KARACHI: It was only a day earlier, when one of my professors raised serious questions on the quality and methodology of the education system in our country. The questions that he raised, and the series of academic records that our children have been making in terms of grades, numbers and age of taking exams made me think a lot about this issue. It is quite understandable that parents want their children to get the best possible education and excel academically and professionally. My point of concern is with the definition of the term ‘academic excellence’ that our society has set.
An in-depth analysis of how our society perceives and approaches education and academics reveals bitter facts about the sorrowful state of affairs in our country. While the poor can hardly send their children to school, the ones who can afford it have made it a rat race of grades and status symbols. After a couple of years at the pre-school level, parents reach new heights of competitive insanity by making their three or four-year-olds compete for places in top schools like Karachi Grammar School or Aitchison College. In order to do so, the children are made to go through a rigorous routine of preparatory classes. Those who fail to secure admission end up being stigmatised and have to make do with lesser known schools, so much so that it is seen as an embarrassment by many a parent to have to admit in a social gathering that his or her child failed to get admission to a particular school. What our teachers and parents fail to understand is that the role of the schooling system is to ensure the overall physical, mental and psychological development of our children as human beings, rather than turning them into machines that learn by rote.
The point is clear. The objective of education is not to learn and apply but to complete the course outlines, memorise what is taught and reproduce all of it in the examination. Moreover, parents and teachers totally ignore the repercussions of the immense amount of pressure children are made to undergo at such young ages without respecting their individual capacity and capabilities. Why is it that our academically excellent students have made little contribution to international research publications? What contributions have we made to science and technology, what new discoveries have we made and what new knowledge have we added to any discipline? The answer to all these questions lies in the twisted definition of intelligence that we have ended up formulating where achievement of grades is seen as the ultimate objective.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2014.