WE are a nation that spends barely 2pc of the Gross National Product (GNP) on education, a society where a group of educationalists wrap up a three-day seminar in one day because many of the speakers do not turn up and the ‘bored’ audience disappears after the lunch break. Where parents have no time for their offspring, where teachers hanker for holidays and half-days for one reason or another.
Yet come admission time and schools come alive with long serpentine queues of young parents holding the hands of toddlers outside seeking admission for their children. It is also the time when money is to be made for ‘arranging admissions’. This is also the period when school ‘managers’ make useful contacts with persons in power by using the admission card.
A parent’s prime concern is get the child admitted somehow in a well-known institution. The amount of fee charged by the school is the least of their worries since many have other, even dubious, ways of making money. Arguably, a process of learning that is supported by such questionable earnings leads to the perpetuating of wrong values in society at the very commencement of a child’s education.
Parents who succeed in getting their son or daughter admitted to one of the ‘best schools’ are delighted and hold their heads high in their family and social circles. But soon the parents learn the reality about education imparted in the confines of the well-laid-out buildings and with state-of-the-art facilities. The sports and recreational grounds lie desolate while facilities meant for creative activities rot from disuse. In the rush for academic grades and the tussle between academic and sports staff, the emphasis on knowledge-based learning and all-round character building of the students is all but forgotten. Concern for security in recent times has added another dimension to the educational scenario.
Money and recommendations play a role in the admission process.
A concerned parent — a merchant navy officer who is frequently out of the country in the course of his work — says: “We know very well what is going on in school. None of us like it. We also know that school management does not care about our opinions. But after paying such heavy admission fees, development charges and security deposit we are stuck. In any case who has the time for such a rigmarole?”
Well-to-do parents consider it infra dig to send their wards to modestly priced private schools and are shocked when well-run trust institutes are suggested. “How can my son share the classroom with 39 other boys, some of whom may be the offspring of my peons, clerks and subordinate officers?”
Even though education takes a back seat as a national priority, during admission time there is great excitement in political and bureaucratic corridors. This is the time when — using their power and clout — education officials seek and secure admissions for the children of their seniors in the secretariat to score career points or enrich the coffers of their boss in the education department. A certain provincial minister of Sindh was known to carry his official stamp and affix it on any application seeking admission as a ‘service’ to voters in his constituency. In a lighter vein, people observed that the number of ‘parchees’ floating around during admission time far exceeded the number of available seats in schools!
The manner in which schools admit aspiring candidates makes for an interesting study. Stella Jafri, an expert in the admissions procedure, says: “I can judge the child and the parent [with] just a few minutes’ observation. Is the child impatient, independent or looking to the mother for confidence by the manner in which he/she is pulling at her dress? Is he or she pleasant or sulky?”
A certain school once allowed parents to be present during assessment of their child but soon discontinued this healthy practice.
How do we explain to the parents that merit or potential are not the sole criteria for admission? Money and sifaarish (‘recommendations’) also have a role to play in the process.
A certain school administered a tough admission test for six-year-olds. The parents caught on and started their kids on rote learning past papers to score high marks in the admission process. A comparison of admission results with the child’s performance in class showed great disparity, raising doubts over the quality of teaching in the school. For admission to preschool classes a candidate must have good grooming and for class one possess literacy skills, numeracy skills and good observation.
Since official guardians of education, officialdom and private entrepreneurs are preoccupied with the mechanics of learning or ‘loot’ or both, it is left to the professional teacher to lay the foundation for a better and more productive school experience. What we need is not just new admissions. We need a new approach to the process of education.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2015