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Friday, 1 April 2011

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

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