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Your Child Deserves Better – A Letter to Parents – IXX

Your Child Deserves Better – A Letter to Parents – IXX

This method of education breaks down once children enter college because the amount of material quickly exceeds what can be memorized easily. Hence, children who had done quite well in school find themselves doing quite poorly in college.

A series of articles on education in the form of a multi-installment letter to the parents

By Anjum Altaf

Dear Parent,

In this letter I am going to explore what parents can do themselves and what can be done by others to help them make better choices when selecting a school for their children.

Before doing that, however, I want to expand a little on the subject of memorization and rote learning, which is the norm in most schools in Pakistan. Recall that in the previous letter I had recommended that there should be no content included in the first year of school which children are required to memorize because this encourages the habit of rote-learning, more so when that content is tested in examinations.

There is one tricky aspect of memorization that is deceptive and which most parents do not realize sufficiently — it works in the short run giving the false impression that children are actually learning something when they are not.

Here it how it happens: Every child has a certain mental capacity to memorize things. In the early years of school, and almost till Grade 10, the material taught is so limited that almost all of it can be memorized. With unintelligently designed exams and mechanical grading, both of which test recall rather than understanding, children can appear to be doing very well at school without really comprehending all that much.

This method of education breaks down once children enter college because the amount of material quickly exceeds what can be memorized easily. Hence, children who had done quite well in school find themselves doing quite poorly in college especially in subjects like physics, chemistry, and maths where memorization cannot encompass all the material. Many students take recourse to selective study based on past papers, a practice that leaves big holes in knowledge that can never be filled adequately.

When such students come up against evaluation systems that test concepts and application rather than recall the reality of their education comes into full focus. That is the reason that Pakistani students, even from the best schools, do very poorly in international evaluations of the quality of school education — Pakistan is invariably at the bottom of all lists.

What this means is that when your child comes home and recites the alphabet from A to Z without an error, you need to probe whether he or she can also spell some simple words. Or, when your child tells you that the logarithm of 100 is 2, you should ask if he or she knows what a logarithm is. The bottom line is that you should not fall into the trap of thinking your child has learnt much when he or she has just memorized a lot. Otherwise, you will receive a major shock when your child enters college or takes a test to qualify for a good educational institution abroad.

Now, let me return to the subject of how parents can better understand the quality of education being received by their children and being provided by various schools in their neighborhoods.

At the level of the individual child, the simplest test I employ is to ask a Grade 5 student to write one page, in any language, on a simple topic — a description of the four seasons, what happens at a local festival, what is good or bad at school, a review of a story seen on TV, etc. I ask a Grade 8 student to write a page on any abstract topic — what is justice, what is honesty, what is fortune, etc. If the child cannot attempt to put down something that begins to make sense, it is a sure sign that the education he or she is receiving is severely deficient. The ability to organize thoughts, form opinions, and express them coherently is the essence of education. A child who cannot execute these tasks would be unlikely to do well in other subjects that require comprehension and analysis.

This assessment of an individual is useful but not sufficient to pass judgement on a particular school. It is possible that the school is providing a decent education but the child is not doing well for some particular reason which could have to do with the home environment.

One way to assess schools is to look at how their students are doing in board examinations either at the middle or high school levels. A neighborhood group of parents can easily obtain this information and post it in a public place. Thus, if 100 students from a particular school appeared for the most recently conducted matriculation examination, the assessment could list the percentages of those obtaining first, second, third, and failing grades. It would be suicidal for a parent to enroll a child in a school where the majority of the students are obtaining a third division or failing.

This is just one of the ways to assess the quality of education being provided by different schools. What such an exercise is likely reveal is that, for the most part, the quality of education is related to the fee charged. A researcher can undertake a simple study because there are some school systems that offer differently branded education for different income levels charging them different fees. One could check if the results of the various brands in board examinations differ significantly from each other even though the curricula and the management are the same.

If they do differ, it would indicate that the new Single National Curriculum (SNC) by itself would not yield equal opportunities for all students. The variation in quality of education is not a function of the curriculum — after all how different can the math curriculum be across the world — but of the quality of teachers. And better teachers can only be retained at higher salaries which can only be paid by schools charging higher fees.

This is a very big question to consider. All children are equal citizens who should be entitled to an equal education irrespective of the income level of their parents but as long as school education is a commodity sold in the market, this would be impossible. Those with more money would be able to buy better education; those with less money would only be able to afford poor education, if any. Thus the grossly unequal society would be continuously reproduced. Check out this salient fact: high fee schools have science labs; low fee schools do not have science labs. How students in the latter are expected to learn science? No Single National Curriculum can change this reality — read this Dawn editorial which concludes that the SNC may even make things worse.

The only way out of this unfair situation is to make school education a non-market commodity which cannot be bought and sold. It should be provided as a service to which every child has an equal entitlement — good mass education should be free and available to all citizens. It can be done as it was in a number of countries. Here is a quote from an article on the transformation of education after the 1917 revolution in the Soviet Union:

“A century ago, the Soviet experiment—for all its manifest and tragic failings—demonstrated how broadening the path to education could help propel a backward, agrarian country into an industrialized superpower in less than two decades.”

Fifty years later, the very same process was repeated in China which confirms that it was not a random outcome. Parents in Pakistan should demand a move in a similar direction. No one is going to gift it to them out of the goodness of their heart. Ask yourself this question: China is Pakistan’s best friend. Do the Chinese provide education as it is done in Pakistan? Could a Chinese educationist be invited on TV to explain to Pakistani parents how education is provided in China? If not, why not?


Dr. Anjum Altaf

[author title=”Anjum Altaf ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Anjum-Altaf.jpg”]Former Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)[/author]

For previous letters, click on:  Letter 1Letter 2Letter 3Letter 4Letter 5Letter 6Letter 7Letter 8Letter 9 , Letter 10 Letter 11Letter 12Letter 13Letter 14Letter 15Letter 16Letter 17, , Letter 18