July 2009: With every single component of society struggling to keep itself on track, it is basically illogical to expect that education - or, for that matter, any other single unit - will lift itself out of the morass on its own. It just can't happen. The vision and commitment of the leadership are two vital ingredients for any turnaround, but that have been precisely the two factors missing from our equation.
Having said that, it does not absolve individuals of their duty to act responsibly in their respective professional domains. Teachers are no exception to this simple rule. Everyone knows that the system doesn't work in both its specific and wider meanings. Going a step further, it is part of everyone's belief that it is pointless to even expect the system to function with any semblance of professionalism. Despite all its ills, woes and maladies, however, the system does not forbid a teacher to teach properly. Does it?
There may be an argument about teachers facing problems in a rural setting, but by and large it is the teacher himself who is either interested in or indifferent towards doing the job properly. In this specific context, the failure of the system is in terms of its inability to enforce accountability on individuals. The system does not encourage the teacher to do it right. In fact, it is not too wrong to say that the system does not even require the teacher to do it right. But if someone decides to do it right on his own, the system does not come in the way. Does it?
When it comes to the examination part of the education cycle, there are indeed pressures that a teacher has to face. From schools to universities, the pressures are different at different tiers, but they are there and teachers have to put up with it. However, when it comes to the core issue of classroom teaching, there is nothing that stops a teacher from being at least good, if not dynamic.
Apart from the missing accountability factor and the general indifference that has come to characterise our national life, there is one obvious reason behind the decline of the standard of teaching. The mere fact that teaching is not a profession of choice explains to a large extent why things are the way they are. For the last few decades, teachers have failed to be role models for their students. No one, as such, aspires to be part of the academia.
The low wage structure only adds to the problem. Lack of opportunities in other, more lucrative areas push individuals into the black hole of teaching and once there, they tend to spend more time grumbling over one thing or the other than actually picking up and honing teaching skills.
The problem, by the way, is not specific to Pakistan or even the Third World. It seems universal. In the United States, for instance, a large number of teachers leave the profession after just one, two, or three years of teaching. Almost one out of every two new teachers leaves the classroom by the end of five years. This is chaotic for school administrators, but it is the students who suffer the most with when they are left with inexperienced, unseasoned teachers year after year.
Research also confirms that students who have an ineffective teacher during any given year may test as much as one year behind peers taught by a more effective teacher. Those unfortunate enough to have weak teachers for three or more years in a row may never catch up.
The vital difference between this universal pattern and the problem in countries like Pakistan is that in the advanced world, the teachers for whom it is not a profession of choice use it as a transit phase and move on to other areas when an opportunity comes their way. In contrast, people who take up teaching here stick to it because they are generally not good enough for other, more competitive areas. This basically means that such individuals - and there are hundreds of thousands of them across the land - spread their ignorance, incompetence, lassitude and mindset in society for the rest of their lives.Forget the state-run schools for they are bad enough to be kept out of this discussion, or, looking at it from the other angle, so important that they deserve to have an independent scrutiny of their mechanics and dynamics. The private-sector entities that charge a fee that is good enough for the owners to pay proper wages to the teaching staff and yet earn them a fantastic profit, fail to deliver because of the voracious fiscal appetite of the investors who are always busy finding a location for their next campus rather than in improving standards at the existing ones.
At the intermediate level, the scene shifts to the tuition centres. The same bunch of sleepy teachers with a couldn't-care-less attitude wake up in the evenings and become good enough for the students to at least depend on them.
The fun doesn't stop once you enter the realm of higher education. Teaching at the university level in Pakistan is nothing more than a pastime for most of the faculty members. Exceptions, rare as they are, aside, the junior ones do not have enough in them to be effective. The senior ones carrying the doctorate chip on their shoulders spend much of their time conducting workshops, addressing seminars, attending to their administrative assignments and so on. The more dynamic of the seniors become members of the various government committees on education reforms and spend time visiting foreign shores for lectures and fellowships. But classroom teaching? That features at the bottom rung of their priority ladder, if at all.As far as natural sciences go, things are said to be slightly better because teaching entails theories, formulas and equations that teachers talk about. When it comes to social sciences and liberal arts, things tend to take a turn for the worse. The reason is simple: these are disciplines that have human beings lying at the heart. Howsoever hard one may try to focus on the theories, the complexity of the human mind is too enormous to be covAs the teacher learns and evolves, so does the community...
ered by them. It is only by encouraging the students to think that one can hope to have an aware citizenry at some point in time. But classroom teaching at the university level is often not geared to serve that purpose.
The crux of the argument is that regardless of the tier of education and without any consideration to the constraints of the system, individuals can do better if they so wish. If you are doing a job, you might as well do it properly; at least to the best of your capacity. The concept of converting educational institutions into learning communities is not a new phenomenon. Floated by Professor Tom Sergiovanni back in 1993, it has come a long way in the last decade-and-a-half. While it is implemented by the respective administrations in a number of countries, the module does have the potential for individuals to make a start on their own without having to wait for the authorities to make a decision on their behalf.
The pattern of learning community is basically about giving a new orientation to the role of the school and the teacher in the overall scheme of things. It emphasises the need to make schools a community of learners rather than teachers and students, arguing that as the teacher learns and evolves, so does the community.
The conventional system dates back more than a 100 years to the Industrial revolution when schools were established using the metaphor of the school as a factory with organisational bureaucracy as its main characteristic. The fresh approach rejects the traditional top-down and quick-fix approaches to teacher development, favouring, instead, a field-based and bottom-up strategy.
Lying at the core of the concept is the belief that teachers should become researchers in their own classrooms, and contribute to self-development and school improvement. It encourages teachers to stop being scared of having to say "I don't know", which in the traditional mould happen to be a much-dreaded proposition.
The idea has challenged, reconstructed and transformed the whole grammar of schooling wherever it has been practised with a sense of purpose. There is no reason why it should be any different in our context. Individuals can start it on their own provided they are willing. As the cliché goes, even the longest journey begins with the first step. It is a journey that holds much promise, but only for those who may dare to travel. -By Humair Ishtiaq (Dawn)Your Comments
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