111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

The education `hurdle`

As a doctoral student focusing on research on adolescent students and cultures, I am concerned by how peripherally, if at all, the government`s Vision 2030 document makes educational or social reference to this age group.

Despite a peak global interest in 16to 18-year-olds worldwide, especially in the South Asian region (for instance, regular research is being conducted to find out what Indian adolescents want from life), the Pakistani government seems uninterested in hearing about its own young people`s learning preferences.

While in Pakistan for doctoral fieldwork, one of the questions I ask participants most frequently concerns the difference they think they can make to their country. There seems to be a consensus that `something` must be done, but a majority seems to feel that that `something` is an action currently beyond their reach.

To some students, that action can never be grasped; for others, it will be at least a decade before they can effectively contribute as useful members of Pakistani society.

This approach compartmentalizes life into separate time periods of training, followed by implementation. It also supports a reductive perspective that equates the ability to effect change with the threshold of material security, such as buying a car, financially supporting a family, completing a university degree or landing a job (or husband) with a handsome income.

Anything short of such milestones is perceived as compromising one`s socio-political voice or capacity to wield positive influence on the thoughts or behaviour of others. Responses like these raise questions about the message we`recommunicating to a generation preparing to assume social and political responsibility in Pakistan and the world beyond.

Education, for these students, is not a source of empowerment, but a necessary hurdle to be overcome in the long march to a `good life`.School is not a space for critical thinking, problem-solving or question and debate; it is one in a series of partitioned steps towards adulthood.

Until just a few decades ago, sequential thinking such as this seemed acceptable. Western high schools, for instance, treated adolescents like incomplete adults, who could be excused for not meeting appropriate standards of grownup behaviour. More recent thinking urges those involved in education and counselling processes to examine adolescence as a human phase in its own right, not as a bridge between childhood and adulthood.

This makes sense in today`s world, where technological and media-based networks have connected the lives of ordinary people so deeply that societies feel compelled to think that older members may require significant guidance, or very young children may be conscious of their autonomy, depending on the context.

A similar framework, premised on the fluid nature of human identity, could be applied to subjects like Pakistan Studies to address questions of citizenship or cultural norms for a Pakistani society increasingly informed by foreign films, music, TV shows, products and news.

Part of this educational philosophy would thus involve encouraging 15to 18-year-olds to use their school experiences to think about real-life issues that surround and affect them, and make decisions to help address those issues.

Yet, most of the students in my research and others like them, in Intermediate, make peace with learning as a marksdriven, mechanical routine starting at 8am and ending at 8:30pm at a tutoring centre.

Devoid of time for leisurely reading, co-curriculars, competitive sports and creative expression, even they know their education is unproductive and frustrating. Yet they hope it can lead them to a good university and, eventually, to the narrow criteria for successful living referred to above. By and large, they take these ideas and attitudes with them in life.

The problem with depending on a binary notion of success as a prerequisite to responsible citizenship is the underlying desire to compress life into neat categories that can match rigid timelines.

For most students, the pressing need to find cashable livelihoods and suitable life partners by their mid-20s leaves little to no time for seemingly idyllic preoccupations such as gap years, travelling, social activism, trying one`s hand at unfamiliar activities or jobs outside of one`s social class.

At school, strict instruction and assessment of subjects in isolation of their effect(s) on each other denies young minds exposure to the complex interrelationships and flows of information that are at the heart of being human.

Emphasising certain careers above others further allows the education system to present a simplified version of what society really needs from its upcoming generations. The thrust behind schooling therefore precludes many of life`s realities, such as multitasking, social gaps, tolerance for difference in ideas, conflict resolution or a constructive concern for those who struggle to fit in with social norms (eg disabled or special needs people).

Instead of facilitating the transition from school to university, vocational or family life, higher secondary education in the Pakistani context misinforms students about the concerns and challenges awaiting them in coming years.

It misleads them into thinking that time spent outside academic study is time wasted, even if it can ultimately give rise to well-thought-out ideas about life and the world. It also encourages the incorrect notion that education is largely about information retention and successful replication of somebody else`s knowledge.

Higher secondary schools should make students comfortable with creativity, doubt, curiosity and the opportunity to correct their shortcomings and failures. But our schools appear obsessed with restricting student autonomy.

Unless stakeholders in education throughout Pakistan express grave reservations over the philosophy and conduct of Intermediate education, we may well prepare for more generations of misplaced and perplexed Pakistanis. One genuinely hopes that is not what guides Vision 2030. •

The writer is a doctoral student.

Soufia A Siddiqi, "The education `hurdle`," Dawn. 2013-11-28.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Educational issues , Educational policy , Mass media , Government-Pakistan , Society-Pakistan , Students-Pakistan , Pakistan , South Asia , India