36 A's or a 4.0 GPA won't make you a genius

I was branded an atheist, Freemason and Hitler all because I forced my students out of their comfort zones.

Hussain Nadim June 13, 2012
My goal in a classroom setting has been simple; make students as uncomfortable as possible with the content of the lecture. Once they get uncomfortable with the ideas that I float, they despise me, and to prove me wrong they go back home and do research.

I have observed three outcomes of such a situation:

1) Students do some research and agree with my views.

2) Students curse me and reject my views outright.

3) Students get confused and realise that the world is complex and requires much more in-depth study.

I aim for students to end up in the third slot.

What we produce, through our educational system, are pseudo intellectuals, who, as I observed in my classrooms, have read the Holy Quran in Arabic but do not understand the meaning as they don't understand Arabic; they believe Islam to be the only righteous religion but can’t justify it; they have degrees from elite institutions but still take Ahmadis to be kafirs (non-Muslims).

Students end up getting degrees but no education.

The burden of blame also rests on the students. At the end of my first week of teaching, in two of the leading universities of Pakistan, I was branded an atheist, Freemason and Hitler all because I forced them out of their comfort zones.

Instead of the number of As scored, I believe that evaluation should be based on the amount of learning in the classroom through psychological testing techniques that gauge true intellect and make test taking an activity that becomes fun and not stressful.

For instance, in my Islamic Political Philosophy course, there was only one question in the final exam:
Is God Just?

In another one of my courses, Political Science, the midterm question was:
Justify murder

And in my Pakistan Studies course, I gave the students a very simple question, one that would challenge even the most intellectual people. It was:
Who are you?

In all the answers I received for these questions, there was a common inability of understanding the rationale behind our beliefs. For the ‘who are you’ question, majority of the class talked about the creation of Pakistan, corruption, suffering, load shedding, manipulation of the elite, and Islamic identity.

The irony here is that the socio-economic class that these students belonged to is least affected by the crisis in Pakistan.

Also, such intellectually challenging questions proved to be torturous for rote-learners. Appropriate teaching and evaluating methods will not only instil intellectualism among students, and provide them with the necessary think-tank tools to question stereotypes and prejudices, but will negate the culture of cheating in our classrooms, and society in general.

Pakistan’s education policy, like the mindset of a majority of the people here, is ‘number-oriented' and not based on quality. Whether it is the obsession with achieving the first position in class, bagging a bunch of ‘A’s’ in O' and A' levels,  attaining a 4.00 GPA in university or the concern to start off with a salary package of Rs100,000 after graduation - the depth and purpose seems to have gotten lost in the pursuit of numbers.

What Pakistan needs is not just an upgrade in the educational curriculum but a revamp of the teaching method used. Innovation and evaluation should be encouraged amongst teachers and students, so the system can ensure that they are producing intellectuals and not just numbers.

The O' and A' level system is only producing a generation of youth embroiled in a rat race to secure the maximum number of A’s. Their study then revolves around achieving this objective. Studying past papers, rote learning prepared answers or indulging in strenuous out-of-class tutoring all have become an indicator of what is now defined as ‘intelligent’.

Evaluation is equally absurd at the university level where a relative grading system puts students in competition with each other. This drive for grades not only kills the learning component of education but also forces students to cheat on exams – one of the major problems I have noticed at the universities at which I teach.

This could all be changed if we were to bring innovation into the current model of teaching and evaluation that is practised in Pakistan. Innovation in teaching could be ushered in by philosophising subjects - by making students question the reasoning for certain events and by training them to think analytically and critically.

In order to achieve this we must, first, change the nature of the student-teacher relationship in Pakistan. Having a laid back, friendly student-teacher relationship will make students comfortable enough to ask bold questions without the fear of being labelled as ‘stupid’. I have observed from this approach that more students are interested in attending classes and coming to teachers's office casually for an intellectual talk. This not only makes room to spark a healthy debate, but also gives students the confidence to challenge my ideas and those of their peers.

In terms of evaluation, instead of the GPA system, a pass or fail system should exist. This will help to ease the rigidity of the ‘number’ based approach with a fresh ‘learning’ approach - something desperately needed in Pakistan.

To sum it up, there is a need of to break off from the older system; change the philosophy of learning and education by accepting creativity and originality in teaching and evaluation. Such a change will make the class room and learning experience something students look forward to. It will train future intellectuals to seize the tools needed to become successful. The students will learn to strive to be the best in their own individual capacity and this will generate the kind of people who we would want leading our country in the times to come.

Read more by Hussain here.

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Hussain Nadim A faculty member teaching political science and international relations at NUST Business School and Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


TYLER ARNETT | 5 years ago | Reply Im confused as a freshman the highest scale for me of course is a 4.0 and i have a 4.0 so is that good
Saqib Ali Rana | 7 years ago | Reply so somebody who thinks ahmadis are known-muslims are ignorant for you? well that's a poorer gauging technique than grades
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