Teaching reforms needed | Sindhi Adabi Board crisis

Teaching: drastic reforms needed
June 22: Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the ways and means to improve the quality of education in Pakistan.

There is a consensus that teacher education can play a major role in enhancing the quality of education as meaningful change is only possible through drastic reforms in teaching and learning - for instance, professionally developed and trained teachers promise an enriched classroom experience. Apparently there are tutor education courses but interestingly, these courses work on various, and at times competing, assumptions about all that comprises a model educator.

A simple, straightforward criterion for most school managements is that the best teacher is one who produces the best results. Based on this simplistic principle, the best school is, therefore, one that serves up the maximum number of 'A' grades.

This approach, though very convenient and popular with managers, is limited to say the least as it remains partial towards the end-product, which is potentially misleading - grades do occupy a central position as they are the ultimate objective of students, parents, teachers and principals, but this extra emphasis tends to underestimate the significance of the actual process of teaching and learning.

Since the competence of a teacher hinges on good results, most educators are geared to perform better in the run up to exams. In most cases, tricks of drilling do wonders as a majority of questionnaires are based on memory recall questions, and regrettably, students require neither thinking nor analytical skills, or a creative approach to achieve respectable positions.

So good teaching practices are largely shaped, and in some cases, determined by our examination system. Interestingly, the reward system announced for best teachers had a single criterion - the result of students. Thus in the pursuit of becoming 'good' recognised teachers, they overlook the process and keep the focus on the end-product i.e. the result.Traditionally speaking, scholarship was considered the mark of a great teacher. Therefore, a person with encyclopaedic knowledge was a guru and seekers of knowledge would become apprentices to imbibe erudition from these great minds. It is, however, observed, that there is no direct correlation between scholarship and decent teaching. Another aspect that is almost absent, besides scholarship, is the teaching modus operandi. In other words, pedagogy is of prime importance to teachers. Instructors need to realise the significance of body language, decibel levels, use of audiovisual aids, and the active involvement of students in the teaching-learning process.

A teacher must master content knowledge and teaching techniques. The pedagogy factor was over-emphasised with a number of so-called training courses and workshops mushrooming in countless professional institutions. Some of these workshops focus on matters such as how to correct a copy, with the result that the more holistic picture is missed and teachers are turned into robotic technicians. An important manifestation of this approach is the overuse of multimedia and power-point slides. With the advent of the Internet a large amount of material, including lectures by professors, professionally designed power-point presentations and pools of quizzes are easily available. Some teachers lift the material and use it without proper homework. This may seem convenient but teaching becomes highly mechanical, making the teacher redundant and the whole teaching and learning process programmed, cold and value-free.

Humanists would believe that the affective aspect is the most important component of good teaching. For them, a caring, kind and humorous tutor can generate interest in class. This element of interest and motivation would lead to enhanced and meaningful learning. A number of studies looked at the attributes of effective teachers and one such study was carried out by Eardle and Murray who looked at teaching behaviour factors that correlate with overall effectiveness. According to this research, the top three teaching behaviour factors that correlate with general efficiency include rapport with students, interest, and disclosure. It is important to note that 'media use' appears at number 14. Interestingly, the top three teaching behaviours belong to the perspective, supporting the humane face of teaching.

My observations of teachers suggest that whatever a teacher says and does becomes curriculum for students as they see their teachers as role models. A teacher who creates and sustains an enabling environment sets the stage for meaningful learning that comes from and relates to everyday life.

A good teacher connects classroom learning with the outside world. In other words, an educator should not turn into a mere technician who acts as a consumer of knowledge. Our educational system is in desperate need of thinking teachers who pursue constant professional growth. Thus any effort to improve education needs to focus on tutors and on the ingredients of effective teaching.

The writer is a director at Lahore School of Economics and the author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. -shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com

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Sindhi Adabi Board: Literature in crisis
Karachi: Unnecessary interference in the functioning of the Sindhi Adabi (literary) Board (SAB) has resulted in an administration crisis because the staff hired by previous authorities [ostensibly on political grounds] are under pressure to quit their jobs, it has been learnt. This has led to protests by people associated with publishing institutions who have been performing duties as ordered by SAB officials. Their salaries, however, are routinely withheld.

Officials at the government-run SAB said that people who had been deprived of their payments for various projects were protesting daily outside the office, but the Board is unable to fulfil their demands due to lack of resources.

The SAB was formed in 1940 to promote literature in the subcontinent. The idea was the brainchild of Sindhi nationalist leader, G.M Syed, when he was the provincial education minister. After the Partition in 1947, the SAB was redesigned in 1957, and prolific and respectable writers and scholars were hired to head the institution.

The aims of the Board include promoting literature produced in the Sindhi language and translating historical texts produced in the Persian and English languages. The institute had been doing well in the past, but the meagre grant of Rs10 million has been affecting the functioning of the body, officials said, adding that they require Rs14 million only to cover the salaries of SAB staff. In order to complete the remaining projects, the SAB requires more funds which it does not have at present.

"Political appointments" are the reason why so many people had been hired despite unsatisfactory performance, officials said, adding that these people had been hired by various ministers and heads of the institution "to please wellwishers".

Although SAB Secretary Prof. Zawar Naqvi has managed to sanction an additional Rs2 million annually using his family's influence, it is insufficient to complete the pending projects of publishing books and designing their website, he said.

Most officials said that it is due to the manipulation of funds allocated for different projects that the institution has become a mess. Some recent projects assigned to the SAB included publishing more books, translating texts, designing the website and uploading all the books printed by the SAB during its 69-year history in order to facilitate people who use these books as a source of reference. None of these projects could be completed, however, because the process was allegedly marred by corruption. Sources said that the former provincial government had allocated Rs8 million for the purpose but the officials concerned could not achieve target.

This further went unnoticed when the new Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led government took control of the institution, rejected all former projects which they deemed 'useless' and designed new ones. When questioned about the inquiry initiated on the directives of the PPP-led provincial education minister against the manipulation of funds, SAB officials remained tight-lipped and said that it a "routine matter". They added that all successive governments take such steps, but later dump these processes in files.

A renowned poet and critic, who preferred to not be names, said that Sindh, which was known as the land of Sufis and always promoted kindness, art, literature and culture in the past, is now losing the values that it inherited. He blamed political favouritism, lack of funds and the "shifting priorities" of the rulers, who now prefer promoting bribery and dishonesty instead of art and literature. "They are the obvious culprits behind the decline in Sindhi literature today, which was once known to be very rich and powerful," he said.

He added that the SAB was just one example. A similar situation can be observed across all educational and literary institutions in the province, he said, adding that skilled and creative staff should be hired for a literary institution of calibre. The News

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