Education stakeholders have been called on to rethink the notion of academic achievement in schools as the skills being taught to students in Pakistan are becoming more and more irrelevant in today's rapidly evolving world. Gaps in curriculum and teaching and learning practices are making it harder for students to acquire the values and skills they need, simply put, to thrive in the future.
At the "Education in Uncertain Times" symposium, organised by AKU's Institute for Educational Development, participants had the opportunity to voice the changes that are needed.
Educationists discussed the issue that for most parents and schools, academic achievement is narrowly defined as good grades. The result? A fear of failure amongst students – "I did not get an A" - that is, in turn, decreasing their ability to to take intellectual risks, be innovative, and creative in finding problems and solutions.
However, as technology and automation continue to make many traditional jobs obsolete, career success and survival will demand a very different set of skills.
"Curiosity, determination, freedom of imagination, collaboration and emotional intelligence are essential skills for today's world," said panelist Aine Afrin, principal of the Bay View High School in Karachi. "Unfortunately, these skills are rarely promoted or even encouraged in many educational institutions in our country. But in the future, these qualities will be far more important than scoring high on tests."
Teachers too, who are mostly trained for better teaching skills, lack the capacity to nurture these 21st century skills among students.
"When we induct teachers, we don't test them on their soft skills. Too much weightage is given to their pedagogical content knowledge because that is what is required of them as teachers in the classroom. What we should start assessing is their communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills or building these," said Aneela Aziz, principal of the Aga Khan School, Kharadar.
Anita Florijin, director of the Family Educational Services Foundation agreed. Her stress was on the need for designing professional development workshops that could enable teachers and school administrations to model the skills they want their students to develop.
By and large, Pakistan's education system is very directed and allows little room for students to have their voice, make choices and take responsibility for their own learning. Experts highlighted the need for providing opportunities for students to learn for themselves instead of being spoon-fed.
Some schools are encouraging project work in communities which is giving students a chance for more independent learning: to connect with reality, assess issues, develop their road-map and brainstorm solutions collectively. Dr Quratulain Bakhtiari, chairperson, Institute for Development Studies and Practices in Quetta, shared an example of student-centered learning. At IDSP's University of Community Development, an open learning institute, students decide on their syllabus, learning targets, mode of learning and assessment methods. The institute then brings all its resources together to support the students in their learning process.
Education is also all about helping students develop an identity based on moral strength and civic values. "Values such as respecting others, being considerate of the needs of others and forgiveness can help students deal with the stress and trauma of living in insecure environments," said Aziz while talking about her experience of working with children in the less safe district of Lyari in Karachi.
But little in the current curriculum helps develop values and skills of good citizenship among students. One step further, teachers can only help their students appreciate diversity, develop empathy and respect for others when they themselves understand and exemplify these civic traits. This identified another area where teacher training programmes and school curriculum needed amendment.
The IED Symposium ended with participants agreeing to set-up working groups to actively address the gaps in curriculum, teacher training programmes and teaching and learning practices to make education in Pakistan relevant to learners' needs in the 21st century.