Education In Pakistan

From Numbers to Learning by WASIF RIZVI

Courtesy to "EDucate"

The issues of educational access like the rural schools or girls education, have been the focus of a fairly extensive public debate in Pakistan. Since the issues of access are essentially quantitative, so the bulk of the discourse is on the statistical analysis of the situation with politicians and policy-makers gasping in horror on the appallingly low numbers of enrollment and literacy. Surprisingly though this debate rarely alludes to the content, methodology, or examining the conceptual bases of schooling. Any serious thinker in education would know that, these ‘gasps of horror’ could be louder if the condition of education is examined on the qualitative grounds. Almost the entire system of schooling in Pakistan (with the exception of few bold innovations) is based on discredited theories of learning and teaching. The indelible damaging effects of practicing these theories on the mental and the motional (sometimes even the physical) growth of little children are well documented in powerful research studies. Classrooms dominated by obsessive rote memorization and confined to utilizing very few or just one learning tool, the textbook, is a familiar suffocating spectacle in our schools. In order to launch a meaningful and sustainable challenge to these problems, a framework to introduce fresh and powerful concepts of diversified approaches towards learning is presented in this paper. These concepts are built on a thought provoking knowledge of the limitation of traditional schooling in the face of the challenge of an increasingly complex global society.

Identifying the ‘Real Problem’

With the unique features of high level of mismanagement and corruption, the crises faced by Pakistani schools is a microcosm of a global problem of seemingly a paralyzing inability to create, introduce, interact around and utilize new ideas in the fields of educational development. Powerful research from fields such as cognitive sciences, applied linguistics, psychology, neurological sciences, ecological sciences, biological sciences, social anthropology and semiotics, indicates that the way schools are configured goes against much of what we know about learning — about the diversity of learners, learning styles and learning processes, learning relationships, learning cultures and the spaces where and conditions under which learning takes place. In the following pages, a broad rationale for change in the light of the paramount research and the arguments of the leading experts in the field of education is presented. These theories and arguments are shaping a fundamental shift in the approaches of school development /improvement.

The Increasing Inadequacy and Inappropriateness of ‘Yesterday’s Solutions’

Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solution.” (Peter Senge)

Before constructing a sound critique on formal schooling, it should be clarified that I recognize the tremendous value and need for organized learning spaces where adults and children can come together but argues that such spaces need to be radically different in terms of their ideological and philosophical goals and assumptions, structures and mechanisms, processes and practice. Some learning spaces have managed to undertake this process of transformation, however, constituted as such, it would be both imprecise and inappropriate to use the same term i.e., ‘schooling’, to describe the experiences linked to these new spaces. Several generalizations can be made concerning how the institution of schooling has been developed and, in many cases, continues to be reproduced around the world:

Challenging the Basis of Schooling'

Schools have been shaped by ideological and philosophical traditions of development, which are increasingly being challenged. The inter-linked logic [s] of colonialism (civil servants, conversion and racial superiority), industrialization and human capital theory (workers managers and jobs), modernization (modern/Western), nation-building (national identity and allegiance to the state) and globalization (consumerism and competition) have played significant roles at different points in history, in shaping the values, goals, structure, timing, processes, and activities of schools.

The Certificate Syndrome'

Schooling has been organized around final results and products rather than continuous processes. This orientation has tended to lead towards approaches tied to memorization of a large repertoire of facts and routines without necessarily understanding them. There has been little link between learning and the wider context of life and development. Schooling has been conceived of as taking place only in the early years in one’s life, and learning is thought to be complete when one graduates and receives a diploma i.e., signifying that one is now ‘educated’.

Fostering Control and Indoctrination'

Conclusively discredited theories of Skinnerian behaviorism, Piagetian developmental psychology and Darwinistic individualism, still underlie dominant structure and practice in conventional education systems. Schools and the processes of teaching and learning are predicated on the institutional desire to foster control and discipline. The effect, as Papert (1993, p. 55) describes, is that the institution of School, with its daily lesson plans , fixed curriculum , standardized tests, and other such paraphernalia, tends constantly to reduce learning to a series of technical acts and the teacher to the role of a technician. In the framework of this highly formalized and mechanical environment, Schank (1995) argues that the very nature of schooling opposes natural learning.

Inflexible and Rigid Learning Structures'

Education systems have tended to be rigid and isolated. Schools have been conceived of as closed systems, de-linked from their outside environments. The validity of other spaces for learning, other knowledge systems, and other partners in the learning/teaching process has often been denied. Most schools have refused to acknowledge that learners spend more time in the informal environment than they do in schools. The validity of other spaces for learning, other channels of learning (media and environment) other knowledge systems, and other partners in the learning/teaching process have often been neglected, and even, devalued. Furthermore, there has been very little flexibility within the system. It has been organized along strict linear levels of education i.e, the stages approach, with artificial separations such as primary, secondary and tertiary. Schooling takes place within inflexible blocks of time.

Knowledge as Commodity'

Schooling has been framed in terms of knowledge and value transmission. Gardner (1993) describes that, “In the outmoded view of learning that dominates our institutions, knowledge is regarded as an objective substance that can be deposited directly into people’s minds. Education is seen as the process by which knowledge is transferred into the learner’s mind, and teaching is seen as the packaging of knowledge for efficient transfer.” The focus has been on teaching rather than supporting learning and understanding. Learners have been regarded as ‘empty vessels’ and the range of knowledge and central experiences that they come with is hardly acknowledged.

Schooling as a ‘Factory of Mass Production’

There is no sensitivity for the diversity of learners. The system has been constructed along the lines of factory in the tradition of Fordism (a term coined to describe the industrial mass production process of automobiles)(Gardner 1991). Within this framework, learning interventions are typically designed for the ‘mean’ learner. There is little flexibility for the catering to the specific differences of learners — their individual personalities, culture, linguistic, learning styles, family background, motivational levels, interests and special needs. Furthermore, the system fails to acknowledge the physical, emotional, social and cognitive abilities of each learner.

Culturally Irrelevant Curricula'

Curricula have been framed in tightly compartmentalized and fragmented disciplines, with content and materials that tend to be irrelevant to most learners. Several critiques have been raised about the propensity of schooling to alienate individuals from their ethnic and linguistic communities. The focus of curricula has been on developing abstract, academic, and generalized learning, with little attention to contexualized, reflective, emotional learning (Resnik, 1987; Perkins, 1996; Goleman, 1995).

Promoting Individualism'

Learning in the classroom has been seen as a predominantly individualistic activity (Resnick, 1987;

Abbot, 1995). Competition has been viewed as a far more powerful motivator than cooperation (Marshall, 1996). Sharing with, assisting and collaborating with fellow learners is primarily done in a mechanistic, superficial way, with the ultimate goal still competing with a set of individuals. The learner has been seen to be sub-ordinate to the teacher, who is viewed as the omnipotent expert, with classroom roles largely fixed. The potential of learners to learn from other learners, their parents and communities, and in other environments is rarely explored.

Causing Psychological Impotence'

Schooling is supposed to be the ‘equalizing’ and empowering force. However, schooling and its claims of meritocracy have been strongly critiqued and questioned on the basis of reproducing hierarchical socioeconomic relations (Bowles and Gintis, 1976) and reinforcing existing notions around the distribution of power. Most of the developing countries today, have educational systems that feature socio-economically-biased different tracks of learning, which lead to different roles , opportunities and power in society. Illich has described the feelings of ‘psychological impotence’ in relation to the dominant socio-economic institutions that are cultivated in students. Those who drop-out or are forced out of the system are labeled failures and leave feeling humiliated, bitter, frustrated, and demoralized. J.P. Naik (1975, p171) has commented on this process at work in India (very applicable to us), “The main achievement of this system, therefore, is to condemn the bulk of children of common people as dropouts and failures and to consign them to a life of drudgery and poverty which has hardly any parallel in the contemporary world or even in our own earlier history.” These critiques are by no means exhaustive and serve to highlight only certain concerns about the limitations of schooling. The extent to which these critiques apply to any particular context can, of course, be extensively debated. Positive examples can be found in the education system, but these occur in spite of the system rather than because of it. What should emerge from this discussion is that most educational systems today still remain insensitive to the widely diverse needs of learners of all age groups and ignorant to the complexity of learning processes . Furthermore, the institutionalized intervention of schooling has provided little space and empowerment for both individual learners and learner groups to engage in the construction of alternative visions of development. Such critique extends far beyond the school as being elitist, classist, racist or sexist. It raises fundamental questions around the school as being a dehumanizing and socially destructive force in society. What must be viewed as particularly disturbing, however, as we look towards the future, is our continued obsession with the institution of ‘schooling’ as the central reference point for learning; the increasing demands we place on it as a panacea for solving society’s problems; and our inability to ‘see’ and stimulate other dynamic learning spaces. Formal schooling, whether in person or at a distance, is an inappropriate solution by itself for dealing with the development challenges and opportunities of the future. Fullan (1993), after extensive review of change initiatives, argues that introducing new innovations and reforms into current educational systems is “an ultimately fruitless uphill battle” as these systems have been designed to be resistant to change. He calls for “a new mindset about educational change”.

What can we do?

Those of us committed to nurturing each human being and each community’s inherent potential must support the long and painful efforts to rethink the structure, organization, content, instructional processes, and evaluation mechanisms that conspire to uphold the dominant learning oppressive system of factory-schooling. Efforts towards radical transformation should focus on creating lifelong learning environments (in schools and out of schools) that seek to enable and empower the huge wealth of diverse human potential that exists in our people and cultures. In the short term, this must involve steps to:

  • Shift our policy focus from a ‘Ministry Committed to Expanding Schooling/Human Capital’ to a ‘Ministry Committed to Expanded Learning/Human Potential’.

  • Conduct indigenous research on different frameworks and understandings of contextual analysis of powerful examples of innovative learning and pedagogical practices around the world in the light of new understanding regarding the concepts of life long learning.

  • Challenge the legitimacy of existing schooling frameworks and evaluation mechanisms. Work to develop a dynamic ‘learning to learn’ curricular environment and new mechanisms for assessment.

  • Develop teacher training efforts with a greater emphasis on ‘teachers as transformative intellectuals’.

  • Develop programs for parents and larger communities to understand the conceptual and theoretical understanding of schooling vis-à-vis power structures, social stratification, and social change.