An independent think-tank

Disconnect among teachers, students, and policy makers behind stagnancy of education reforms

Education reforms can be taken forward if the disconnect among teachers, students, and policy makers is done away with. At present, different nodes of education setup has different expectations, and even different set of ideas. Opportunities should be given that they exchange their ideas with each other, to suggest practical remedies.

These were some of the points discussed by the panel at the report launch on July 23, 2019 of “Academic and Intellectual Dialogue on Social Harmony, Tolerance and Education”, summarizing key findings of a series of dialogues conducted with teachers nation-wide.

PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana, who moderated the discussion, gave an overview of the dialogues. PIPS’s teachers engagements programs, he said, is more than six years old, and has engaged teachers from all tiers of education, in universities, colleges and schools, both public and public sector. Over the years, the format of these dialogues has evolved too, and now opportunities are given to teachers to engage in a more inquisitive manner with the resource persons. The dialogues touch on the most critical issues affecting social harmony, pertaining to the role of religion, state, and society.

One of the teachers who attended the dialogue participated as panelist in the launch. Shahid Anwar, Assistant Professor at Rawalpindi College, described education as “institutionalized dialogue”. This dialogue, he lamented, has faltered in academic institutes. He identified three core skills shall be imparted in students: reading, writing and speaking.

Further, he identified disconnect at multiple layers in education system. The communication model of academic institutes does not incorporate students’ feedback. Due to disconnect between teacher and students, the concerns of students go unnoticed. Genuine co-curricular activities don’t exist; at best, there are state-directed activities, which are mostly a photo-op opportunity.

He also elaborated on how teachers themselves are faced with constraints. They don’t have liberty to develop a communication with students according to his/her need, he said.

Dr. Aziz-ur-Rehman, Head of Sharia and Law Department, at the International Islamic University, Islamabad, presented about the unique organic structure of religious seminaries (madaris). Teacher-student interaction in madaris is stronger compared to mainstream educational setups. In fact, a criticism pinned on madaris is that a teacher can have excessive influence on the thinking of the students. “A teacher with Sufi leaning can influence students follow his path”, he said, just as “a teacher tilting towards jihadi thinking can similarly find like-minded students.” Engaging teachers there can have ripple effect on students.

Romana Bashir, Executive Director of the Peace and Development Foundation, said it is difficult for people to accept that religious minorities are being discriminated in Pakistan. That is why, whenever she talks about the plight of non-Muslims, there is a reflexive denial by those listening, including teachers. It requires a lot of courage to accept the wrongs.

She suggested that instead of taking about tolerance, we need to press for acceptance. “Tolerance implies reluctance; you tolerate someone despite your dislike. And acceptance is about co-existence without any reservations”, he suggested.

hared her views on challenges to minorities and urged to accept and respect diversity. She pointed out that the curriculum has filtered the contribution of minorities in history of Pakistan. The concept of inclusive society and collective development are missing in the curriculum. She suggested tolerance should be replaced with acceptance and respect.

Meanwhile, columnist and scholar Khurshid Nadeem argued that Pakistan’s education system has only peddled state’s narrative, which ended up discarding diversity within the country. He said once upon a time, educational establishments were center of healthy and constructive dialogues. No longer! The very culture of dialogues, for which a university should be known, is missing, rather threatened. “Our education system is not open enough to accommodate divergent narratives”, he said.

Vice Chancellor Sargodha University Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed too underlined that knowledge bowed to power in Pakistan. As a result, what was produced had only short-term benefit, but long-term cost. With time, it led politics to creep in academia. He said state plays very important role in setting social trends.

He said change in education system should be based on five core values: inclusiveness, integrity, professionalism, social responsibility and tolerance. He recommended that free thinking and critical inquiry should be promoted mainly at the higher education level. Students, he said, are starved. They lack exposure. Universities should provide them opportunities to interact with others beyond their immediate circles. Trips can be arranged, and discussions organized in the universities.

Former Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Dr. Khalid Masud, argued there is disconnect between intellectuals and policy makers. While intellectuals delve into depth in a problem, policy makers want quick fixes, often in black and white. The two do not interact; therefore, despite best efforts of reforming education, no progress is noted.

He also said that the inclusion of ideology in the curriculum of primary education is inapt and suggested to introduce flexible curriculum where student’s analytical skills are developed.

Earlier, PIPS researcher Anam Fatima presented findings of the report, based on six dialogues with teachers. She said that while education is meant to end social cleavages, the existing system in Pakistan widen them further. There are different systems of education, each catering to unique segment of the society. Yet, what is positive is that many students have found their lives transformed, with time, if not through formal education but through their own introspection.