Contemporary Times Necessitate Innovative Approaches To Education

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Each successive Pakistani government has sold us the idea of carrying out widespread reforms in education. But while we have hoped each time of the promises being kept for good, our schools and the general system of education depicts a gloomy picture. Saddam Hussein writes how we need to take cues from the best in the world and get town to the reforms task seriously.

ducation, for any society, nation or country, can be regarded as a survival tool in contemporary times of ours. Long gone are the days when military-might used to be the most significant factor for a nation to make its mark in the comity of nations, for 21st century germination necessitates innovation and intellectual capital. Few years down the road, when artificial intelligence and robotics would get fully immersed in our ecology, nations not being able to adapt to changing patterns of the social fabric would probably vanish from the human memory, eventually.Having said that, adjusting to change on such a scale would be very hard for developing countries such as Pakistan. This is due to the fact that Pakistan’s education system is fundamentally flawed, let alone intertwining with modern-day educational standards. Let me take you on a brief journey to the best education systems of the world and try to learn from those who have plugged-in innovation within their schools, colleges and universities and doing wonders. 

 

Learning From The Best 

Finland is the best example to begin with. It has one of the best education systems in the world, but only 50 years ago, Finland’s education was quite terrible. The country was at risk of becoming the economic step-child of Europe. Yet over the past half century, it has turned its schools around — and now the country is hailed internationally for its exceedingly high educational outcomes. Why so? How did they do it?

Finnish educational institutes are alien to the concept of homework. Why? Educationists there believe students should have more time to be kids, to be teenagers or to be youngsters to enjoy the real essence of life.

Firstly, Finnish educational institutes are alien to the concept of homework; to them it’s an obsolete idea. One would wonder why they have no homework? What is the rationale? Finnish educationists would tell you that the students should have more time to be kids, to be teenagers or to be youngsters to enjoy the real essence of life. They are of the view that these students have a lot of other things to do within their lives; Like being together, like being with their families enjoying family time, like playing sports, music, reading etc. School teachers in Helsinki would tell you that school kids, in their free time, could probably do nothing but just climb a tree. Is that worth it? To them, of course, it is. In this way, the kids learn to climb a tree and enjoy the mother nature. The kids would also discover insects, plants and herbs and they may ask their teachers about these things. This is real learning; at least the Finns think so. 

Secondly, children in Finland only go to school only 20 hours a week, including an hour-long daily lunch break. The philosophy is that human brain needs to relax every now and then to function optimally. If you constantly work, work and work, then you actually stop learning any further. This way Finnish children do better by going to school less. Likewise, in some of the European countries, education is free. It is illegal to set-up a school and charge tuition fee. So, private schools do not exist at all; implying that rich parents have no option but to send their children to public schools. This compels rich parents to ensure that public schools are awesome. Moreover, by making the rich kids go to school with everyone else, they grow up with those other kids, who belong to middle class or poor families, as friends. This minimizes the class friction within the society, ensuring harmony, prosperity and sustainable development in the long-run.

On the same pattern, Slovenia offers free university education to locals and to the international students as well. Many Americans and students from other countries who have frugal means regularly head to Slovenia for higher education. Slovenia charges literally zero fee and the students do not have to bother about financing their education. This means have less stress, more learning, eventually less involvement of youth in social crimes and other illegal activities, which usually is the outcome of stress and frustration among youth. This leads to a peaceful and progressive society.

 

Start With A Healthy Body 

Ever wonder why the French, and French children in particular, do not suffer from weight problems, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension like their other counterparts across the globe? It all emerges from their primary school cafeterias, where they learn about balanced diet and saying no to fizzy drinks. Eating moderate quantities of fresh and freshly prepared food at set times of the day is definitely one of the most convincing reasons why they stay lean. Daily exercise, in the form of three recess periods (two 15-minute and one 60-minute recess every day) and walking or biking to and from school, is another.

Nutritionists, health experts and teachers all sit together weekly to decide the coming week’s menu for the children. School canteens are required to provide school-age children with: a starter of vegetables, salad or soup; a warm main course high in protein whether it be meat, fish or eggs; a side dish of vegetables or grains; a cheese course or dairy product; plus raw or cooked fruit balanced with a dessert and an afternoon snack. The kids drink water (there are no other drinks of any kind available at lunch, and there is a national ban on vending machines and junk food in all French schools). Dessert is usually fresh fruit, but a sweet treat is often served once a week. 

Pakistan has not even managed to ensure that all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, attend, stay and learn in school, let alone be innovative in the educational domain.

What is worth mentioning here is that the above-mentioned picture is not from some fancy school in the country’s capital – Paris; it is same everywhere. Even an ordinary village in the remotest corner of France would have exact same image of the school cafeteria. The French believe that balanced diet is the key to a healthy mind and healthy body; and only then can students learn better, perform well in education and positively contribute to the development of their country.

 

Pakistan’s Challenge

Coming to Pakistan, it is facing a serious challenge to ensure all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, attend, stay and learn in school, let alone be innovative in education domain. While enrollment and retention rates are improving, progress has been slow to improve education indicators in the country. An estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are out-of-school. Gender-wise, boys outnumber girls at every stage of education. In addition to that, many types of education systems are running in parallel. Higher education presents its own story of bedlam. Art, music and philosophy and subjects of the like are almost missing across the country’s educational institutes; weakening the social make-up of our society. 

A World Bank study (2007) shows compelling evidence that education quality, rather than simply years of schooling, is a driver of economic growth and increased equity. Despite this, education reform efforts in Pakistan pay scant attention to improving what happens inside the classroom. They focus instead on improving school facilities and school management, in part because these are easier and more visible than raising standards of teaching and learning inside classrooms.

For Pakistan to catch-up with the European models of education, there is a long, long way to go. Reforms are underway; progress is very slow, but still there is a silver lining. But what we need to understand is to take on all the aspects of reforms within the education system. It should not happen step by step, as it’s already too late for that. All things must go hand in hand. The government should embark on the reforms journey on all the facets at once, which may include: the quality of teachers, learning environment, career counselling, availability of healthy food, uniform education system, regulating private education, promoting public education, setting-up innovation-centers in universities, linking the industry with education and so on. This is the only way forward for sustainable development based on equity.

The author Saddam Hussein is a Research Fellow/Program Officer at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. He graduated as a Development Economist from Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), he also holds an MS in Public Policy from Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He tweets @saddampide