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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rethinking Education in Pakistan-Review in The News

Review by By Muhammad Ali Khan
 News, 27 January, 2008
Book: Rethinking Educationin Pakistan:Perceptions, Practices, and Possibilities 
Author: Shahid Siddiqui 
Publisher: Paramount Publishing Enterprise, 2007
Pages: 196 hardbound
Price: Rs. 345

'Rethinking Education in Pakistan' is a product of Shahid Siddiqui's scholarly pursuit in the capacity of teacher educator, researcher, and social thinker. The recurrent theme of the book is critical thinking and reflection which is very carefully built up in the book. Dr. Siddiqui's aim doesn't seem to reject or accept any school of thought in totality but to analyse and assess in order to offer a holistic understanding of the beliefs and practices and explore potential alternatives.
The writer draws the evidence for building his case from a very broad range of sources, ranging from his personal experience as a teacher educator and researcher, indepth study of the educational policies of the country, and contemporary literature in the domain of education. Talking about various components of education he refers to teacher as a central actor in action. He firmly believes that teachers can play an important part in initiating and sustaining educational and social change. In his words "A well- equipped teacher can create ways to improve the situation even under given constraint. The pivotal position of a teacher signifies the crucial role teacher education can play in Pakistan."

The structure of the book enables the reader to think and reflect on the Policy issues, Teacher and Teacher education, Curriculum and Materials which has its bearing on the other sections of the book: Language Issues, School, Home and the current Research and Assessment practices in Pakistan.
In the first section of the book under the heading Policy issues have six articles that offer the critique of the philosophy of neo-liberalism and its unquestioned, unchecked pervasive impact on the entire education system of Pakistan. The main concern these articles show is the need to revisit the educational policy of Pakistan striking the balance between the qualitative and quantitative aspects in all areas of education in Pakistan. The article 'Commodification of Education' clearly shows that the entire academic system of the country has turned into a supermarket. "A large number of educational institutions emerged as 'industrial Zones' or 'production units' whose sole aim was maximising the profit by producing more." In this corporate model that is being followed, the writer makes his readers see that knowledge is seen as commodity, Knowledge is commodity, and teachers are reduced to the level of sales person. To drive his point across, the writer gives the example of famous private schools with their chain across the country which Rehman (1998) calls them business empire. Siddiqui sees the mercantile practices in opening the branches which he calls 'outlets'. His description evokes Conrad's 'Nostroma', 'Heart of Darkness' and the classic of 'Robinson Crusoe' where the main principle is the maximisation of profit and the exploitation of the simple masses. The major difference is the exploiters in these novels are the outsiders but in our case they are both outsiders and insiders.
Dr. Siddiqui supports the efforts made at improvising the Higher education in Pakistan but he raises the question of the qualitative aspect of it. The present practices of research in the local universities needs to be revisited. It is the absence of "research tradition" at par with the standard of world universities. In our education policies we have not given the due importance to the qualitative aspect of our educational institutions.
The second section of the book: Teacher and Teacher Education have eight articles whose main thrust is on changing the beliefs and attitude of the teachers. Unfortunately Teacher Education Programmes in the country have focused on methodology and strategies instead on enabling teachers to re-conceptualise basic educational issues. Like Tagore's short story 'The Parrot's Training', for educating the bird to please the Raja, all the stakeholders put in tremendous effort. A cage of Gold was made for the bird and scribes wrote books that could touch the sky. However, no one notice that the bird had died long in the cage. Teacher education programmes in the country has lost sight of the teachers.
The article 'The Work shop syndrome' demonstrates how novel idea of Learning by doing given by John Dewey, has been misused in Pakistan. The author is not against the novel idea of workshop whose entire philosophy was to add practical dimension to learning but with the practice of using the workshop as an end itself. The result of this, as Siddiqui argues that how educational change is possible without changing the frozen belief system. The touch and go teaching culture practiced at all levels of education known also as "briefcase teaching" culture is critiqued on the ground that it has not only created stasis and stagnation for the practitioners but has adversely affected the value system of eastern education.
The fourth section titled Language Issues explores the paradoxes in the language policy of the country and the practices of English Language teaching in the country. 'The Language Factor' questions the centrality English language in the power corridors of Pakistan. "Various governments, for their political interests, played wantonly with the issue of Language". Shahid Siddiqui (2007) together with Tariq Rehman (2000) and Sabiha Mansoor (2005) takes a stance of offering Language options and choice to the people of the country. The streamlining of the policy matters require consensus and debate and practical efforts to restore Urdu its due place as written in the constitution of the country and various policy documents. Moreover, this section also offers analysis of the ELT practices in the country. In Pakistan teaching of English Language is taken as teaching of English Literature as majority of the teachers perceive Language teaching as teaching of novels, dramas and poetry. The author proposes a middle ground of teaching language through literature.
Section 5, 'Curriculum and Material' reviews the latest literature published on curriculum and Material development. Siddiqui, as usual, is careful not to be carried away by the new slogans but analyses the impact of these on our educational context. He views curriculum not as something which sits on the shelf of policy makers but "a vibrant phenomenon of which students, teachers, teaching material and school culture are important components."
The last section of the book 'Research and Assessment' analyses the quality aspect of existing research practices carried out in the local university. "Most of the research in established universities in Pakistan is mere repetition of earlier ones. In some cases even the subsidiary questions of an earlier research are replicated. The ultimate aim of such researchers and research thesis is to get their authors degrees". Before making the generalised statement the author has unpacked his idea of quality which is the addition to the existing knowledge of the world. One can disagree with the author on setting such stringent benchmark considering the intellectual infrastructure of the country.
Rethinking Education in Pakistan offers a fresh perspective on the traditional ideas and notions about issues in education in Pakistan. Written in a lucid manner, the articles in the book form a coherent whole, engaging enough to be recommended to the widest possible audience, i.e., research students, practicing teachers, teacher educators, curriculum planners, and policy makers.

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