Overlooking Nation Builders | Political economics



rshad* taught English at the International School of Excellence, a local private school that promised to provide a modern education in Islamic values. One day, Arshad played an educational video to his young students on his laptop. In the video, the English alphabet was recited in poem form.

The next day, the teacher received a phone call from the school principal – also imam at the neighborhood mosque. The principal told him that he should stop coming to school. He quoted a parent who complained that the teacher had “made the children watch songs on TV”.

Arshad had wanted his students to learn the lesson and benefit from it too. As a teacher, he knew that students don’t learn just by reading books. Some students are auditory learners; some learn best through visuals. Still others have kinesthetic learning styles, that’s to say, they learn best by engaging in physical activity. The principal was unaware of educational psychology or theories of learning. But he owned the school and wanted to keep the parent happy.

Apart from the exceptions, the rapid growth of private schools and tuition academies for commercial purposes is one of the factors that has brought down the status and effectiveness of teachers and the standards of education they provide. School owners want to save money by hiring fewer teachers and assigning multiple subjects to the same teacher. They often force teachers to follow a profit-centric approach.

The owner of a tuition academy complained after I gave a guest lecture to his middle school students, “Why did you tell them to pursue subjects that interest them? You undermine my interests. He was furious. He told me that they told the students that by only qualifying for the medical admission test, they could pass.

“If a student does well on the exam, we post their picture on our board and more students flock to our college. Nobody will come here if our students start studying business, history or architecture.

“If you want to survive in the market, you have to know these things.”

The owners of many educational institutions are also directors or administrators. Their reflection is not guided by the question of “how to make students think and learn well” but by “how to increase the long and short term benefits of the institute”.

On the other hand, teachers, apart from the exceptions, are also not “transformative intellectuals” as Henry Giroux – the American scholar and cultural critic – calls them. Giroux believes that teachers have (or should have) the knowledge, skills, values ​​and attitudes to interrogate, cross-examine, understand and act as agents of change of structural discrimination in society. Paulo Freire believes that teachers should be community builders and human builders who play a central role in forming critical individuals who contribute to the liberation of the oppressed in society at large.

In the educational canon of Islam, the teacher is known as Al Murabbi: one who is not only knowledgeable and wise but also pious, kind and caring. This delimitation elevates the teacher of many types of Ustaz as we know them today, to a person who combines the life of learning with a life of virtue, and is therefore a perfect and ideal person to learn from.

The most striking example of Al Murabbi was the Prophet Muhammad (peace_be_upon_him) himself. Having many roles and accolades, he proclaimed that he was sent as a teacher.

In our ancient culture, the teacher was held in high esteem by one and all not because he prepared students for exams, but to hone the child’s social, emotional, physical, and intellectual abilities.

Moreover, teachers were once reformers, men of letters and orators. Their lives and energies would be primarily occupied with the noble cause of spreading the light of knowledge to those who were devoid of it.

One wonders why the status of teachers has declined in society? One of the main reasons is apparently the integration and recruitment of low-skilled people into the profession.

Gul Muhammad is a doctoral student and teacher at a public school in Lower Dir. As a school inspector, he once visited a school where students were pronouncing English words in a strange way. After investigation, inspectors were informed that the student’s current English teacher had been promoted from his former position as Professor of Theology (TT). The students told the inspection team that the TT cum SST teaches English by consulting a guide; thus, it reads not only the meanings of the guide but also the pronunciation (in Urdu) of English words. Therefore, when he pronounced “born”, he read it in his Urdu transcription as follows: baron; it was farm instead of “shape” and coconsept instead of “concept”, aksforad instead of “Oxford” and so on.

If we are to grow as a nation, regionally and globally, we must provide our children with quality education.

The Awami National Party (ANP) government had approved a rank promotion policy under which a Primary School Teacher (PST) could become a Subject Specialist (SS). “This policy has done a lot of harm to students,” says Gul Sunday news. “They should have increased the rank or pay scale of the teachers but kept them in the teaching position for which they were hired.” Gul argues. “If a qari teaches English and an arts graduate teaches geography, can we expect them to make their students fall in love with these subjects? “Students who drop out of school or parents who stop sending their children to school saying there is no benefit have good reason to think so,” he adds.

Gul tells many harrowing stories of promoted teachers who were given subjects that were beyond their skills. A promoted professor spent an hour learning the spelling of “biochemistry” because he had been assigned to teach science.

What kind of students will they produce, you ask? Here is an example of my interaction with the students: A freshman, who was at the top of her class, told me that the capital of Pakistan was India. Another, a BS level student, told me that there are five continents in the world. When I asked him their names, he replied: “China, Pakistan, India, dog and Bharat”.

My personal experience supports Gul’s observation. During a class at a private college, a student asked me, “Can I come in, sir?” I allowed him to enter the class. Another student raised his hand to ask a question; “Isn’t that the wrong phrase, sir?” I asked him if he could explain why it was wrong; he told me that the word “may” is from Urdu while the rest of the sentence is in English. “They should say the whole sentence in Urdu or English,” he argued.

“What is poisoning our education system? I posed the question to Faizun Nasir, who holds a doctorate in education and principal of a public high school. “There are several reasons,” he replied. “First, bad government policies; the recruitment process is based on multiple-choice questions (MCQs), which do not properly assess the candidate’s knowledge and abilities. It should be mentioned that MCQs generally do not deal with pedagogical theory or subject matter. Therefore, a civil engineer can be appointed as qari and a journalism graduate assigned as a science teacher.”

Nasir continued, “There should be an assessment to judge the psychological tendencies of teachers because I see a lot of teachers cursing this profession and constantly looking for other jobs. A 17th grade lecturer quit his job to become a 14th grade teacher tehsildar; a 16th grade teacher quit his job to become an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) in the police”.

“Teachers no longer enjoy the respect they once had in our society,” said another teacher. They were seen as role models and nation builders; not anymore. The profession has been overlooked not only by politicians and policy makers, but also by the media. You see television plays and films exalting all other professions; you will not see anything that exalts the role of the teacher in society.

Some teacher-related films have been produced by Bollywood, Taray Zameen Per (2007) and Hichki (2018). Everyone knows the great American films reflecting the lives of teachers, Dead Poets Society (1989), Stand up and deliver (1988), lean on me (1989), and Freedom Writers (2007). “Can we even make a remake of the French classics To be and to Have (2002) and The To classify (2008)? ” he asks.

In Pakistan’s current socio-political climate, there is much debate about everything from cricket matches to showbiz gossip; from local politics to global conflicts; however, there is little talk about schools and teachers.

In view of these stories, it is no wonder that Pakistan ranks among the bottom in the world when it comes to promoting education and skills development. If we are to grow as a nation, regionally and globally, we must provide our children with a quality education. It is essential not only for socio-economic development and peace and security, but also for ensuring a good reputation in the global community.

“If you want to predict the future of a nation, just look at the quality and standards of its education and its teachers,” says a seasoned teacher. “The leaders of this nation could be more careful hiring gardeners than hiring teachers for our children.”

*Some names have been changed to protect identities.

The writer has studied English Literature, History and Politics and has taught elementary to tertiary students in Pakistan and abroad. It can be attached to nadeemkhankpk13 @gmail.com

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