Whether it is the ability to write on a grain of rice or the need to travel through space to reach planets far beyond our realm, human beings progress because they are curious.
The mysteries of this world that we have inherited motivate a toddler to put things in his mouth, an adolescent to climb trees, a teenager to become infatuated with technology and an adult to mould that technology to his advantage.
We learn when we are pushed to look deeper and find answers for ourselves. A child develops the skill of asking questions in an environment that is conducive to learning, and free from the fear of punishment … but let’s face it, we are trained to obey rather than ask ‘why’.
The inherent nature of man to question things around him has led him to the precipice of greatness, and beyond …
This is the basic peripheral theme of the latest video, Sirf Bandhi Hai Kamar, by Shehzad Roy, a name all too familiar in the local music scene. The video directed by Saqib Khan shows a mother transforming into a Kill Bill-type Samurai sword-wielding assassin; a teacher mutating into the Hulk; a father into a Maula Jutt lookalike and a maulvi into a Kung Fu fighter! simply on being cross-questioned by someone younger than them.
Roy has been working diligently since 2006 to turn the government schools that he has adopted around. Both the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls’ School and the Khatoon-i-Pakistan Government School are success stories of his work as a social worker and philanthropist. He explains how he brought about reforms to both these institutions that were considered an administrative nightmare, and how, through his trust, he put them on the path to become places that encourage the environment of learning.
“We implemented a consolidation policy that was three pronged in nature. The administrative strategy was to bring about the entire school under one head that had, prior to the changes, been headed under eight different principals, each running a couple of classrooms as a different school within the same campus. The consolidation provided the impetus for a statewide policy reform in which all the government schools in Karachi were consolidated and one principal was appointed per school.”
Roy says he has been working tirelessly to raise issues to the attention of those who can make the right decisions. In 2012, a bill was passed unanimously to make corporal punishment in schools against the law, punishable by one year in prison and a Rs50,000 fine. He has also been part of a campaign to allow non-government publishing houses to print books that could give the local textbook boards competition and compel them to raise their standards. When children reach Matric, they sit for an examination set by the various boards of education, and the question papers demand that the child memorises what they have learned from the prescribed books; nothing more is asked of them.
“Why are we, as a nation, so adamant to make our children memorise facts and spew them out without a thought to the essential question ‘why’, ” argues Shehzad Roy in Sirf Bandhi Hai Kamar
“The need for critical thinking does not arise for the students when they give their Matric and Intermediate papers in this country. They are asked what we call ‘close-ended’ questions. Their entire education seems to revolve around mundane definitions and rote learned formulae. There is no necessity for them to think, as is required in the real world, out of the box,” laments Roy, who launched the video titled Sirf Bandhi Hai Kamar, his latest musical venture, in the hope that it will raise the question of why we are not open to discussion. “Why are we, as a nation, so adamant to make our children memorise facts and spew them out without a thought to the essential question: ‘why?’ ”
According to him, “The curriculum we have for the Matric and Intermediate studies need not be touched or reformed — it is a complete and concise document. What needs change is the syllabus and the questions set in papers of these levels. Instead of asking them ‘what is the greenhouse effect,’ why not ask them ‘under what circumstances does the greenhouse effect come into play?’ It is virtually as simple as that,” says the musician and social entrepreneur.
“The video captures the imagination of the thinkers, the movers and shakers of this country, and the general public. It puts a simple suggestion into effect through an interesting medium, music and creative visuals. There are many people who sit in a position to make changes but need a voice to help spread their ambitions. I hope to be that voice. I hope to be able to bring together the chief ministers along with the education ministers of the four provinces together and present this idea to them. Without any changes made to the curriculum, we want to make suggestions on how we can formulate questions that can allow children to think for themselves,” he adds.
His new campaign points out the flaw in the way children are assessed in our country. Whereas everywhere in the world assessments are based on application, understanding and knowledge of a concept taught, the way papers are set for Matriculation and Intermediate exams, 90pc of the assessment is based on the knowledge that the child has rote learned from a textbook.
“In an age where developed countries are rapidly shunning the use of textbooks to teach concepts to students, and stressing on the application and understanding of the knowledge gained in class, where does a child from Pakistan stand in the near future when we so firmly hold on to our archaic methods of testing children in exams?”
Shehzad Roy is also getting ready to launch the next stage of his #reformmatricboard campaign — a video titled Café Inquilaab which will feature revolutionaries such as Phullan Devi, Che Guevara, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Iqbal.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 17th, 2016