Sunday, January 15, 2012

Please don’t make your Child Arfa Kareem

Yesterday, another bright star of Pakistan, Arfa Kareem, lost her life due to the extra ordinary pressure of sustaining her achievement of young age at the secondary education level at Pakistan. Inna lliah e waina elayeh rajeeon. Most of the Pakistani parents are leading their children on her track to get the media hype. Is this good for children or not?

Arfa a young girl form Faisalabad, achieved the lot of media hype, praise and awards on becoming the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCPs) in the world at very young age.  She got the attention not only in Pakistan but all over the world. Her parents became proud of her  but they fail to realize that she still have to go through the secondary school examination and she will come under huge pressure to sustain her success.

Certification exams are the test of analytical abilities where passing marks are enough to become certified. As compare to certification, our secondary schools examinations are the test of memory where there is always an extra pressure on student to get more and more marks and grades. As a result students are pressurized to cram more and more.

Arfa got 13 A grades in O level and was doing A level when she got stroke and now died. In her various interviews she talks more about imagination importance than knowledge, clear indication that she was not liking the examination system where knowledge (memory) is being tested. In one of her interview to PTV anchor Tauseeq Haider, she told that she do not study too much but she wants to give 100% in exams, but that is causing headache and pain. Those were the clear indication that she was studying under extreme pressure to perform at par with her earlier success.

You cannot achieve top level every time, but immature mind doesn’t allow a little less success than the top level. Everything should come with the age. Idea of parents to jump their child in early age, puts too much pressure on the child to keep performing at adulthood. Looking at the early age success and media attention of Arfa Kareem, many parents also have led their child to jump, Sitara Akbar is  the key example of early jump. Similar to her, Ali Nowazish got huge media attention on his success at secondary school examinations but now higher education is in-front of him. Both of them are under huge pressure as world is looking at them that how will they perform after their success.

It’s a request to the parents that do not make your child, Arfa kareem. Your genius child, will get certification easily but that will put a lot of pressure on them to carry on with their success. Otherwise be ready for the result similar as of Arfa kareem. We are unable to change our examination system of craming to get more gardes (marks) but can save our children from extra pressure. Your child will achieve great success in future inshallah.

Arfa may you rest in peace. Ameen

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Imran Khan's view and Finland Example for Pakistani Educational System

Finland topped the world in secondary education according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although no one is Pakistan have noticed it or considered it worth reading as it was not about Imran Khan’s politics or war on terror. Mean while many educators from around the world have visited to see how Finland is leading in education and how they can implement it in their country. These days, Imran Khan buzz too much about education so why not compare Finland’s education system, Imran Khan’s idea and the current Pakistani education system.

Current Educational system in Pakistan at secondary schools system is not unique, it varies from national testing system ( Matric and FSC), imported testing system ( O level and A level). After that comes the Madrassah System which is running perpendicularly to the regular system, so no need to talk about that here. Now when Imran Khan presents his thesis about the educational system, he talks mostly on language barrier, that syllabus will be in same language all over the country and assumingly he considered for the national testing system. It seems good but when we look at Finland, there is no national testing system at all. Idea they  present is that they teach students to learn and not prepare them for the test. As a result of no testing system, they have put no barrier at the entrance of the University. Tradionalist will never like this idea to be implemented in Pakistan and yes we cannot bear such a sudden big change in our educational system, yes we can impart the idea of free entry at the University that can remove lot of burden of cramming from the secondary educational system.

 Our educational system and  Imran Khan have the same idea that syllabus should be same all over Pakistan and should be prepared by central authority. Teachers should only teach what should be given to them and according to the rules provided to them. Idea behind this could be based on the thinking that teachers are not trustworthy. Finland did opposite, they didn’t make any national curriculum and they only provide objectives of the class and let the teacher decide how and what he will teach to achieve those objectives. In order to check, only few percent of random pupils are used to be questioned randomly. Can we implement this idea in true spirit? Answer to this is difficult. What we can do at most in the current situation, is to remove the fear of not getting to the University along with reducing the number of topics in so called science subjects where we do not learn to ask question but to cram. As a result teacher will have more time to teach and experiment. By giving the respect to the teachers, Finland has made the teacher the most respectable profession in their country and we should also follow that.

Vocational education is not considered as part of our regular education and I havn’t heard Imran Khan talking about that. The thing I liked most is that Finland have made the vocational education as part of secondary and higher secondary education. So if the student do not wishes to continue the education, he is still equipped with the required skilled to work. Pakistani student face the most problematic situation, if they don’t get admission at University, their education till FSC become useless as they are unable to do any vocational work. This must be implemented if we really want to see change.

Education is free in Finland. Even the private schools get money from government not from the students. There, a school is not compared with the other school as there is no testing system. Here the school whose student perform better in testing system, charge more money. The standard of a school is based on the concept that the school who charge more money as school fee, will be good. Education in Pakistan should also be free and education should not be treated as business. Most of the Imran Khan speeches also revolve around free education so here he matches with the Finland’s educational system.

The list can go on and on but to summarize we can say most of the thing that Imran Khan talk about change in educational system are not the key to success and bigger change except free education. Pakistan should look at Finland’s education system, bring a debate on it and only in that way we can think of a positive change.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Purposeless Lower Education System in Pakistan

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in School”, said by the world renowned genius, Albert Einstein. What he understand a century ago, unfortunately we as a Pakistani nation are still unable to understand it. Education at secondary and higher secondary level provides a back bone to one’s higher education or literary life. Why lower educational system in Pakistan, is not providing necessary tools to the students?

Education at secondary and higher secondary level is purposeless. Only purpose that comes to mind is to score more and more marks to get admission at University. At the same time, Pakistani universities are increasing merit with each passing year. This can lead us to think that individually Pakistani secondary educational system is useless.  This is encouraging people to cram, worship what they are learning and reproduce what is written in their books. The one unable to do so become so called unintelligent student in the eyes of teacher as well as of themselves. Higher drop-out rate from the educational system in Pakistan is due to this fact. Pluto once told that "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind”. So universities should not increase the number of requirements at the entry level as they are bound to be forgotten and as a result with less compulsion, student will get enough time to analyse the subjects he is learning in school critically. 

Subject books at the school and college level of Pakistan are stuffed with too many disconnected topics. Similarly the number of compulsory subjects at this level is too large. The idea behind this is that student should know each and every topic in the universe at this level. Policy makers fail to realize that “A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled--By Plutarch”. As a result, student at this level, leaves the critical thinking which should be the prime focus at this point and began to cram as he always remain overloaded with too many subjects and too many topics within each subject. Although very few of these, help them in their higher education but at that time students are unable to remember what they had studied in schools.

Secondary education is disconnected not only with the higher education as well as with vocational education. Pakistan can take the example of Finland. Finland is the country which has topped the world in education by combining the vocational and theoretical education at the secondary school level. Pakistan should also do that keeping the burden of  subjects as low as possible. Similarly all subjects should help student in problem solving or getting vocationally trained. In this way, if the student fail to qualify for the higher education, still he will be able to work and earn as he will have vocational skills in his secondary education.

In conclusion, we can say that Pakistani lower education is purposeless, disconnected and is stuffed with too many useless subjects. Therefore it should be improved by connecting it with vocational education, by reducing the number of useless courses so that a student can get enough time for critical thinking and problem solving. University authorities should also not apply too many conditions at their entry level as it encourage to cram the subjects at secondary schools. Sooner the policy maker will realize this, better it will be for Pakistan and Pakistani students.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Need of a same Grading System in all Pakistani Universities

The college graduate is presented with a sheepskin to cover his intellectual nakedness. -- Robert M. Hutchins. Every Pakistani university has adopted his own version of grading system in the last 10 years. As a result, it is not easy to judge the student's performance during his course, by some outsider, only on the basis of his transcript report. In a single grading system (good or bad) atleast a student from any university can be compared with another one. Why it cannot happen with different grading systems?
As soon as the system was shifted from the annual system to semester system, absolute grading system of the annual system was shifted to the new one with some modification. Question papers started to be prepared, checked and graded by the teacher who teaches the subject. The idea behind this shift was on the opinion that teacher who teaches the subject, can judge the student more than anyone else. But no one has ever bothered to make a standard of papers. The teachers started to develop low quality sub-standard papers to get good grades of the class to show that they are teaching excellent. Those who tried to judge the students with the quality paper soon become bad in the eyes of the authorities due to low grades.  Students coming from this absolute system, mostly fail to perform equivalent to their grades in their result cards.
Some of the public and private sector Pakistani universities have started to shift from the absolute system to their own relative grading system. The mostly adopted relative system is the one in which marks of the whole class is averaged and given 'C+' in bachelors and 'B' in master degrees. Argue presented for this system is that teacher will not have to make a sub-standard paper. A good student will be able to get 'A' grade even if the quality of the paper is very high as he will have more marks than any of his class fellows. While implementing this system universities fail to understand that this system was developed for the classes where strength of the students should be above 100 whereas in our engineering colleges or universities, on an average, a class mostly has 25 to 50 students. The smaller the class, the problem of higher average becomes more prominent and as a consequence even the good student becomes victim of low grades if most of his fellow students are also good in study. This problem leads to another problem as well, as the fear of high average comes to the mind of the students; they stop helping each other in the studies. Apart from this, most of the students coming from this system perform better in the industry even with low grades but when they try to apply for higher studies within or outside Pakistan, normally these students, not able to get admission as they use to have low grades as compare to the students coming from the universities having absolute system. Here again, student’s grades do not represent their quality.
In conclusion we can say either a student coming from absolute system or relative grading system; his grades do not represent him. There is a need that there should be one standard all over the country either it is absolute or relative. At least then, one can be compared with some other on the basis of result card and everyone should get his fare chance of higher education as well as jobs.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Semester System in Pakistani Universities

"It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated." -- Alec Bourne, A Doctor's Creed. Today almost every university of Pakistan have adopted the semester system as its core educational system. Is it really serving the need of the student?

In most of Pakistani universities, semester last for 16 to 18 weeks. Most of the students like the semester system because it ends quickly as compare to annual system. They don’t have to wait for the whole year. This seems good but what I have seen that due to lack of time, students do not absorb the subject properly. As the semester goes, they forgot everything they have learned during the semester system.

Students are evaluated number of times during semester with 3 exams (First, mid and final session), minimum 4 quizzes and 4 assignments for each subjects (normally six subjects during one semester) and if the subject is with labs then add minimum two lab assignments and 3 lab sessionals. So the biggest argument for semester system is that as compare to annual system, semester system is supposed to be better as it keeps the students busy during whole tenure. But the students lose interest with the subjects in the semester system as they are always overloaded. So instead of doing things honestly they mostly try to cheat specially in assignments. J. Bronowski said "It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot, irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it". But in our current system we overload them with what is known rather than helping them to think and question them. So sad!

We have seen number of times that students who perform good or excellent in the annual system during Matric or FSC exams, only perform on an average in the semester system and vice versa. Why it is happening again and again? Most of the people argue that it is due to cramming (rata system) which students adopt in annual system while it does not work here. In my view the actual reason behind this problem is that, semester system is much easier for the student who studies teacher rather than the subject being taught by the teacher. Funny isn’t it? But it is true. In semester system, teacher who teaches, prepare the question paper. Secondly, for the last 10 years, I have seen that mostly all the teachers repeat their paper with little or no modification. So most student who just study subjects sometime feel trouble while who have studied teacher can guess what could come in the exam.

A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students”.- John Ciardi. During last four years as a lecturer, I have seen that fellow teachers and authorities love the semester system and both have their own reasons. Teachers like because they have less pressure on them as compare to the teacher in annual system. Just imagine a teacher teaching a tenth class in a school for matric exam. He doesn’t know that paper will be tough for class or not. Whereas in semester system teacher adjust his paper according to what he thinks is the level of the class. Similarly the authorities of the universities never bother how the teacher is teaching; they are more concerned with the research activity of the teachers for their ranking. So both teachers and university authorities like the semester system because semester system helps the teacher by giving him relax environment and to authorities improved ranking in terms of research papers. But does anyone care about the student intellectual level?

If we talk about extracurricular activities, a student studying in the semester system have no time for these things. If he/she will try for it, he/she will suffer in his/her CGPA. We use to teach the proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, but never understand it and never try to implement it as well. Semester system of Pakistani Universities is clearly making dull boys and girls. We are neither excelling in sports and nor in education.

In my personal view, semester system is good for the students but the way it is implemented in our universities have killed its main purpose. Universities claims that their students are free to choose any subject from the whole curriculum but mostly do the opposite and bond the students with fixed subjects that the student have to study during a semester. This should be changed. Second the over burden of quizzes, assignment and number of exams should be removed. If we see the example of “University of Melbourne, Australia”, semester system there, is implemented in a very different way. No quiz, some assignments, only one exam after the semester and a two weeks holiday before the exams, gives lot of time for the students to revise, absorb and prepare. As a result less burden during semester and lot of time after semester give them the opportunity to absorb the subject properly. I wish this kind of semester system should be implemented in Pakistan. The more the student gets time, more he absorbs the subject, more he can learn and more he can get benefit.