Passing exams, is that it?

Over the past 20 years curriculum reform has come to a standstill. It has been reduced to debates an whether there should be chapter on Jihad or not, or whether the Chief Ministers message should be inserted into text books. We as a society have not set up educational systems to nurture individual talents and creative curiosity.

Nadir Eledroos July 01, 2010
The etymology of the word “education” is found in the Latin word educare meaning to “bring up” or to “bring out”. The reality of our system of education has less to do with “bringing out” and more with “putting in.” Students are exposed to a wealth of knowledge. However, the pedagogy favoured at present values the regurgitation and memorization of facts.

Knowledge is increasingly viewed as something to consume. Once consumed it is swiftly transferred from thought processes to pen and paper.  Amongst sentences are formed paragraphs, and with it the reproduction of facts; measured by the accuracy with which the originally consumed knowledge is presented, it is marked for consistency.

It may seem rather cynical to point out the short comings of an educational system where access to basic education, let alone further education remains a privilege, and not a right. However, as the private provision of education expands, the monetarisation of education in Pakistan has systematically transformed the inculcation of education into an industrial process. Students are churned out of the production lines of primary, secondary and tertiary degrees, allegedly armed with the skills that they require to succeed in life.  But do they?

As a teacher with a background in development, I am increasingly frustrated to see how education in Pakistan, nay around the world, far from “bringing up” the best talents of individuals, the same processes systematically discourages any investment of time and effort into the individual’s interests. Rather, what is considered socially acceptable or economically pragmatic is assigned the greatest degree of importance.

So what exactly are we talking about?

Everyone is familiar with the hierarchy of subjects. Sciences and mathematics at the top, languages and social sciences in the middle, arts – theatre at the top of the worst, and dance at the bottom. Sir Ken Robinson, a prominent proponent of creativity in a talk at TED 2006  discussed how schools kill creativity.
 …that kids will take a chance. If they don't know, they'll have a go. Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. Is, if you'll never come up with anything original. If you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this. He said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it. So why is this?

At times the word creativity gets a bad rep in Pakistan. Often the word is associated with the arts or music. Which is true, though the implications of a lack of creativity, culls innovation. As Ken Robinson argues, “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out it”. Is there any successful scientist or social scientist who can claim that his or her success was independent of his or her ability to comprehend the world beyond the status-quo?

The implications are clear. We as a society, have not setup educational systems to nurture individual talents and creative curiosity. Our educational system today churns out students to fulfil the requirements of the industrial age. We are educated to meet the requirements of the past rather than the future.
Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's a reason. The whole system was invented -- around the world; there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.

His second talk at TED 2010  he builds on his arguments of his first talk arguing that a revolution in education is required. Reforms will no longer do.
So I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it's an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish. 

The thrust of these arguments is to promote an educational system that recognizes and rewards individual interests and talents. Students would be best served if our educational system “brought out” and nurtured their talents regardless of what they maybe, enabling them to confront the intellectual and economic challenges of the future.

These arguments are particularly relevant to Pakistan. Over the past 20 years curriculum reform has come to a standstill. It has been reduced to debates an whether there should be chapter on Jihad or not, or whether the Chief Ministers message should be inserted into text books. The proliferation of O and A Level education has been viewed as a positive measure, as it offers the opportunity to study a foreign curriculum. However, the same system that we have adopted is considered outdated and in need for urgent review in the UK.

In terms of basic education – increasing amounts of research illustrates how investments made into basic education offer greater social benefits, while investments in higher education offer greater private returns.

 An analysis of both federal and provincial education allocations, illustrates the preference given by the state towards higher education. While in nominal terms basic, primary and secondary education may receive higher allocations, it’s the quality of those allocations that speak volumes of the priorities that the state places on broadening access to education.

Chapter 10 of the Pakistan Economic Survey 2009-10 offers an insight into the very latest analysis of the education sector in Pakistan. An analysis of the distribution of resources between current and development expenditure is highly skewed in favour of the HEC. Only 23.7% of non-HEC expenditure was allocated towards development expenditure. While the HEC, was allocated 42% of its budget for development activities. In addition universities tend to have relatively better infrastructure. Given the much smaller number of students enrolled in universities, the per student allocation of resources is many times higher as compared to other levels of education.

Given the paucity of funds, qualitative improvements can be made by viewing education as a process of refining individual talents, rather than the homogenizing process of learning and reciting knowledge for the sake of a certificate that does not leverage individual talents.

We have not only divided our educational system between the have and have not’s, O and A Levels vs. Matriculation, Public and Private Universities, even within these dichotomies we remain obsessed with the hierarchy of subjects and viewing intelligence in relation to outdated examination grades or standardized testing.

So where do we go from here? After viewing the talks above, I would hope that you would share (to some extent) my belief that we should value knowledge and education regardless of the subject concerned. That means valuing Theatre Arts with the same degree of relevance as Computer Science, or Tapestry Design with Mathematics! Why? Because in our schools we are producing students skilled for decades passed. As we can never be certain with what the future holds, we need a generation of students motivated in and enthusiastic about their talents.

So the next time your son, daughter, niece or nephew, friend or relative asks for advice or shares their aspirations – don’t recommend or reject professions or subjects. Instead, ask them “What are you really interested in.” Wait for the answer, resist the urge to pass judgement and respond “Great!”

This post originally appeared on
Nadir Eledroos Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London and is interested in Pakistani politics and current affairs. He tweets @needroos (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


S. Ali Raza | 13 years ago | Reply Work has already started in Karachi, with a whole new curriculum and environment. Must check up on the education project which MQM has introduced for the poor of Karachi. A child from Landhi, Baldia, Orangi, Qasba can get the same education, the schools in Saddar / Clifton / DHA are offering.
Anushey Khan | 13 years ago | Reply In my opinion currently we are at the stage where students are not required to -- or even asked to and much less appreciated to -- be creative. Our education system must moved forward where students not just learn subjects, but also how to think and what to think -- all by themselves and for themselves. I very much agree with you that education should be valued regardless of subjects. We see that disciplines -- which we see quite separate -- intermingle with each other to bring out something creative.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ