The Tragicomedy of ‘Sending Every Child to School’

 

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The political parties, social work organizations and our society in general, all have consensus over the need of sending every child to school – they all discuss the implementation of education emergency in the country.

However, it is observed that education emergency has never been an emergency after all. Sending every child to school sounds a fair slogan though, it has never been deliberated upon in complete earnest. And why should every child be in school anyway? Do you think this little ‘gesture’ is the key for peace and prosperity?

If the conclusion is on the basis of education being the key to positive outcomes, we must differentiate between ‘sending kids to school’ and ‘educating children’. Mistaking one for the other, not only creates confusion- it keeps us from addressing the real issue. When we mention education emergency, we mistake it for the urge of sending children to school and deep down we all know that there’s no emergency to send every child to the existing schools of our country. These schools are not capable of making any difference in the society or nation.

When we discuss the poor education standards of our schools, it’s assumed that either, government schools are being criticized for their incompetence and corruption, or small and cheap private schools are being targeted for their business oriented attitudes.

Despite being critiques of discipline management, organizational skills and continuously bulging fee bills of expensive private schools, the idea that a poor quality of education is being delivered at these prestigious institutions, seldom crosses parents’ minds.

Ironically, extra help in form of private tuitions and coaching centers is more common in students of these schools. Poor quality education cannot be compensated by extra coaching- it may help in getting better grades in exams, but inculcating superior attributes of education has never been the mission statement of coaching centers.

What exactly is good quality Education? One of the ‘U.S. leading academic minds’ , Elliot Eisner said, “As long as schools treat test scores as the major proxies for student achievement and educational quality, we will have a hard time refocusing our attention on what really matters in education”

While living in digital technology era, what has been concluded so far about quality education includes elements like 21st century skills. These aren’t only required for current jobs, but are needed for the jobs that haven’t yet been created and are predicted to be taken by 65% of freshly graduates in next 15 years.

In his book,’ Creating Cultures of Thinking’; Ron Ritchhart describes the profile of a 21st century learner, as “…an engaged and active thinker able to communicate, innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve” He concludes: “What we see as most important to develop is not a discrete collection of knowledge but rather a set of broad characteristics that motivate learning and lead to the generation of useable knowledge.”

Our schools’ sole purpose of education; distribution and consumption of published knowledge, tells a different tale.

Pakistani schools have also floundered on the STEM Education. Rhetorically, consuming the content, mentioned in the syllabi of STEM, i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is not desired. Being an underdeveloped country, the need for research; deliberation and innovation, in Pakistan is perceptible.

Moreover, the most important component of education; to develop the love of learning, is not only absent, it is rather discouraged in our schools. This results in the incapability of developing a lifelong learning habit, which is the key to success in future. Sadly, this is only one aspect of the damage- learning for materialistic reasons alone (marks; grades; jobs and powerful positions in society, all inclusive but not limited to) is well promoted by the schools as well as our society in general. The damage done in various forms, including degradation of human values; phenomenal increase in self-centeredness and corruption of minds and souls has been intentionally overlooked.

With the schools in Pakistan, which are either incapable or simply disinterested (or both) in terms of true learning aspirations, the wish for ‘sending every child to school’ is similar to the dialogue of a tragicomedy. Unless, there is a deliberate plan to produce so called educated but unskilled and jobless youth, who are mentally more equipped to rebel against the government (or society) for their rights ( or their ideologies), the administration of this education is futile.

While discussing the implementation of Education Emergency in Pakistan, our leaders and educationist must consider the change in both, public and private schools, an imperative. The shift in paradigm of education standards is the key to conceive a true emergency situation. A situation that demands deliberate consideration of Pakistani educational needs: Inculcation of 21st Century Skills; Deeper Learning in STEM Education and Character Building Pedagogy– only that will bring both, prosperity and peace for the region.

By: Zainab Hashmi

Please click the link below to read the original article:

This article was first published on Dunya News Blog

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What do our children need more? Smart Phones or Smart Schools?

 

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As a high school teacher, I always found my biggest challenge to keep my students engaged in learning. Engaged: with all their will and love of learning. The same challenge hit me as a home schooling mother of my children. I frequently asked myself: What is fun for children? What do kids of 21 st century enjoy doing?  The answer was quite evident! The kids love digital technology- they thoroughly enjoy using it. But do we incorporate digital technology for our children’s education?  Rather more specifically speaking, do we care about incorporating digital technology in our children’s education?

Arguably children use more digital technology than their parents or teachers, not only for recreational purposes, but for their education too. No wonder, they look entirely bored and intensely out of place in a classroom setup, listening to their teachers’ instructions or scribbling numbers and letters on paper. Occasionally, they are allowed to watch some videos or to visit certain websites (which they can always watch or learn about while sitting cozily in their homes). But do they see the why concept of this arduous work every day, that endures for many years? If you ask a child, you’ll find the answer; quite disappointing for most of the parents and teachers though- this is how we are preparing our children for the future.

Ironically, the more we enjoy using digital technology generally, the more we convince ourselves of digital tools being hindrance for our children’s education. Many educators, teachers and parents find this absurd to emphasize on use of digital tools for learning purposes. Their concerns are genuine and at various occasions, even supported by statistics:

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, famous for administrating international academic ranking, called PISA test) published its report that relates students’ learning with their access to computers. This is what they found , “Students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after controlling for social background and student demographics.”

However, a deeper reflection on the situation, forced the researchers to question;

1.How these computers (or other digital tools) are engaging students in learning?

2. Are the teachers trained to facilitate?

3.Is the software being used, appropriate?

Without deliberate consideration over such factors, even when technology is used for our children’s education, it fails to serve the purpose. The result: World’s renowned educational organization AdvancED , in a recent research report concludes: “While numerous surveys suggest that the pervasive use of tablets, smart phones, laptops and digital education content in the classroom is expanding and changing the role of teachers, the AdvancED study found little evidence of technology being used by students to strengthen learning in classrooms today”

I wish wifi access, computer labs, smart tablets and smart boards in an elite school could ensure the use of digital technology for learning purposes but unfortunately they don’t. These tools need to be operated by skilled teachers. Teachers who know their subject content as well as how to deliver it in a fun way to digital technology addicted students. Teachers, even who are skilled and enjoy the benefits of digital technology for their own growth, are unable to share their achievements with their students.  The allocated time to “cover” the syllabus does not permit this and/or like their employers, teachers are also (still) unsure of the benefits of edtech integrated learning.

Hence, our kids are bereaved of smart schools- The schools, making deliberate efforts to integrate digital technology in their teaching practice are few all over the world, but altogether, nonexistent in Pakistan. Ironically, the schools that offer so called highest quality education in lieu of monstrous amount of tuition fee are no exception. For our children, learning is thus, a chore not a choice.  Our 21st century digital generation is not only deprived of eureka feeling, it is forced to learn content which is of little or no use in future.

The solution? The authors of AdvancED report play it straight: “… it is no longer a question of “whether” but rather “how” to incorporate and leverage the use of technology and digital tools to boost learning inside our classrooms.”

 Educationists and scientists across the developed countries are collaborating to find new and exciting ways to engage children in learning. Digital apps using VR (Virtual reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and Artificial Intelligence have already been introduced in the field of education. This shows the aspiration not only for depth in learning, but for the expansion of learning spectrum as well. It is time that policy makers of our country put aside their smart phones for a while and start working on smart schools for our children.

By: Zainab Hashmi

Please click the link below to read the original article.

This article was first published on dunya news blog

Is ‘Real’ Learning Possible In Our Schools?

I am not among those who like to keep the suspense till the very end. I would rather hasten to answer this question− ‘Yes it is possible!’ But only then, the real challenge emerges and various more questions strike bluntly, carrying basic themes of What, Why, How, Whom and When.

The Question of What:  What is Real Learning?

Real learning or good learning can be perceived and explained in different ways. The researchers describe good learning as the one, which, more or less, entails personalized learning; incorporates project-based learning; blends in the 21st century desired skills, in a deeper learning atmosphere. All these terminologies of learning are recognized by these experts.

An effort ,to understand these learning capacities, can be made by mentioning the four elements of real learning:

  1. Character building
  2. Learning about Learning
  3. Curiosity & Creativity
  4. Real-World Learning

These elements have been briefly described in my earlier post. Rather than focusing on the academic content, which is delivered at the same pace to all the willing or unwilling learners; these elements focus on the learner –in order to prepare, cultivate and cherish him/her.

The Question of Why: Why Real Learning?

All Public and Private schools of Pakistan, without any known exception, are following the same education system; with certain modifications (in case of expensive private schools) and certain mitigations (in case of government schools); that has been introduced by the British in late 19th and early 20th century.

This education system entirely focuses on the secondary component of learning; i.e. delivering academic content. Using the words of Larry Rozenstock; the founder of world’s renowned project-based learning schools network, High-Tech- High; our schools are covering the syllabus rather than uncovering and revealing.

A similar education system, with comparatively more modifications in terms of resources; technology; assessments and professional development, is presently maintained in the U.S. and U.K. as well. Mentioning this system, Dr. Soner Tarim, CEO of Harmony Public Schools, Texas, USA says,” This industry model education was the right fit for decades in the 20th century, because graduates would go on to manufacturing jobs that didn’t require higher order skills. The basic literacies were just fine.”

Our Education System

If we assume for the sake of argument that all the currently conceptualized and proposed development in educational policies is being done earnestly, my question is: What shall we achieve by this? An exponential increase in number of ‘educated’ but unskilled and most probably, unemployed young people in our country – who will blame the country’s economy for their failure. People, who will make every effort to fling to economically more stable and developed countries−only to realize that their education, cannot play any role in the development of those countries either. Dr. Tarim describes this situation in U.S: “When we have millions of job openings in this country and millions of graduates who are not qualified to fill those jobs, we have an education problem.”

The digital revolution, on one hand has broadened the horizon of world economy − on the other hand, it has narrowed the cultural and communicational distances across the world. Hence, the desired skills in today’s economy are the same around the globe. Employers and Industry leaders, across the world, are looking for students with leadership and communication skills− those who can think critically; analyze information; are creative and collaborate well with team members.

The polishing of these skills is possible only by focusing on the personalized learning with emphasis on: building character strengths; inspiring creativity and encouraging real-world learning that encompasses real projects with real problems and real solutions.

The Question of How: How to Make Real Learning Possible?

This question itself provides a tremendous support in solving the problem in hand. Like any other good question, it provokes the thinkers to think; the policy makers to rethink; and the parents to think, rethink and then formulate their vision and decision accordingly.

It must be noted that in Pakistan, many parents from lower middle class; most of the parents from middle class and all the parents from upper middle and elite classes are paying a substantial portion of their income in terms of tuition fees. Therefore, they can and must exercise their right to raise their voice and make their choice for amendments in schools’ educational policies and practices.

The Question of Whom: Who Is Responsible For Making Real Learning Possible?

The profound research and development, required to incorporate real learning in our schools, is possible only when the current educational paradigms are revised by all concerned parties. This list includes: the national and international authorities and organizations; the education providers and educationists; the teachers and primarily the parents!

I have elaborated on the role of parents in my previous posts. Here, I shall only describe the role of international authorities and organizations, which I understand, sounds rather abstract in this article.

Role of International Authorities and Organizations:

Educational organizations, in developed countries like the U.S and U.K, are making arduous efforts to incorporate real learning in their schools, in one form or another. Some next-generation school networks of U.S are: High-Tech-High; Harmony Public Schools;  Summit Public Schools and Da-Vinci Schools. All these and many other similar school networks focus on deep; project-based; personalized learning, where creativity is inspired; helping young people develop life-long success skills.

The fact of the matter is: it is not possible in today’s global digital world to develop citizens of some parts, to become deeply educated; highly skilled; thoroughly creative− and at the same time, leave some other citizens of the world to have shallow education, with little or no desirable skills and creativity.

The extended digital technology across the world has provided varied options in terms of learning, finding jobs, formulating social and political opinions− and the publishing of all these. Do global-social scientists need a reminder about potential positive and negative outcomes of this access? They must understand that the gap between ‘real learners’ and ‘virtual learners’ is far more potent, than the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, in terms of instigating political, social and economic turmoil across the world.

The Desired Skills

Hence, when Dr. Soner Tarim, CEO of Harmony Public Schools, U.S says, “We need a new way of thinking when we redesign our schools.” and “ Let’s take action for our children!”, I hope that the authorities and educationists across the world are addressed− and that the schools and children of this side of the globe are also included.

The Question of When: When To Start Real Learning In Our Schools?

If you have clicked on some of the websites of next-generation school networks mentioned in this article; if you are able to differentiate between real world issues and virtual world problems created by our present education system and if you are adequately apprehensive, you can answer this question by yourself!

 

By: Zainab Hashmi

 

 

Parents!Take Control Of Your Children’s Education!!

No matter how competent, passionate and sincere your child’s education providers are, they don’t know your child as you do! You can argue that they know their job better but really? Is that so? What is their job? And how well are they trained to do it? Well yes! They are well trained to do what they assume their job is.Their main goal is to deliver the curriculum content to all children and to deliver it at the same rate. Acknowledging certain facts about teaching and learning, has never been their strategy and let me add; It can not be their strategy without revisiting their intentions along with revisiting their policies.

Certain facts that have never been acknowledged by so-called education providers are:equality is not justice

A. Every child is unique in his/her abilities, learning attitudes and aptitudes;

B. Understanding the child and developing a positive, warm and empathetic relationship with every child is at the core of teaching process;

C.Treating all children the same way is not justice;

D. Learning  is not comprehensive without being able to face real issues in real situations.

My focus is therefore on the primely responsible party, the parents, for providing education according to the requirements of their children. And when I say education, I refer to real learning that should improve our children’s collective prospects for the future -that can lead them to the ultimate success!

Identifying The Role

Please take a deep  breath and deliberate before getting into a rather defensive mindset. What goals ,in terms of real learning, have you achieved so far by spending a whole lot of money and energy for your children’s education? If you answer this honestly, you shall, but, agree with me that real learning has never been the main focus- and that, it can not be achieved by spending money on school training.

In one of his articles, the author of ‘ Dumbing Us Down’, John Taylor Gatto warns the parents, “Don’t be fooled into  thinking that good curriculum or good equipment or good teachers are critical determinants of your sons’ or daughters’ education.” he further refers to, how school lessons prevent children from ” keeping important appointments with themselves and with their families to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love- and lessons in service to others, too, which are among the key lessons of home and community life.” Gatto  is a strong advocate of ” The  Curriculum Of  Family” and declares it to be at the heart of any good life.

Being parents, you are mainly accountable to provide real learning to your child. This responsibility is yours by all aspects of humanity; social, moral, religious; in whatever particular order you want to put them, they point towards you!

Identifying The Goal

Identifying the role is insufficient without identifying the goal. The goal is Real Learning. But what is Real Learning? Or Good Education?

Real Learning, according to my observations, is the one, which is empowered by, and integrates thoroughly, the following elements:

1. Character Building

Character building and its significance in education has been discussed in earlier posts and shall be discussed many more times. However, for now I shall confine myself to consider some basic strategies.

Some Strategies to Inculcate Character Building

The execution of different ideas and strategies that build character is only possible  when parents believe in them. Parents must practice, exhibit and discuss conscientiously; the principles; they believe, are the core of a happy and successful life.You can not, for instance, inculcate honesty or perseverance or love of learning or any other character strength in your child if you don’t assimilate it yourself.picturecool-cartoon-10103110

Cleopatra Abdou, an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of California, says, “The messages we get from our parents, whether explicitly or symbolically or subconsciously, stay with us and are very hard to unlearn and to overcome.”   

Along with modeling certain character strengths they think are important, parents will also have to review the language they use with their children, especially when they are giving feedback to them.

In order to cultivate love of learning and grit, you will have to focus on your child’s effort and behavior instead of praising his/her talent and intelligence. cool-cartoon-10112643

In case of failure, explain and emphasize on the importance of hard work and resilience.Help your child to adopt new approach and strategies and to learn from them, the way to success. Believe and help your child to believe,that you can always ‘grow’ your brain; strengthen your character and deepen your learning.

2. Metacognition

The term refers to another very important aspect of education- i.e, learning about learning. The strategies; academic behaviors and skills;  we develop, to make prolific learning possible; are all part of metacognition.education_3

The research and technology; regarding human brain and cognitive skills, has taken learning to a new highest level; where deliberate use of learning strategies and skills can enhance learning exponentially. John Gabrieli, Director of MIT Integrated Learning Initiative says about this advancement, “It’s making us rethink education at all levels.”

Some Strategies to Develop Metacognitive Skills

The very basic strategy for parents is the simplest one! Discuss with your children about what they learned and what they couldn’t learn. Then ask, “Why?”

Ask your children to reflect back upon their lessons and do some brainstorming. Discuss with them the moments during lessons , which were interesting to them, moments which were boring- let them contemplate, why they could or could not comprehend certain parts of the lesson.

You can also develop some  worksheets to aid your children with the discussion. Remember, the worksheets or oral discussions should be about the techniques and ideas used for learning and not about the content learned.

Guide your children to figure out and develop the strategies that work best for them. Encourage them to, for instance: use mind maps; sketch cartoon strips; turn formulae into songs etc. Once you get involved with your children’s learning behaviors, you will be amazed at the capacity of human brains to grow!

3.Curiosity and Creativity

Curiosity motivates learning. Not only it gives way to exploration, but is also a critical component of creativity. Every child is curious about something and it is the job of educator to find out what stimulates curiosity in a child without causing anxiety.curiosity

In our present education system, there is no room for differentiating the levels of curiosity among different pupils nor for accommodating all  accordingly. Henceforth, the responsibility, solely lies with the parents since they have more opportunities to determine their child’s level of curiosity and the factors that can stimulate it.

Some Strategies to Foster Curiosity and Creativity

I shall once again emphasize on modeling parents behavior in accordance with what they are inculcating in their children.

Spending quality time with your children; in pursuit of learning, exploring and forming new ideas; foster curiosity. Ask your children thought provoking questions and create an atmosphere where your children feel comfortable about raising questions.

show your own curiosity, enthusiasm and love of learning. Model your creative skills and get your children involved. Discuss your ideas and encourage your children brainstorm theirs. This practice will not only foster curiosity and creativity, but will deepen your relationship and boost confidence in your children.

4. Real-World Learning

This, in my view, is the most important aspect of learning. It may be defined as: The ability to apply what is learned in one situation to another situation . And the key ingredient in acquiring this element of learning lies in the belief that’ self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge’.

Independent study, that gives children a chance to obtain self-reliance from early age is possible only when it takes place away from schools. Real-world learning does not and can not take place in schools. The reason: Schools do not represent real world!

The amplitude of this topic compels me to leave this discussion for my future posts. Therefore, I shall only discuss some learning strategies for now.

Some Strategies to Encourage Real-World Learning

I would suggest that the foremost strategy for parents would be to stop following blindly like a flock of sheep-to find the courage to not follow those social practices which have, in fact, created a social dilemma for our children by confining them to a virtual world.

These practices may seem to serve some elite class children, but they are causing absolute hindrance for our children’s social and psychological growth.

Let your children face the real world! Let them know real people and real issues. Talking to your maid-servant about her home and family can reveal much more than power point presentations or speeches about world’s poverty and illiteracy.  A child working in a bakery or vegetable shop  can explain more about child labor than many social media discussions. A  journey by local bus can throw much more light on local transportation issues as well as our social behaviors than all the essay writing competitions can.

Real Learning for our children is only possible through deliberately formed; ideas, strategies and  their studious execution. All parents desire to acquire best education for their children but much more is needed to be done in order to accomplish this.

“To desire, is a great thing, but my friend;

union with the beloved is not a matter of desire only.”

 …. Faiz Ahmed Faiz

                        

 

By:  Zainab Hashmi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Building An Important Aspect Of Education

Character Building: How Significant Is It For Our Children’s Success?

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Everyone would agree,  as I mentioned earlier in my post, that character building is an important aspect of our children’s education. How can we proclaim our children to be well educated if they are unable to show the high-mindedness as a leading attribute of their upbringing?Everyone would also agree, as I mentioned in another post, that parents want ultimate success for their children. So do good teachers! Both parents and teachers are always inclined to take all possible measures to ensure that success for their children/ pupils. I don’t see any other reason for parents to spend so extravagantly ( in comparative terms) on their children’s education especially in Pakistan  and I don’t see any other reason for teachers to spend so much of their time, energy and resources despite being badly underpaid in Pakistan as well as in UK and many other countries.

Hence, confidently , we should be able to establish the following two statements:

A.Parents and teachers are utmost determined to provide quality education to their children for their long term success in life.

B. Character Building is a very significant aspect of our children’s education and thus, plays an important role in their success.

If we try to consolidate these statements, this would imply that parents and teachers are doing their best in terms of spending their money, time, energy and all available resources to provide the education which has Character Building integrated thoroughly  in its curriculum.Unfortunately we all know, that this is not the case.

Therefore, we are compelled to revise these statements and  a close and rather brutal analysis will reveal that at least one of the above mentioned statements is false-   There is profuse evidence proving the first statement to  be nothing short of veracity. Hence it would be more yielding if we analyze the second statement instead. That is, Character Building is a very significant aspect of our children’s education.

If this statement was true and we strongly believed in it, we, as parents and teachers, would have been working industriously to make it part of our children’s education.Hence it can be derived that either we don’t believe that Character Building plays an important role in our children’s success or we are not sure how that role is played- If you allow me to be a little blunt, I shall further add that generally we don’t see how moral values and character attributes play role in our success.  It is obvious henceforth, that we don’t make much effort to inculcate these values in our children. And when I say, ‘effort’, it refers to both inspiring through personal character, as well as creating a character enriched culture at homes and in class rooms.

To perceive the role of Character Building in success, we must distinctly define what success is for us and what it should be for our children. The prevalent attributes of success to which we shall all agree include  Academic and Professional Success as well as Happiness and Contentment throughout our lives. Now, we shall review the role of different character strengths in acquiring these attributes:

In their book ‘ Character Strengths And Virtues; A Handbook And Classification’, Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson classified character virtues into 24 strengths that fall under six broad virtue categories: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and  Transcendence. Please click here to read more about these character strengths.

When we consider Academic and Professional Success, adherence to virtues like Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage , Justice and Temperance is a prerequisite.These virtues include character strengths like creativity, love of learning, perseverance , leadership and self regulation.According  to 2013 MacArthur fellow, Professor, director and Founder of the Character Lab, Angela Duckworth,  these characteristics are mutable and can be intentionally cultivated to ensure success. She further concludes that, grit, the power of perseverance,” is essential to high achievement”, over and above the contributions of intelligence and ability.

Furthermore, success by means of Happiness and Contentment is achievable by exploiting our capacities through Humanity and Transcendence. Parents generally tend to believe that these virtues can be instilled in children through religious education. There is no doubt that religion, and here I refer to nearly every religion; encompasses, advocates and illustrates  more or less all of the moral values  researchers have categorized so far.But the fact of the matter is; Religion is not practiced, learned and taught at homes and in schools in order to achieve these attributes.Telling your children to pray five times or to attend church service regularly may teach self regulation but this alone will not inculcate all those character strengths, the religion is actually expounding.Hence again a structured format with careful and emphatic planning is required to teach these attributes to our children and this format will not be comprehensive without emphasizing  on ‘ leading by example’ strategy.

We must also acknowledge the fact that Academic and Professional Success is incomplete without Happiness and Contentment;and vice versa. Therefore it is not possible; to ignore, for example the role of character strengths like creativity, curiosity  and love of learning in achieving Happiness; or to underestimate the role of social intelligence in acquiring Professional Success. No one can diminish the role of;  humor, hope or appreciation of beauty and excellence for any form of success.

Concluding this discussion, I shall urge the parents to apprehend the apparent situation in which, they are holding the driving seat of this values integrated education vehicle, which can and must lead their child to ultimate success.

By: Zainab Hashmi

 

 

Character Building

Character Building: Whose Job Is It really?

If the question was; ” Is Character Building an important aspect of education?”, we all know the answer: YES IT IS!!  If the question was simply, ” Who should be responsible for character building of our children?”;  the standard answer would be: EVERYONE!! …..The list indicating names of society members, social, electronic and print media, educationalists, friends, family; especially parents will then start evolving.But seriously, whose job is it really?

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An aspect, that significant and a job of such magnitude can not go unnoticed! Character Building, on the contrary has never been seen in action. Yes occasionally you can  observe it , that is if you are vigilant enough,  in school assemblies, on special religious, national and international events, very occasionally, it is seen on special family gatherings and overwhelmingly, we find it on a number of social media sites. But all this character building is of passive nature. It is done as by-the-way means.

The reasons for this carefree attitude towards one of the most significant attribute of education are few and can be categorized into two  groups:

A) The fallacy that character building is everybody’s responsibility

We have assumed that since character building is everyone’s responsibility, hence it is being done by everyone. Especially if we are living in Pakistan, we suppose that we share same social, moral and religious values with the society so we don’t need to be particularly anxious about character building of our children. Parents assume that schools are doing their share of job and schools have the same fantastic notion regarding parents. Irony of the situation is that both parents and educationalists have never brought up this question in earnest for discussion to be clear about each other’s responsibilities.

On the other hand, elements like social and electronic media are playing their role most of the time negatively in character building of our generation and they go mostly unchecked by all those who are responsible.

So what is the solution? Simple! Define your roles and make character building visible! That is, character building should be seen in action by those who are responsible for it- Alright! It isn’t as simple as it sounds.Defining roles requires critical analysis of the situation, consideration of all factors involved, reflection,discussion and evaluation. Making character building visible requires research, formation of effective strategies, execution and reassessment of these strategies and development of a character building culture. My words might make it look complicated but trust me this is not only achievable, this is inevitable! That is, if we earnestly want character building of our children. Now that leads us towards the second group of reasons for showing a carefree attitude towards character building.

B) Misconceptions about nature and gravity of character building

Misconceptions about nature of character building range from associating it with only religion  to associating it with only non-academic activities like sports, ballet dancing, martial arts etc. If you happen to know a good football coach, an enthusiastic ballet dance instructor or a competent martial arts expert, you will agree that character building, being a significant part of their coaching, is visible throughout. It is not just passively sitting on a bulletin board in bold letters like, “Unity, Faith, Discipline”. Character building is in action for the same reasons I described earlier.These instructors clearly understand their roles and they are aware of the nature and gravity of character building in their field.

The gravity of character building for pure academic purposes has never been fully realized and hence it has always been on the back foot during academic instructions. As parents, teachers, educationists and sometimes even social scientists of our society, we are not yet trained to use character building as a tool for academic success of our children. We have still classified our children as gifted, talented, average and slow learners. There are many other classifications we are falsely accusing our children to be part of. “Good at maths”, “artistic”, “bookish”, “leader” are only a few examples.

Addressing these misconceptions requires further discussion on the topic which I plan to initiate in future posts Insha-Allah. 

For now, I shall only quote from a report published in June 2012 by The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research which says, “Recent research on non cognitive factors has not only suggested their importance for student academic performance, but has also been used to argue that social investments in the development of these non-cognitive factors would yield high payoffs in improved educational outcomes as well as  reduced racial/ethnic and gender disparities in school performance and educational attainment.” Here, non-cognitive factors refer to academic behaviors as well as attitudes about learning,student’s beliefs about their own intelligence,their self control and persistence and quality of their relationships with peers and adults.

I hope that this discussion will play some part in placing character building in the position it deservedly belongs to in our education system.I also hope that this will pursue society, schools, teachers and parents to define their roles as character builders of our children.

 

By: Zainab Hashmi

 

Education

Only Education Can Bring About A Positive Change in Our Society! Really???

This has been discussed several times at homes, in schools, offices, markets, among government and non-government organizations, on papers, in books and columns and so on.” We need education!”,” We need reforms in education!”,” We need to put every child in school!”, etc.etc.education-in-sri-lanka-the-reality1

But What is education? When we seriously and determinately discuss the need of education to transform our society, do we all mean the same thing? Are we all clear about what exactly we need? The question of how to achieve this will definitely follow, once we all are clear about what it is that is needed so badly.

Lets start with Government and our political leaders. Lets suppose that whenever they talk about the urgent need of educational reforms, schools and teachers, they are dead serious! But what is education to them? Making sure every child of school going age is enrolled in a school? Any school?With or without everyday attendance?  With or without walls, space , basic teaching equipments, With or without a teacher? With or without a competent teacher? With or without a teaching plan? With or without…..Believe me the list is very long!

Lets discuss the private sector. What is education to them? Surely they provide with some kind of building structure, teaching equipments, curriculum and planning and definitely they provide teachers! They do make an effort to regulate attendance as well.( And this effort is not a very difficult one because people know what it is to pay for something that isn’t  provided for) The quality of all the above mentioned resources depends upon how much these schools charge in terms of fees. But what about the primary product? The basic goal? What about education? Yes, you will get better quality buildings, space, equipments, books, curriculum, technological and other resources but what about learning? And what about teachers?

Alright we shall discuss teachers now! What is education to them? I honestly don’t want to discuss government schools teachers here. I am sure some of them are very competent and sincere to their profession but unfortunately I did not happen to meet them.

So I shall discuss the private sector teachers only. What is education to them? I know, have seen and have worked with a large number of teachers and I found many of them to be passionate about their profession. Most of them are competent and almost all of them are sincere to their profession. But my rhetoric question is ” What is education to them?” Making sure that the content is delivered to all students at the same time? That the note books and worksheets are filled with related, correct and quality work according to school’s expectations? Most importantly, that most of the students achieve highly in their exams. I have a feeling that you are tired of my rhetoric by now but I can’t help it!  What about education? What about learning? What about pondering, exploring, wondering and enjoying doing all this? What about relating the learned stuff to lives? what about applying this learning? What about creativity?

Lastly I shall discuss what education is to parents although I am well aware that this question can lead to an unlimited discussion. Taking advantage of the fact that most of us are parents and therefore we mostly know what education is to us, I shall only touch upon very few points. Apart from expecting our children to thrive in class, school, family, society, world, universe etc by all means, we also want our children to be happy and content.We want them to be successful in this life and the next. And we all believe ( to various degrees of strength) that all this can be achieved by good education. But then, how did we plan to provide this ” good education” to our children? What role did we play in providing this education? Yes, we spent more than we could afford in terms of tuition fees, resources, transportation etc, but did we seriously believe for a moment that spending all this will ensure our children’s splendid and enlightened future?  How often did we ask the government, so-called education providers, teachers and ourselves that what is education to them? What is being done to achieve this education? How on earth will a positive transformation of society be achieved by education if we are not clear about what education is?

By: Zainab Hashmi