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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Friday, 1 April 2011

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.

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