KARACHI: Students increasingly face a globalised world which has placed a lot of emphasis on a knowledge-based economy and multidisciplinary skills; educational institutions in Pakistan must tackle this challenge.

This was debated at the third annual Principals’ Conference organised by the Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKU-EB) in partnership with the Oxford University Press (OUP) on Wednesday where over 360 principals from different organisations came together to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Dr Shehzad Jeeva, director Aga Khan University Examination Board, explained that educational institutes in Pakistan need to “inculcate a sense of intellectual curiosity and a passion for learning that goes beyond formal academic years within their students. And it is not only students that need to evolve into lifelong learners — this is a pertinent need for all of us and therefore requires system-level change in education for teachers, parents, principals, and communities to develop into enduring pupils.”

Sabina Khatri, director of Kiran Foundation shared different experiences that shed light on the upbringing of children in Pakistan. “I asked young children stoning a bleeding dog on the streets of Lyari why they were hitting the poor animal and they told me that dogs didn’t feel pain and that they did it for fun,” she said.

‘Educational institutes need to inculcate a sense of intellectual curiosity in students’

She also recalled witnessing high school students locking a teacher who was suffering from brain tumour in a room as they danced outside making fun of him. “I have also had fathers come to me to tell me to beat up their kids as that is the only way to learn.”

According to her, “around 80 per cent of such behaviour is generated from home. The children carry the baggage of pain from their homes and there is no place to unburden them.”

In her keynote address titled, ‘Is inspirational pedagogy the key to preparing children for lifelong learning?’, former chair of the European Council of International Schools English as a Second Language and Mother-tongue Committee, Eithne Gallagher noted the importance of maintaining a balance between mediums of instruction and mother languages. “You can’t turn off what you already know, and children will learn a lot more if they are not forced to turn off their home tongues. When we tell children to think only in English or Urdu, it doesn’t make any sense because we think in all languages.”

Thirty-one abstracts were presented on issues such as formative assessment in primary schools, case studies of educational institutions serving impoverished communities and the role of inquiry as a dynamic teaching and learning approach.

Short, inspiring talks titled ‘Educators as change agents’ also included a talk by Aamna Pasha, associate director of teacher development at AKU-EB where she focused on the importance of studying humanities for societal development. “Problems are never one-dimensional, they are always multifaceted. They require academicians from multiple disciplines to come together to address them, and this is exactly what Pakistan needs,” she said.

The ‘Education for all — Vision 2030’ panel saw leaders in Pakistani education like Baela Raza Jamil, Abbas Rashid and Irfan Muzaffar come together to discuss methods for inclusivity, quality education and lifelong learning in a local context. The role of the private sector in driving education for all, the pros and cons of technology as a cost-effective means to expand access to quality education, and the role of language in education, particularly English as a medium of instruction, came under discussion.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2017