Blogger: Muhammad Sannan Saleh

Imagine a gigantic, well-oiled machine that takes in bright metals of different shapes and colors and outputs standardized, 4×4 inch grey boxes. Now replace the machine with a school and the bright metals with young children, and you have the Pakistani Education System. A system established on the principles of bitter competition, unquestioning conformity and egotistical individuality. A system that extols self-regard and shuns cooperation. This beckons the question, what values do schools really instill into students?

Enter through the front gates of even the top high schools in Pakistan, and you’ll find yourself in a robot factory. Hundreds of teenagers march to the rhythm of competition. In the library, you’ll find students, dark circles defining their tired faces, drudgingly reading their textbooks in an attempt to ‘learn’ what’s necessary for the next exam. Why should I be studying this? Is the history I’m studying even correct? Am I actually learning something? All questions that are never entertained and thus no longer asked. The entire learning experience is compressed into a 400 page book. Like coal miners under the command of their supervisor, our kids labor away in the direction shown to them. A direction that is defined not by the student’s interests, ability or curiosity, but rather by a cold calculation of what produces the most A stars.

The image of “the perfect student” is embedded into the minds of every teenager. One who studies for x number of hours, participates in y activities, and aspires to pursue z career. From then on, it’s a race to become that student, the embodiment of perfection. It’s a race to spend thousands upon thousands of rupees every month on tuitions that guarantee you an A grade (not an education). That student, by the way, does not fail in an exam or two, is not obligated to be particularly nice, and does not let anyone get ahead. He has done plenty of hours of community service, but it’s perfectly fine if he did it purely for his CV, because that’s all that really matters. Let’s forget that we all have different aims, aspirations, weaknesses and strengths, because success is measured by percentages and paychecks and prefect badges.

Where do we begin to reward failure? When do we start to celebrate diversity and effort? How about a bit of self-actualization for once? No, that’s blasphemous. Law firms and banks don’t value that, and so neither should the school.

Schools are not educational havens; they are battlegrounds where students fight tooth and nail to get one over the other. You’ll be President of the MUN society if you ensure that everyone, especially the school administration, sees your achievements. Morals and ethics are only relevant if you get caught. I’ve seen the brightest of students routinely cheat, and why shouldn’t they? Getting full marks is all that really seems to matter to the school, after all. Friendship, loyalty, and principles are all cool and fancy, but in the end, nothing matters more than ‘success’, than grades, positions, trophies and college admissions.

Sometimes, students do cooperate and come together, but only to vanquish their rival school in a competition/war, by whatever means necessary. If schools are supposed to prepare students for the ‘real world’, no wonder our world is filled with ignorance, intolerance, selfishness and apathy.

Schools form the bedrock of a functioning society. Our kids spend the majority of their youth enrolled in these institutions that play a pivotal role in deciding the sort of people they grow up to become. Thus, we need to ensure that the time they spend is worth it. Education needs to be collaborative, ethical, and focused on learning rather than achieving. Otherwise, we will have to be content with a world made up of grey, 4×4 inch boxes.

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Muhammad Sannan Saleh is currently in his final year of A levels at Aitchison College, Lahore. He is also the current Vice President of the youth based NGO, Next Generation Pakistan. He identifies as a moderate Muslim, left-wing liberal and feminist, and feels strongly about intolerance and inequality. He enjoys public speaking and is a self-proclaimed comedian