Time to ponder

Published March 27, 2020
Zubeida Mustafa
Zubeida Mustafa

HERE is something to take your mind off the novel coronavirus pandemic that has overwhelmed the globe. I would like to take you to another world — the world of education. It is too early to speculate about the post-virus age. We can, however, use the opportunity provided by the lockdown to ponder issues pertaining to education. The fact is that they have never received much thought.

Covid-19 has badly disrupted education here, with schools, colleges and universities being shut since the end of February and examinations postponed. All education-related activities, such as workshops and conferences involving a cluster, have been cancelled.

Some positive outcomes have, however, been reported. Here I shall mention three that I have learnt about. Conceptually, they sound like good propositions. Their effectiveness would depend on how they are implemented.

— The government recently announced that PTV’s three channels would telecast lessons for children. Since I have not watched any myself — assuming they have started — I cannot comment on them. I know from past experience that television has been used as an agent to transmit knowledge and information in many countries, including Pakistan.

It’s a matter of concern that most children are enjoying their unexpected break.

— Some private schools are holding classes online, including via Skype. That has proved to be an innovative idea and the children are enjoying the new experience.

— Another project that I was told about is called ‘Education Karachi’ that has used WhatsApp to offer an e-learning crash course for Intermediate Science students free of charge. These are pre-recorded lectures by various speakers.

What cannot be overemphasised is that these facilities are at best interim measures that can complement full-time schooling. Besides, they can only be used by elite schools. E-learning can be made more widely available to the less endowed, but it is limited by students’ economic constraints. The fact is that most children have been left to fend for themselves.

What should be of concern, though it is not surprising, is that most children are enjoying their unexpected break. Their lack of interest in studies, especially by those who are enrolled in public-sector schools, is very striking. For them, the virus has brought a welcome escape from the dullness and monotony of school and exams.

This should be a moment for the bureaucracy concerned with education to ponder: what is wrong with our system? Why can it not even hold the students’ interest? At least of the majority?

Clues to the answer partly lie in our curriculum. In that respect the single uniform curriculum promises to be no different. The government was all set to announce it when the coronavirus shutdown disrupted public life in Pakistan. So one can say that the matter of the curriculum has been put on hold for the time being. Believing that the lockdown and work-from-home protocol should make government officials more accessible, I sent an SMS to my contact in the Curriculum Council to seek some clarifications. No reply! Hence I am relying on the report the Dawn reporter filed for this paper.

The key problem is that we seem to be in a hurry to teach a child everything we want her to learn from an early age — the preschool and primary level when her mind and body are not even ready for it. This makes the start of the education journey a dull and monotonous exercise for the child. This failure to capture the child’s imagination is an issue that needs to be investigated to find a solution. This failure to make studies interesting leads to a lack of motivation in the student. An unmotivated student will never want to self-learn or participate in the discourse in the classroom — that is if it exists at all.

This is a major flaw in our education. It emerged from the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office last week that the goals of education, especially at the primary stage, as spelt out in the curriculum, promise to make education a dull process. The impression one gets is that our educators’ sole motive is to load the child with technological knowledge and philosophical teachings of our great leaders, even when these are beyond her level of comprehension.

At the early stage, the aim should be to give the child a guided freedom to test and try everything around her to help her ultimately develop her reading, writing, cognitive, speaking and numeracy skills. She should be encouraged to experiment with ideas in such a way that she discovers her own potential and uses it to her own satisfaction. Thus, her love for education will blossom and thereafter she will learn to educate herself with minimal guidance from her teacher. In this process, language plays a major role. It must be the mother tongue because that is the language the child is familiar with and will use in the voyage of discovery she will undertake when she is enrolled in school.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020

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