Do We Need A Warped Education System?

Here is a question. Should we close down all our schools – or almost all of them, at least those in the public sector?
At first this may seem like a totally insane suggestion. There can be no doubt that we need more education and a higher literacy rate, with the right to learning available to each and every child in our country.
But are we doing more harm than good through the education we are providing? Are we closing or opening minds? Are we in some ways inflicting the worst kind of torture on children?
We need to think hard about these matters. Merely tinkering with systems will not work. We need a radical haul of our entire education structure and the foundation it stands on if we are to get anywhere at all.
Just think of the examples we have before us. In the city of Lahore there are hundreds of eighth-graders barely able to write a paragraph on their own because they are so enmeshed in a state of affairs which promotes only learning by rote.
Then there are others who are taught intolerance as a part of even mainstream curricula, with changes suggested recently in textbooks put aside apparently because of objections from the religious right which has come to decide so much of what we do and how we think.
There are worse scenarios. A few days ago a sixth-grader at a Faisalabad government school doused himself with petrol, set it alight and committed suicide after being beaten up by a teacher. Muhammad Umar was only 11 years old.
No effort has so far been made to look into the reasons for his truancy which led to the incident with the teacher. The investigation into the matter is focusing on actions rather than the deep-lying causes which stand behind them.
There are hundreds of cases of children running away from schools; many fall victim to criminal gangs as they land up on streets. And for those who stay in schools, we should ask what meaning their lessons have to their lives. The clichéd books taught in the classroom add little value to the world in which most children dwell.
In most cases the pattern is a predictable one; with the books offering little that is exciting or creative. The aim essentially appears to be to kill the human capacity to think creatively and critically and to reason.
Perhaps this is what our educators and government want in the first place anyway. People who think can after all be dangerous, and may as they grow up begin to raise issues about the kind of social order we have created and where it is leading us today.
It must be said this holds true not only of government schools but many private ones as well. The environment in which children study might be slightly improved. But the principles of learning are in many cases hardly better.
Teachers do not know how to build a natural ability and believe the child is a kind of object into which things must be drilled through endless repetition and at least occasional rebuke. This is insane Schools should be building people who can lead our country into the future and not take it backwards hundreds of years; and this is not happening.
Even parents who pay high fees for elite schools are often disappointed at what is happening in the classroom. They of course have no power at all to change matters. The lack of teacher-training and the failure to promote teaching as a desirable profession has added to the problems we face.
Schools such as the ‘Danish’ schools set up by the Punjab government, or schemes such as the giving away of laptop computers are simply not going to help. We need much more than this. Merely cosmetic change, achieved by setting up a few good schools or handing out ‘gifts’ to a selected few will lead nowhere at all.
What we need is something far more dramatic given that we need to find the time to pull ourselves out of the mess we have landed in and wash away the debris. The entire system of education needs to be overhauled at all levels and in all sectors.
This is a Herculean task. First of all it needs an acceptance that we have failed completely as far as education is concerned. In today’s world degrees issued to most Pakistani students are simply not recognised. The standards, beginning at the primary level and moving through to higher education are appalling.
PhD students produce thesis based on cutting and pasting passages from the Internet. So too do their teachers in their research work. This is surely not what we aspire towards. The fact that students earnestly believe this is the only way to produce a piece of work that is meant to be ‘original’ simply demonstrates the extent to which we have failed them.
To amend this situation perhaps we need to consider closing down all schools for a period of time and consider how to restructure them. This has happened even in the USA where a re-organisation of schools is taking place, mainly for monitory reasons but also to improve standards.
It may be more worthwhile for children to be removed from the mind-crippling environment of most classrooms, and for time to be found to re-write curricula and re-design exams so that they demand originality and thinking rather than rote.
An entire panel of educationists is required to work on an emergency plan. They must be assigned to begin this task immediately. Unless this happens, all talk of setting up an ‘equal’ system of education or enhancing a literacy rate that is among the lowest in the world is meaningless.
We must accept that we have fallen into a very deep pit. Getting out of it and saving our children will require an extremely long ladder which must be built rung by rung so that it can be lowered down the pit and the pupils encouraged to climb up it and out into the open light of day.