometimes though the parents are educated but both are working, and in this case they are compelled to leave their child in the care of either uneducated grandparents or a servant, which can have harmful influences on the early habit forming phase of the child’s life.

Still another issue is the apparent helplessness of parents in case there are harmful influences coming from the neighbourghood of the child’s home. A child between the ages of three and five can be exposed to bad influences if the neighbourhood where his parents reside in is not good. In Pakistan, it is quite likely that a low-income family may live is just such an area. A preschool can help greatly in this regard by taking the child away from the harmful effects of the neighbourhood.

It is said that play is a child’s work. Playing as an activity has a significant role in the mental, psychological and social development of a child. It can be both indoor and outdoor. Unfortunately children belonging to the low-income backgrounds have few opportunities to play. Their houses are inadequate for this in terms of space and their parents often cannot afford to buy too many toys for them. A preschool can fill this gap by providing children from such backgrounds opportunities to play — both indoor and outdoors — to help them in their balanced development.

Preschools also can help those children whose parents are emotionally unstable or suffer from a mental illness, which can impede the process of development of their personalities and can lead to extremely harmful psychologically problems for them. Besides, children who can be victims of violence at home and may suffer due to strained relationship between parents can enormously benefit from going to preschool.

Besides strengthening the very foundations of education, preschools can also be of great significance in creating opportunities. If properly pursued, this concept can significantly improve our educational system with some very beneficial consequences. We are spending a very high amount of funds on improving our higher education. It is high time policymakers re-thought their priorities and paid due attention to providing a strong foundation to the basic building block of our education sector.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com


10 signs of a good preschool
If your child is between the ages of three and five and attends a daycare centre, preschool, or kindergarten programme, the US-based National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests you look for these 10 signs to make sure your child is in a good classroom.

1. Children spend most of their playing and working with materials or other children. They do not wander aimlessly, and they are not expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.

2. Children have access to various activities throughout the day. Look for assorted building blocks and other construction materials, props for pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials, and table toys such as matching games, pegboards, and puzzles. Children should not all be doing the same thing at the same time.

3. Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend all their time with the whole group.

4. The classroom is decorated with children’s original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and stories dictated by children to teachers.

5. Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. The natural world of plants and animals and meaningful activities like cooking, taking attendance, or serving snack provide the basis for learning activities.

6. Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Worksheets are not used much if at all.

7. Children have an opportunity to play outside every day. Outdoor play is never sacrificed for more instructional time in the classroom.

8. Teachers read books to children individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.

9. Curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Teachers recognize that children’s different background and experiences mean that they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.

10. Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel secure about sending their child to the programme. Children are happy to attend; they do not cry regularly or complain of feeling sick.

— Courtesy: www.preschooleducation.com

Dealing with bullies

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

This is with reference to the article “ Standing up to bullies” by Neda Mulji published on this page on Oct. 30. The writer has pointed out a very important issue which causes considerable damage to the development of a child’s personality. It hampers the smooth process of education in our schools and needs to be handled wisely and firmly in order to be checked.

Calling another student names, making snide remarks, punching and giving threats cannot and should not be taken lightly because it can cause much psychological harm and mental torture to the victim. That said, the fact is that in many bullying takes on more serious forms. For instance, in many cases bullying can lead to sexual abuse and, if the victim does not do what the bully says, can result in physical assault and injury to him/her.

Bullying in its severest forms is a phenomenon primarily confined to boys’ schools. Girls’ schools are predominantly free from this menace. Boys seem more inclined to rude and unruly behaviour, especially in their later teens. A close look would reveal that bullies in schools mostly belong to the adolescent age group. For example bullying seems to occur less at the primary or middle level and more at the secondary level.

The age between 15 and 17 can be said to constitute a crucial period in a teenager’s development. Boys who are this age can have an enormous amount of energy at their disposal. Besides at this age, a sense of wanting to be better than others and to be defiant can also be found in many boys. It can also be observed that bullying happens more where the middle level and secondary are housed in the same premises. Students in the 15-17 age group are stronger mentally and physically and children in the age of group of 11 to 14 can easily be overpowered and abused by them.

Another observation is that bullies mostly belong to the group of students who are academically weaker. Students who fail more than once become old for the class they are studying in and thus get an opportunity to bully younger students because of their physical superiority. Such students tend to show little interest in studies and are not good at doing homework or other assignments. Instead they force their classmates to do these tasks for them, especially those who are more hardworking and intelligent but who are younger and physically weaker. A close look at bullying would reveal that different factors contribute to it. These include the family background of the bully, the victim, the teacher, and the school administration.

First let’s examine the role of the parents in this regard. Bullies in public schools by and large belong to uneducated or less educated families. Parents belonging to the low socio-economic strata of the society are predominantly illiterate and do not know how to handle their children. Children watch their parents often quarrelling and fighting with each other. The father is likely to physically abuse the mother and probably does it in front of the children. Such parents, especially the fathers, bully their own children and as a consequence the latter learn how to intimidate others. This does not however mean that parents who are affluent do not indulge in such acts. Ironically, those who are financially sound but not that literate also have a role in turning their children into bullies.

The same goes for parents of children who are victims of bullies. These are parents who do not care much for the protection and welfare of their children. They usually have little knowledge of what their child is doing in his or her school. They have little contact with the school administration and do not take much interest in dealing with the problems of their child. Such parents normally believe that their primary responsibility is to send the child to the school and that’s where it ends. They will take notice only when something serious has happened to the child. Besides this, many fathers especially have practically no communication with their child. There is this unbridgeable distance between the parents and the child. As a result the latter is not too inclined to share with his or her parents any problems faced in school and ends up suffering himself.

Let’s now see what role the teacher plays. This is perhaps the most crucial aspect. Ideally speaking a teacher by his very profession should be someone like an antidote to bullying. He should be the first and foremost defence against bullying. However, ironically in some instances a teacher plays just the opposite role and encourages bullying in the school. His role as a promoter of bullying might either be intentional (in which case it is nothing less than a heinous crime) or unintentional (in which case it shows professional incompetence on the part of the teacher).

How does a teacher intentionally promote bullying? Unfortunately, there are black sheep even in this otherwise hallowed profession. Thankfully such black sheep make up a small proportion in our schools. Off and on we come across incidents where a teacher even tries to abuse a child sexually. He does not do this directly but uses bullies from among the students in the school to make life miserable for a particular student he wants to abuse. If such a victimized student comes to the teacher for help, the latter gets the opportunity to abuse the former by telling him that it would best if the bullying or abuse incident is not reported to anyone. There are also cases where bullies are created when they have been bullied or harassed by teachers (as opposed to the father example).

As for the unintentional role of the teacher in promoting bullying, one instance can be when a teacher appoints a student who is a bully in a position of authority, for example as a class monitor. The teacher might be doing this to give the student a sense of responsibility but such an action can lead to a very dangerous bully in that his actions will acquire legal sanction within the confines of the classroom. This shows professional incompetence on the part of the teacher.

Finally let’s have a look into the role the school administration plays in all of this. The school administration can help reduce bullying in two ways. First, it can take stern action against those students who are involved in such activities. A school’s administration should do all it can to provide and promote a peaceful, fear-free environment in the school. There should be no compromise on this. But a more wise action can be directing the energies of the young adults into some more productive activities. The schools should arrange all kinds of curricular and co-curricular activities to utilize the school time usefully and in a positive manner. A school day should be a day full of activity. Students should relax but not to the extent of leisure and laziness. As the saying goes ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ — students should therefore remain busy doing one thing or another.

Victims of bullying mostly belong to the category of students who are introverts. They are not very enthusiastic about participating in co-curricular activities like games, debates, and other school functions. The administration should make sure that such students take part in such activities because this can go a long way in helping them come out of their shells and in gaining courage to face their bullies with some degree of confidence. The school administration should also have a close liaison with parents of students. Close cooperation between the school and parents can be very helpful in checking bullying in schools.

Besides, the school administration and society at large should provide protection to teachers because in many cases even teachers have to face bullying and harassment — both from older students and their parents in case they try to sternly deal with bullies. n

The writer teaches at the Institute Of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com