The Federal Ministry of Education has sought suggestions from various stakeholders for developing the Pakistan Education Policy 2021. This is indeed a commendable and much-needed initiative. With 35 years of experience as an educationist and researcher in various areas of information management, information behaviour, information use, library services, communication skills, social skills and quality of education, I would like to share a few points to ponder upon in this regard.
Firstly, it is most important that before making Pakistan’s education policy, we consider the phenomenal changes which have taken place in the learning, knowledge and information-seeking behaviours of Generation Z and the following generations called Alpha, Gen-Tech, Post-Millennials, iGeneration, GenY-Fi and so forth, and the context of the rapidly evolving digital paradigm in Pakistan.
Secondly, our education policy, aims, contents, and curriculum are designed usually by the most senior experts, who are knowledgeable in their fields but often exhibit a generation gap, i.e., are inconsiderate to the changing inner and outer world of the current and future generations. They often tend to forget how as young students they would think and act. As a result, they fail to make a connection with young adults and create a communication/generation gap between the intended objectives of an academic programme and its learning outcomes. I would say it is similar to the gap at our homes between adults and children.
Thirdly, the two common sources of getting education and dissemination of knowledge have been: i) teachers — with a focus mainly on textbooks; and ii) libraries — as sole houses of knowledge with shelves upon shelves of books, and rules aimed to protect books instead of making them conveniently available to users. We call it a collection-centered approach instead of usage-centered. The developed world has moved to usage-centered approach whereas our mindset is still stuck towards collections and saving them. We must consider that these two main sources are no more the only options. The digital revolution with availability of full text information on smartphone devices with 4G connections has made it much easier to find what one needs at one’s own convenience.
In this backdrop, the educational policy, plans and curriculum must be prepared to develop future generations as independent lifelong learners, fluent in information, digital and news literacy skills, information ethics in the virtual environment and to grow as socially sensitive and responsible citizens. The learning materials must sensitise students towards inclusivity: which means respecting different opinions, religions, cultures, castes, sects, languages, genders, etc. Mutual respect, harmony and equity must be introduced from the early years through interactive lesson plans. These learnings must create peace in society while exhibiting the true face of Islam to the world. The Transformative Theory of Learning by Mezirow (2003) based on “a process of examining, questioning, validating, and revising our perspectives” should be considered as a pedagogical base for instructing young adults.
The 21st century students need to develop the following capabilities grouped under three categories of skills. These are intended to help students keep up with the ever-emerging market needs and succeed in their careers during the Information Age. Each skill is essential in the age of the internet to make youngsters lifelong, independent learners with responsible and ethical information behaviours in the virtual and real world. I have added a few more skills under the following categories of the skills found in the literature. 1) Learning Skills: observation; critical thinking; creativity; collaboration; communication, professionalism 2) Literacy Skills: information literacy; media literacy; digital literacy; news literacy, 3) Life Skills: flexibility; positivity; leadership; initiative; productivity; and social skills.
The teaching of compulsory subjects of Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies needs a fresh approach. The content must be prepared and delivered in a manner to induce their value among learners and create interest for further exploration, as in their present form students consider these subjects cumbersome. Pakistan Studies is focused more on rote learning of history and memorising dates. The fact of the matter is that these are sensitive areas, hence, we stay away from bringing them into open discussion or from writing on the intertwined dichotomies related to nationalism, humanism and Islamism. The outcome is that even our educated elite is either confused or rigid on these matters, and not open to deliberations on alternative schools of thought in a scholarly manner.
Moreover, the option given to non-Muslim students of studying Ethics instead of Islamic Studies seems absurd. It would be better to rename it as ‘Ethics in Islam’ for Muslim students. The teachings of Islam should not be merely under the generic banner of Islamic Studies throughout early education to the higher level. Islamic Studies should be grouped as faith, ethics, history, community service, humanism, etc. Furthermore, contemporary challenges are not addressed in the modern context, and only limited topics are included using references from the medieval era. Hence, our youth stays confused about basic aspects related to faith and their application, universal ethics, and understanding the value of mutual respect and harmony with other creeds and sects. Then, there is the Urdu text which makes up half or more of Islamiat instead of short, interesting and meaningful stories to develop a reading habit amongst the juveniles while learning the language and lessons of life in a subtle manner.
Last but not the least, equally important aspects are the delivery of the content, instruction methods, and teacher’s training to get the required results. Otherwise, the changes will remain merely cosmetic.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2021.