Teach children to think critically, not to rote learn

Amjad Chauhdry

You might be surprised to hear that the first matriculation exam in the Subcontinent took place back in 1858 and, that, since the British Empire decided that people in the region were only half-as-smart as their colonial rulers, their passing marks would be kept at 32.5, instead of 65 which was the norm in Britain.

Two years later, this figure was rounded to 33, and to date, 158 years later, we are still trying to find genius amongst our students who only need 33 marks to pass exams.

Consider Japan, a country where children are taught only one subject till grade 3: “manners and respect”. Our fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali (RA) said “one who does not have manners, will not have faith.”

Now, I am not aware who taught Japanese about Hazrat Ali (RA), but clearly, they have decided to take responsibility about teaching their children to grow into responsible citizens.

One of my friends visiting Japan was overwhelmed by the amount of respect given to him when he introduced himself as a teacher. They made him feel as if he was the prime minister of the country.

Renowned writer Ashfaq Ahmed wrote that he once had to attend a court in Italy where he mentioned he was a teacher. In response, he adds, “everybody present in court, including the judge, stood up to pay their respects and, that day, I realised that nations only succeed when they respect teachers.”

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Japan is a country where they don’t ‘teach’ social studies, but they learn proper behaviour in their daily lives. In Japanese schools, children and teachers take care of the cleanliness of the school themselves for two hours, from 8am to 10am, every day.

Meanwhile, our education system is entirely focused on making the children rote-learn without developing any critical skills.

In our classrooms, the educational method is based on the teacher copying the text written in the book on the blackboard; the children then copy what the teacher wrote; and later, the teacher asks the same questions in the exam paper; and grades the students on the same content.  If they pass, the parents interpret that their kids are ‘smart’; while those who are unable to make the grade are labelled as dull.

Now, we need to honestly ask ourselves:  how did the child improve his or her learning at all with this process which solely encourages rote-learning?

On the other hand, while we teach our children to stand in assembly and learn to respect queues, the moment a student moves on from the school, they break rules to move ahead. In fact, those who are students of a bigger, better, more reputable school, are often more guilty of getting their work done by violating regulations as they are likely from the influential elite.

Ours is a system of schooling where we think we ‘teach’ our children about social studies. Ours is a system where we ask our children to rote-learn sciences. This is the status quo in our schools right now and all those responsible for improving education need to sit down together and think of how to  get rid of this obsolete, rotten process and instead put in place one that provides  our children with critical thinking skills and helps sharpen their intelligence.

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