The need for change

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Our society today is rapidly evolving and old customs are fading as an expanding youth culture embraces the new. While our faith remains a constant, everything else is game for change or improvement. Old methods just won’t do.

In the field of education, many have been calling for an overhaul of a syllabus that hasn’t changed significantly for over two decades. Nor has the method of teaching varied dramatically. The emphasis remains more on memorization than understanding, leaving many with very little understanding of what they have been exposed to in classrooms for so many years.

The basics of education, such as reading, writing, comprehension and the ability to write an intelligible page or two devoid of mistakes, seem to be eluding most students. Is it the syllabus, the schools, the teachers, the parents, or something else that is at fault?

Mona, a long-time schoolteacher at a government school, believes it is the quantity of studies that is the root of the problem. Teachers, she says, have simply no way of compacting the vast amount of material into something palatable enough for children to readily understand. With students facing a total of 16 or more subjects, it seems to be an impossible task. As a result, most teachers consider themselves lucky just to get through the curriculum on a lecture basis, no questions asked.

Ahmed, a parent of two school age children, agrees with Mona. But he also adds that it is not just the quantity but the quality as well that needs looking into. He feels strongly that the current curriculum does not prepare a student to enter the job market. Furthermore, a lack of effective English teaching contributes a great deal to the problem.

Abdou, an 11th year student at a private school, offers another angle based on his educational experience. “The way our studies are taught is very boring. The content of some of our schoolbooks is archaic and hardly something that will prepare us for the future. We do not have a chance to question the teachers on matters we do not understand. Philosophy and the arts are not common subjects, and the English that is taught is very weak.”

He continues: “Researching a topic is rare, and group discussions are usually not encouraged. The teacher seems to be only interested in getting through several pages of the book to meet his quota. Whether we comprehend or not seems to be immaterial. The only way serious students can supplement this form of education is through private tutors or training institutes. But that is not always within everybody’s means.”

Rana, a high school graduate of some years, adds: “I remember my last day at high school. Once the exams were finished, a group of us students got together and dumped all our textbooks in a big dumpster. I guess now when I look back at it, along with those books went years of what we were supposed to have learned. I honestly don’t think I learned that much after spending 12 whole years in school. It tells you something about our system of education, doesn’t it?”

Sohail, a recent graduate, agrees. “I have learned more in my current job than in all the years I spent in school. And it was not necessarily a pleasant experience. Many times, at my job I felt like a dummy. Why didn’t my school prepare me for this better? Many of my colleagues have quit, as they could not face their shortcomings. However, I stuck it out, as I have family depending on my income.”

As students today throughout the country enter the last phase of the school year, there are hopes across the land that the experts at the Ministry of Education will re-evaluate the current syllabus and the teaching techniques in our schools. The ministry has taken a positive step by weeding out extremism-oriented teachers who poisoned the minds of many young people in the past. But there is also a matter of what the market needs and that has to be addressed as well.

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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