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Reform Metric Board: A Student’s Take Center

While switching the TV channels the other day I got to know about Shehzad Roy’s campaign to introduce examinations questions that encourage ‘critical thinking’ among students studying in matric/intermediate system. His efforts are commendable. Zindagi trust, his work regarding Fatimah Jinnah Government Girls School and projects like paid-to-learn have helped thousands of children all over the country, receive the quality of education they deserve. I fully support his latest campaign too. Though, I have some things to add.

It is crucial to realize the examination questions are not the only issue. The actual problem is the metric and intermediate syllabus based on which the exams are conducted. Just changing how questions are designed in the examinations, in my opinion, will not solve the problem. We need to fully address the cause which is the poorly designed metric/intermediate syllabus that centers on rote-learning and hasn’t been updated since your grandparents were born!

Before anything – the syllabus needs to be revised and updated to the 21st century. The intermediate board still teaches the flawed and outdated five kingdom classification in biology from 1969. Students are expected to study the imaginary ‘Kingdom Monera’ that is no longer a valid taxonomic group. The Sindh text chemistry book explains the non-existent reaction of the oxidation of ketone to carboxylic acid and carbon dioxide. We are toying with the future of country here. Encouraging rote-learning is one thing but teaching our students the concepts and information that are just plain incorrect crosses all the lines. Before we can campaign about providing children with quality education let’s start with giving them education that is factually correct.

Another problem is the content of the syllabus. Students are expected to rote-learn a never ending list of phyla, sub-phyla, classes, sub-classes, orders, species, sub-species and so on. And it doesn’t end there. The characteristics of all of the above, Latin and Greek scientific names which are next to impossible to pronounce and the list goes on. With syllabus content like this it is not possible to design questions that evoke critical reasoning  – when all one can do with this information is rote-learn it.

Students are forced to memorize pages, long derivations of formulas they do not know how to put into use. Even in subjects like English and Urdu which base on artistry and originality, students are told to rote-learn character sketches and essays to write in the exam. We are not testing their understanding or skill, we are testing their memories. We are deliberately limiting their capacity to use their minds, to grow and excel.

And if you think there is anything out there these students aren’t made to rote-learn, think again. Behold: how to cram for a practical- a guide by the Pakistani education system. Students are given a set of already performed practical’s to memorize- everything from readings to diagrams and what not. One of these comes in the exam and the students just need to get whatever they spent hours learning onto the paper.

Most of the content of the paper is repeated from previous years. I have met intermediate students who claim they have never opened their books and ended up with A grades, because everything important for the exam is provided to them in the form of ‘notes’ that they obviously rote-learn. How do they know what is important, you ask? Questions from the paper two years before the current are repeated that year. For example if you were to appear in an intermediate exam in 2016 you would need to memorize all the questions in the 2014 paper.

Yes, this is what we are doing to the future of this country. Our children are in no way less capable to those studying with foreign educational boards. But if their minds are purposely restrained to do no more than memorize everything and write it down on a page, it is not the students that are to blame.

What Shehzad Roy pointed out is true as well. Students are not taught to think for themselves and ask questions. But maybe that would be a much easier task to do if they actually had content to ask questions on. Reform in the syllabus is therefore what is needed. And we need to accept that it is not something we will get easily. We need to unite, organize and campaign. Force our elected representatives to listen. Because let’s face it, Qaim Ali Shah isn’t going to any school some time soon. But your children are and I’m sure you aren’t willing to pay to rust their brains and intellect!

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