Education Woes: where lies the remedy?
CHANGE THE SYSTEM
MAYBE A DOMINO EFFECT OF LEARNING COULD RESULT IN THE VERY THING THE MASSES CHANT FOR EVERYDAY WRITES IBREEZ AJAZ
When I was two years old, my parents made the difficult decision to leave Kashmir and immigrate to the United States. At the time, insurgency was at its height, danger lurked at every corner, and there was no sense of peace of mind. When we left for the States, it was with the notion that everything would return to normal in a year or two, and then we’d come back and resettle, get me enrolled in school, and live the laidback valley life.
Alas, the fates were determined to keep us away. Year after year hope would be quashed with renewed reports of killings, disappearances, bombings, and general unrest. Not exactly the life one dreams of. And so my parents made the decision to stay in the U.S., though thoughts of going home once and for all never left the nooks and crannies of their minds. They did their very best to ensure I spoke impeccable English (having been used to only Kashmiri and Urdu), though I did my very best to try their patience, steadfastly refusing to respond in English. Naturally, they retaliated by pretending not to understand me unless I did. I recall days filled with a copy and pencil in my hand, practicing forming the letters of an alphabet I soon came to love.
My parents worried that I would not be able to cope with the drastic change in the school environment, that I would fall behind due lack of comprehension. Initially, there were some barriers hurled my way, but I soon learned how to overcome them, and quickly became an exuberant pupil who adored the idea of school. Not too long after all the pieces had fallen into place, my family felt it safe enough to return to Kashmir, but only for the summer, during our school holiday. It had been a good number of years since I had been home, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The initial thoughts that plagued me upon going to school for the first time resurfaced: Would everyone like me? Would I fit in?
I met with cousins I’d never seen before, and was reunited with those I’d seen almost eons ago. When all the formalities were over and done with, and the necessary libations were consumed, my first question to my peers was about their schooling. I was enthralled by the method of education they undertook. It seemed for them that their books were a twenty-four hour affair, that they lived and slept by them, and that even the youngest of students were not spared. I could not fathom as to why one would spend an entire day in a classroom, apparently learning, just to attend tuition classes soon afterwards. It seemed to be counter-productive in my mind. If all of their material was taught to them in these after school classes, then what exactly was the point in enrolling in an educational institution?
I soon came to reason that perhaps this was a reinforcement of knowledge, to ingrain into their minds what they’d already been taught. But after sitting and discussing topics we’d all learned, I realized that their concept of comprehension was simply memorizing. Things were the way they were because that was what the textbooks and teachers said, no questions asked. If I wanted an explanation of something, I’d get it, but it was as though they were simply repeating something back to me. That wasn’t to say that my level of education was far greater, but just that I was content with what I knew because I understood it. Everyone I spoke to seemed frustrated by the system, and I was beginning to see why.
The greatest flaw I unearthed out of a typical Kashmiri education was in the lack of historical depth. And by that I mean the world over, current affairs and past. I had always thought that American schools were nothing comparatively, seeing the triumphs of South Asian students far and wide in every subject. Perhaps that’s why I was so perplexed by the deficit of information given, or maybe interest had, in learning history. The news is what keeps us connected with reality, with what is happening at that very moment in any pocket of our world. I had always thought it to be the most important thing taught, as it was the very thing that would shape our future. So the apparent lazy attitude towards it amongst my Kashmiri peers had me dumbfounded.
And it was not just current events abroad they knew little about. A good number couldn’t name the president of India, or its finance or home minister. I didn’t get it. Why didn’t anybody care? Or maybe I was the odd one out. Was my drive towards staying in the loop on national and international matters a thing of folly? That is to say, something I should worry about when all my formal education was over and done with, and I had settled down with some menial job or another? Perhaps then I could reflect upon the past and future, remote control in hand, idly flipping channels as the world around me progressed.
The major source of my perturbed state arises from the established fact that there is no chance of freeing ourselves from the chains of our rulers when we cannot even come to think outside the box. If we belittle these seemingly unnecessary components of education, what will become of us? A country can have no future if it doesn’t know its past. From day one, the mindset is that our parents have decided that we become doctors, engineers, businessmen, etc, so who has any need for history? When could it ever be of any value? Current affairs are a political mess, nothing an educated brain should bother with.
Sure, we get through our required courses by rote memorization, but what nation ever laid its foundation on the regurgitated words of an outdated textbook? Here are some shocking examples of responses I have gotten to the most basic of history questions:
-Who is the leader of Iran?
-What is the name of India’s finance minister?
-Who is the leader of the Congress Party?
-What is the capital of Pakistan?
Karachi/Lahore (majority responses)
-Name all of the continents.
Most gave 6 out of the 7, some only 4.
-Who is the Prime Minister of Afghanistan?
-What is the capital of Afghanistan?
Gaza/Kazakhstan (most wild responses)
-Was Mahatma Gandhi related to Indira Gandhi?
-What is Myanmar also known as?
I kid you not. These are actual responses from students who have graduated from Kashmir mediums. In the defense of the person who answered that the capital of Afghanistan was Gaza, she later retracted her response and stated that it couldn’t be right as Gaza was in fact a city in Egypt. Some did answer the questions just fine; this isn’t to say that all the people I asked failed miserably. But if whilst you read the above answers, an eyebrow or two was not raised, I can offer nothing but my best wishes for you in life.
So will any change rattle the education department? Not likely. But there’s nothing stopping the youth of the Valley from picking up the paper, watching the news, or just being aware of the world outside their window. And who knows….maybe a domino effect of learning could result in the very thing the masses chant for everyday.
(The author can be contacted at www.koshur.weebly.com)
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Jul 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Jul 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 25 Jul 2011 00:00:00 IST
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