A failing system makes some students feel like misfits

Fariha Irfan

My academic story is bitter-sweet. It was always difficult for me to do things the way they were supposed to be done, whether it was memorisation, or repetition, or non-iterative learning. It always felt like I was the outcast, the one system was not made for. More like, I was the kind of student who was shunned by the system. At the same time, for the first 10 years of schooling, I went to schools where teachers enjoyed my questions and borderline belligerence, even encouraged it.

My father was in Pakistan Army and we moved around a lot. I attended a total of 8 schools and 2 colleges before I went to medical school. Those 10 institutions gave me a different perspective and exposure every time. Each school had a different method of teaching, a different curriculum, different level of expectations from the students. It ranged from being able to memorise and regurgitate what was in the textbooks verbatim (government schools) to being able to assimilate knowledge and apply it to real life, with massive focus on understanding text (in private education institutions).

While the private schools catered to my curiosity and desire to understand and learn, they made me highly unfit to score well in HSC and then HSSC. While government schools were mind-numbing and below average in every decent education standard, they trained students to score well in the board exams. That dichotomous education affected my grades in the board exams adversely. And marks in board exams were the only way to get admission in medical college.

The reason for this brief introduction to my academic background is that the education system is inaccessible, unaffordable, and inequitable for a child of middle class, and a pipe dream for poor. Children from poor and middle-class background have no way of exceeding expectations, lacking basic academic exposure and skills, and are forced to follow authoritarianism from their teachers without the ability or courage to ask questions or, for that matter, question them.

This education system raises sheep, not thinkers and philosophers.

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The way the curriculum is set discourages independent thought process and, lack of libraries, exposure to books and knowledge and encouragement of curiosity, has resulted in generation after generation that accepts status quo as the way of life and lacks the wherewithal to challenge the way things are, living day in and day out as helpless people who have internalised the narrative that they don’t have any power over their own fate.

Without having a uniform education system where Urdu and English are the main languages and regional language is 3rd in priority, we can ensure children are not shocked to know that Sindhi or Balochi or Seraiki languages alone can’t get them to accomplish dreams, even their dream is for their own area and community.

Language and science are the silver bullets; books are the way to enhance imagination and curiosity; education system is the tool that gives us the power to do great things, be all that we can be, accomplish our dreams, have a secure future that promises prosperity, and shuns despair.

Politicos and elite are afraid of an educated electorate. Because an educated youth is going to hold them accountable for their misdeeds, for the corruption, for the lack of facilities in their own regions; while their own children go and study at parochial schools, followed by degrees from foreign universities, coming back as the next generation of rulers, the ordinary Pakistani still strives to put three square meals on his family’s table.

We are always shown the stories of exceptional kids from poor or adverse backgrounds but those create a lie for the rest. Instead of inspiring the majority, they tell the kids in those schools when they don’t enter a medical college or an engineering university they were never good enough. A lot of the times, a lot of those less fortunate kids would do really well and succeed if given the right tools but I think our whole education system is designed to keep our nation struggling, stupid, and uninformed.

The day all government officers and elected officials are forced to send their kids to government schools, the day we have the same education and examination system for all our children, whether living in Panjgur, Sibbi, DG Khan, Thatha, Tull, or Skardu, we will enter the era of prosperity and equity, where all people are created equal.

Writer is a Surgeon and Public Health Professional.

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