The pragmatic approach of instrument usage in the school curriculum can make our next generation useful in the future as well.
Disclaimer: This post was submitted to Pakistan ASCD (The Reformer) in 2018.
Start a conversation with “I am in education”, and you will realize everyone has a solution for Pakistan’s education system: choose Urdu or English as the sole language of curriculum and stick to it no matter what; reduce the animosity against other nations in the Social and Islamic studies; keep mythology separate from the subjects that are based on empirical evidence (such as Physics, Chemistry, and Biology); update the information in the textbooks; and so on. However, a crucial problem that, I think, we keep ignoring is the irrelevance of Pakistani education. In this paper, I will elaborate on how the pre-college curriculum (till Matriculation or O levels) can be connected to our lives both at home and in the outside, future world.
Curriculum Relevant in Our Homes: Teaching Everyday Tools and Equipment
Relevance here means how much applicable an item is to the activities of daily life. An important question we should ask is: does the Pakistani curriculum enable you to understand the machines in our home? You do not need to be a parent to know that children are obsessed with toys and games. So, do our textbooks (or even teachers) explain how various gadgets of a child’s daily life work? I am not advocating thermodynamic and electromagnetic equations; rather, I am talking about an interest in the workings of the world around us.
Let me give you an example. What happens when any machine (such as remote control, mobile phone, TV, laptop, electric lights, motorbike, car etc) malfunctions in your home? We would be lucky if a teenager with ten years of ‘education’ can fix any of it. I believe that we live in a world where a teenager can be the admin of dozens of Facebook pages, but cannot even name five items in a toolbox. That is a problem! To even begin to address this issue, information about common household tools (figure 1) can be included at various stages in the curriculum.
The purpose of curriculum focused on handy tools is not to create an army of technicians or electricians, but to make our teenagers and adolescents ‘useful’ at home. A second associated advantage is that we can avoid the language debate: it does not matter whether it is call a “Screwdriver” or a “Pechkass” (Urdu term for screwdriver), as long as students know how to use it. Both English and Urdu camps can agree on the fact that it is the concept of a tool that would really matter in this context. Third, by knowing how various tools work, our teenagers can potentially save us some money. Next time your TV, air conditioner, or mobile phone is not working properly, I want you to be able to ask your son/daughter for actual help, rather than him/her tweeting about it!
We want our youth not to be afraid of learning new skills and fixing machines at home. The pragmatic approach of instrument usage in the school curriculum can make our next generation useful in the future as well.
Curriculum that Can Withstand Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Contrary to the popular belief, it is AI and robotic automation, not immigration, that is going to take over future jobs. The repetitive and middlemen jobs – those of telemarketers, cashiers, tax preparers, taxi drivers, and others – will be taken over by the robotic automation. Latter will replace 6% of the jobs in the next 3 years in the USA alone (Fox Business, 2016), and in a decade or so, almost half of the current employment is at risk (Stark, 2017). Instead of panicking, one approach would be to prepare our young minds for the jobs in the AI era (such as machine learning engineer, data/research scientists, business intelligence developer etc). However, I would argue that Pakistan’s best bet to deal with the problems of AI is to structure the school curriculum for the safest jobs: mental health and substance abuse social workers, occupational therapist, dietitian and nutritionist, physician and surgeons, and clergy (Mahdawi, 2017). I think Pakistan can excel in producing labor force in the latter two categories (physician and surgeons, and clergy).
Physicians and Surgeons
According to the President of the US Medical Licensing Examinations, Pakistani doctors are among the best in the world (“Pakistani Doctors,” 2016). To create a strong foundation for the technology-based medicine of the future, subjects about human development, anatomy, and physiology are crucial at the school level. For that, we must come to terms with the theory of evolution. As Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973) famously stated “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (p .125), it is time to modernize our mythology to meet the demands of biology. Without evolution, we have no logical explanation for human appendix, five fingers in feet, developmental phases of fetus, why drugs are tested on mice/rats/monkeys, and so on. A curriculum focusing on modern medicine and evolution is the only way to move forward if we want our next generation to stay on job.
The benefits of making mythology compatible with reality are not limited to the jobs in medicine.
Pakistan is an extremely religious nation. Ideally, we can be pioneers in producing an army of future clergymen. But, how can we do that if our current clergy remains mentally stuck in the past? It is time to promote modern apologists, both men and women, who can spread the message of tolerance and diversity. Perhaps, we can send our clergy to countries/places where they would be in demand.
The elephant in the room begs a question “How can our religious studies be updated?” To answer this, we must start somewhere, and school textbooks can be the beacon of light in this regard. If we at least get rid of the hateful material from the school curriculum, and add tolerant explanation of sacred, albeit controversial, verses, a significant proportion of Pakistani youth may not have a problem of unemployment.
Online Education to Enhance Students’ Interest and Reduce Expenses
Most of the teenagers in urban areas use mobile phones and know how to ‘use’ internet anyway. It is time to convert a time-wasting gadget into an education tool for the youth. Website like Khan Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org/) and EdX (https://www.edx.org/) provide free lectures and materials. Their content is visually-appealing and updated. We can integrate our school curriculum in such a way that a significant proportion of student evaluation involves completing certain number of online courses. Facebook and other social media platforms can also be integrated into the school curriculum, but that requires a separate discussion.
It is impolite to say that Pakistani education system is a mess. When we talk about solving it, we make the mistake of starting with (somewhat) controversial topics like the choice of language or getting rid of mythology altogether. What we should instead do is to begin with an aspect agreed upon by almost all parties. Everyone wants the education to be useful, but we only think about earning money. This is a short-sighted and even, a wrong approach. For example, 63 of the world’s 400 richest people do not even have a college degree, and only 21 have a PhD (Education of The Forbes 400,” 2018). The reason behind their success is that they did what mattered to the world.
Our curriculum should matter to us in home and in the world. In our home, the ability to use everyday tools and machines must be emphasized. To prepare our teenagers for the world, we can take advantage of the online education, and invest in jobs for which Pakistani environment is already quite fertile (such as physicians and surgeons, and clergy). It is time to focus on producing ‘useful’ adults who do not become obsolete in the future.
Dobzhansky, T. (1973). Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher, 35(3), 125–129.
Education of the Forbes 400. (2018). Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/pictures/mfg45gdkf/by-the-numbers-education-of-the-forbes-400/#66c432276bda.
Fox Business. (2016, September 21). Will robots take over the workforce? Retrieved from http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/5134319808001/?#sp=show-clips
Mahdawi, A. (2017, June 26). What jobs will still be around in 20 years? Read this to prepare your future. Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/26/jobs-future-automation-robots-skills-creative-health.
Pakistani doctors are amongst the best in the world: President USMLE. (2016, December 27). Times of Islamabad. Retrieved from https://timesofislamabad.com/27-Dec-2016/pakistani-doctors-are-amongst-the-best-in-the-world-president-usmle
Stark, H. (2017, April 28). As robots rise, how artificial intelligence will impact jobs. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/haroldstark/2017/04/28/as-robots-rise-how-artificial-intelligence-will-impact-jobs/
Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology)
Skilled in basic and clinical research and among the pioneers of pedagogical shift from physical classroom settings to online live classes in Pakistan during Coronavirus lockdown.