December Issue 2015
Say No to Rote Learning
The one consistent complaint that seems to have been voiced by the intelligentsia since the creation of Pakistan is that the standard of education in the country has slid downhill. Sixty-eight years down the road we are lagging far behind internationally accepted standards. Irrespective of whether it is a government school, a community school or a private one, there is an extremely archaic methodology of teaching in vogue in Pakistan, which revolves essentially around rote learning. Consequently students understand nothing of what they cram, and after merely regurgitating it at exam time, immediately relegate it to the innermost recesses of their memory never to be drawn upon again.
Keeping this depressing scenario in mind, it was way back in 1986 that the Teachers Resource Centre (TRC) began working diligently with school teachers to change the way kids study in both private and public sectors and transform rote learning into active learning. Their mantra: critical thinking stresses on constructivism as opposed to passive learning and encourages students to contribute actively in the teaching process. Hence, lesson plans had to be designed that catered to this new methodology of teaching — a huge challenge requiring at the very least, the setting up of a working group with teachers from both the public and private sectors.
After designing a module, they would constantly return to the drawing board and make innumerable changes to it as they went along. Ultimately, the group finalised a multi-grade module that was approved by all TRC member schools. Since the objective was to make the module teacher-friendly to ensure the teachers’ comfort level in adopting it, care was taken to adhere to the terminology used in the National Curriculum of 2006-2008 that is still in use today.
Thus, The Thinking Classroom, a one-year project implemented by Teachers’ Resource Centre, with the support of the Open Society Foundation and involving teachers from both the public and private sectors, was finally launched last year in all The Citizens Foundation (TCF) schools to actively introduce critical thinking from the Early Childhood Education (ECE) level to grade five.
For the first three days of the week, teachers were allowed to use the conventional method of teaching directly from text books. This gave them a sense of security that they were adhering to the syllabus, and at the same time using a system they were comfortable with; however, the remaining two days they were asked to teach using the new module. A handbook had been created for each module — 10 modules altogether — so that it wouldn’t become too overwhelming for the teachers.
Within a short span of time the teachers, who had been initially apprehensive that a non-text based lesson plan would take away from their teaching time, making it difficult for them to complete the syllabus, soon realised that the students were actually grasping what was being taught to them more easily through the new method of teaching. What’s more, they discovered, it was encouraging the children to think at a higher level than what they were used to, as opposed to the old method, which had only allowed them to recall and perhaps, at the most, comprehend what was being taught.
With the first phase successfully over and the guidelines and techniques also drafted in English, TRC is now focusing on building the capacity of the public sector from which more than 60 per cent of the students hail. Hence material and linkages have to be developed in order to pump in the Thinking Classroom programme in all their different activities.
The second phase will involve launching the programme in Sindh this year, as budget constraints are keeping them from being more ambitious at this point. For this purpose, 200 master trainers in five districts and 50 government officials will receive training from TRC.
For this module to become truly successful, it is imperative that the programme be supported and adopted whole-heartedly in all four provinces. Currently, it has been put on the net in Urdu, but it needs to be translated into all provincial languages as well. If education in Pakistan is to keep pace with the rest of the world, which has long moved on to teaching methodologies that rely on out-of-the-box thinking, it is crucial that that all provinces adopt this lesson plan. In fact, we need to move away from a system of education that does not allow the student to learn to question, to innovate and problem-solve. The need of the hour is for students to be taught that there is no one right answer — there could be multiple solutions to problems. That is the only way forward.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s December 2015 issue.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. She also works at Hum television.