If the aim of education is to bring about enlightenment and prosperity in society, then the role of schools shifts from merely content delivery to the holistic development of children. The concept of holistic development is not confined to simply teaching-learning of textbooks but is inclusive of social capabilities and life skills. In today’s rapidly changing world, there is more emphasis on the holistic development of children, globally. Schools in Pakistan also need to contribute to children’s holistic development by enabling them to make a connection with the world by providing authentic learning experiences for them to grow, both socially and psychologically.
Children go to school aiming to acquire the knowledge, skills and disposition that could help them lead a fulfilled life. Since children spend a substantial amount of time in school, their experience could serve as a strong source of development. However, the existing school structures — with a myopic view of education — are promoting an exam-driven culture rather than focusing on holistic aspects of learning. Resultantly, the school pass-outs — though literate and somehow academically skilled — are socially confused youth.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interact with two students who had just completed their intermediate education, and when I inquired about their future plans, they promptly expressed their interest in pursuing a higher degree which would enable them to secure a lucrative job. However, they were unsure about ‘how’ and ‘in what ways’ they can ‘contribute to society’. This made me realise that while most students, after completing intermediate studies, are eligible to vote, earn, drive and even get married, they barely realise or understand their roles and responsibilities within the social realm. When education is unable to promote our youth’s ability to give back to society, they might find themselves detached from society and family, thus preferring to utilise their time on virtual socialisation or get engaged in unhealthy activities. Consequently, the youth is unable to connect what they learn through formal education, and how to put it into practice in their daily lives. This also generates concerns about the role of schools in the holistic development of students. For instance, do our schools promote students’ realisation related to their roles and responsibilities in society? Or does our education system prepare independent social survivors?
In my MPhil research, I found that most secondary grade students affirmed that their schools are not actively preparing them for social survival.
Furthermore, most schools, both government and private, hardly have any explicit plan for students’ holistic development. Ironically, schools often do not consider it their responsibility to go beyond textbook learning. However, while school principals and teachers acknowledge the importance of social competence and life skills for their students, they do not consider this aspect of development as their core responsibility. In fact, their prime focus is on content-based learning, syllabus completion and preparing children for examinations in order to achieve good grades.
Moreover, the socioeconomic condition of children enrolled in public and private schools greatly influences the social aspect of their development. For instance, students in public schools are mostly the breadwinners of their families. For them, the ultimate purpose of education is to get a job, preferably in the government sector. Interestingly, their experiences outside of school, such as labour work and local purchasing (i.e. groceries, vegetables, etc) help in the promotion of their social capabilities and in acquiring diverse life skills. These experiences also lead them to understand social norms and to properly deal with real-life situations. In contrast, education is a symbol of social status for children enrolled in private schools, especially for families in the upper social strata. Their ultimate goal is to get enrolled in reputable institutions, as stated by students. Their social experience is limited to home and school, thus limiting their ability to develop social skills. Resultantly, private school students show a reactive approach to uncertain social situations due to their pampered upbringing.
Subsequently, it could be stated that the development of social capabilities is integrated into socialisation either at home and school or in a market-oriented setup. Importantly, the extent of developed social capabilities could be dependent upon the nature of socialisation that students get. However, it is rarely seen in the current schooling culture where textbook knowledge is crammed for reproduction in the exams. Resultantly, most students are unable to find a link between information in books and its application in the real world. Thus, the disconnect between school and society has become more glaring, and students end up as confused and disconnected youth.
This disconnect fuels the tension that exists in choosing between the paths of social good or personal good, thus leading to increased self-centred attitudes amongst the youth. Therefore, the lack of engagement of the youth in social and practical life does not bode well for the prosperity and stability of our nation, especially since the youth make up almost half of the population. This generates a question mark on the failure of our education system to prepare the youth potentially. Ideally, schools’ vision should be broadened by inculcating holistic domains in the curriculum. Also, schools should contemplate community involvement to boost students’ realisation of their societal responsibilities if schools are to guarantee the development of social skills in students. After all, education is a process of socialisation but seems to be leading toward alienation.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2023.
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