Education, Schools, And Reason

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Present-day school management believe in and encourge a machine-like, automated system of teaching and learning as it is handy to monitor, convenient to document,easy to evaluate and suitable to survive the interests of managements

he goals of education have been changing over different times. These goals tend to shape and guide the curriculum, pedagogical practices, learning processes, and the assessment system. It is this reason for education which renowned American author, educator, media theorist and cultural critic, Neil Postman, terms as the narrative. These narratives keep on changing with changing social, political, cultural and economic trends.Currently, we are living in the narrative of neo-liberalism. Maximization of financial gains is the essence and soul of this narrative. These financial gains justify their means as there is not much room available for values and ethics in this narrative. The maximization of profit in itself becomes an inspiring value. The slogan of quality is used to sell the product of education. The notion of quality, in this paradigm, however, is confined to measurable aspects of efficiency and productivity.

 

Half-Baked Measures

Recently, there has been much rhetoric qualitative improvement of education in Pakistan but most of the efforts in this regard are confined to the physical and measurable change, as it is easy to bring about such a change and convenient to demonstrate it. The problem, however, with this kind of change is that it focuses only on the quantitative aspects and numbers tend to dominate more than individuals. The school management believes in and encourages a machine-like, automated system of teaching and learning as it is handy to monitor, convenient to document, easy to evaluate and suitable to serve the interests of the management based on a hegemonic paradigm where there is little room for the individual freedoms of teachers, for personal initiative, out-of-the-box thinking, reflective stance, and creative space.

Present-day school managements believe in and encourage a machine-like, automated system of teaching and learning as it is handy to monitor, convenient to document, easy to evaluate and suitable to serve the interests of managements.

 

Thus the goal of education has been confined to produce mono-cultural minds, possessing robotic thinking, acting in a mechanical manner, demonstrating efficiency and productivity by moving in fixed grooves and approving unequal social relations dictated by the powerful groups of society. Postman in his provocative book, “The End of Education”, laments the state of schools at large. Schools, being an important source of the socialization process are unable to construct their own narrative or reason. In most cases, the schools help approve, certify, validate and perpetuate the powerful narrative or ideology of society’s powerful social groups. In contemporary times it is the ideology of neo-liberalism, based on the maximization of profit, which is acting as a driving force in our educational system and in turn being justified by the existing educational system.

 

Out Of Focus

It is true that the role of schools as a constituent of social reality has been constrained and curtailed with the emergence of a powerful media, popularizing the ideology of consumerism, but even the little space for movement that remains with schools is not being exploited in a creative manner. The reason is the overemphasis on the development of piecemeal skills assessed through a discreet point-testing system depending heavily on objective-type questions. This kind of assessment is popular for a number of reasons, including its so-called objectivity and easy-to-mark tests. Such tests can be easily marked with the help of computers in a very short time. The problem, however, with such a testing system is that its scores do not reflect the competence and ability of students to critically reflect and apply knowledge in a new situation.

A recall-based assessment system that tests only memory has a direct impact on teaching and learning interactions in the classroom. In such a system, a teacher is encouraged to teach with the sole objective of facilitating students to get better grades.

Such a recall-based assessment system that tests only memory has a direct impact on teaching and learning interactions in the classroom. In such a system where competence and efficiency are measured through a recall-based assessment system, the teacher is encouraged to teach with the sole objective of facilitating the students to get better grades. The vicious circle of recall-based assessment, transmission-oriented pedagogy and mono-cultural efficiency of students go on to perpetuate existing power structures and amplify and carry forward socially constructed stereotypes. How can a school be empowered to construct a reason for education? The answer lies in breaking the vicious circle and entering the benign one, of assessment focus on higher-order thinking skills, critical pedagogy, and intellectual pluralism.

This may appear to be a straightforward task but in reality is highly complex process and cannot be realized through quick fixes. Such quick-fix initiatives were taken in the past and assumed the form of crash courses for teacher training, widely publicized by political governments to enhance their images as they showed an inflated number of ‘trained teachers’. Similarly tinkering with the curriculum is another convenient activity for all governments. The key to empowerment is a holistic approach to change. Assessment, pedagogy and teaching materials should be revisited simultaneously. It is this holistic change which would create space for teachers’ individual freedom and creativity and lead to a more meaningful teaching-learning process necessary for producing thinking citizens. It is in such a milieu that schools can explore alternative reasons for education.

The writer is an Educationist. His website can be accessed at www.shahidksiddiqui.com