Matric and O’Level Students in Pakistan: A comparison by (Late) Surriya Shafi Mir
Before the new academic year begins in September, newspapers are full of ads for admissions to ‘A’ and ‘O’ level classes. Each year more and more private schools are switching over to this system of education which leaves one wondering if we are not creating two distinct classes of citizens – plebeians and patricians of the future.
Another division of society, this time on the basis of education. The differences between the products of the two systems of education, Matric and ‘O’ Levels are quite marked. The first and most obvious, but not surprising, is the of command over the English language; and second, their ability for analytical thinking and to question, both lacking in the former category of students. As the matric lot form the mainstream students, I find the total lack of the second characteristic in this group most disturbing. While not pursuing the economic and social reasons that make for the choice between the two systems, I shall seek to describe and explain the conditions that affect student behaviour at higher levels of education and suggest ways to improve it.
By the time students leave school and join college, it is expected they will have learned/acquired the capability called ‘intellectual skills’. Unfortunately it is not so. It is so very common to come across students with unbelievably high marks in Matric, but whose intellectual skills have hardly been developed. It seems the only aim of schools, teachers, parents and students following this system is the gaining of ‘high’ marks, no matter how. The exceptionally high marks are acquired mainly through rote-learning. The same story is repeated at the Intermediate level. Teachers at this level, too, actively promote rote-learning; their favourite phrase being, ‘yeh yaad ker lo. ’ Academics, which abound all over the country for extra coaching and preparation of the Intermediate and matric examinations, actively promote this skill with little realization of the harm being done.
Although the dangers in rote-learning are explicit, they are all the more dangerous in their continuing effects. So insidious are the effects that students never get out of this mode. Even at the Masters level instead of trying to understand the text students resort to rote/memorization of answers provided to frequently asked examination questions as given in guide/note books. Questions asked in examinations may relate to identifying relationships and patterns, an interpretation, or an evaluation, – all higher level thinking skills – they invariably reproduce a summary of the text learnt by heart.
One of the aims of education, especially higher education, is the development of the ability to think critically. Some people hold that thinking can only be taught through mathematics. Maths is one way to generate thinking and reasoning skills among students. Teaching thinking and reasoning skills goes far beyond maths. It is part of every discipline, from reading and writing, to studying the causes of the failure of monsoons, and the effects of historic events. It is integral to any discipline, any lesson, any question, any exercise, any educational experience. Reasoning is not a separate category of learning. Among the intellectual capabilities, rote learning is at the lowest rung while reasoning and imaginative thinking at the highest. It is of very little use in practical life.
There is no disagreement with saying that the education we provide our children today will determine Pakistan’s role in the future. As cyberspace grows and satellites connect us to other parts of the world, the resulting increase in information will enhance the pressure on young people to be able to think and reason. When employers hire people they look for young persons who can think critically and have ‘problem solving skills’. While critical thinking is important, creative thinking is equally important. Students need not think inductively and deductively all the time. Occasionally thinking laterally or even obliquely results in flashes of insight to solve problems. Rote-memorization is antagonistic towards both reasoning and creative thinking.
Although it is very difficult to wean students away from the pernicious habit of rote-learning, promoting the asking of question in class, incorporating versatility in teaching and changing the pattern of examination questions can force students to give up this habit. In class students are required to accept knowledge without question, and to remember facts/principles/opinions enunciated by accepted authorities/critics. Encouraging students to ask questions in class helps develop their ability to think and can partially help overcome the need to reproduce given answers. But questions are not tolerated. The reason being that teachers are too busy. At the most teachers allow on an average of two/three seconds to students to respond to direct questions asked in class. We simply have no time to wait for an answer and it is only in the examination script that we find out if the student has understood or not and by then it is too late.
It is useful to do several techniques The lecture method must not only be the method employed as it leads to passive thinking stem students to memorize class notes active Learning occurs when you use strategic methods which basically involve talking reading thinking and writing in this way students gain confidence in the morning and abstain from rote learning.
Changing the pattern of examination questions would go a long way in barring students from rote Learning. The long answer type questions should be used in combination with questions that test students ability at a higher intellectual level then simple recognition and recall of factual information it is possible to develop questions and more complex systems and the usual MCQs.
Context dependent questions required degree of dialysis before answer is chosen. Here the stimulus may be presented in form of a diagram of photograph and table of data or statement of text.
It is easy to put the blame on the student it is assumed that anyone with a degree will automatically be able to impart knowledge two others.
With territory level teachers who are no doubt knowledgeable the majority of them are not trained to teach and most completely failed to communicate properly unless we change this pattern of education that discourages route learning or nation will fall behind creative services being done by professional teachers exhibitors and Academy owners.
Dr Surriya Shafi Mir served as Dean of English Department GIFT University, former dean of GCU, Lahore, Kinnard College for Women Lahore, Virtual University and FCC Lahore. She passed away in November 2019.