Zakia Sarwar in Himal Southasian:
In accordance with a traditional understanding that continues to be widely followed in our region by many educationists, the process of learning in Southasia today is still largely by rote. As such, there is little or no understanding on the part of most students of what exactly they are studying, nor why. It is critical to realise, however, that education in the 21st century is far more demanding and competitive than it was in the past, due to the vast and growing knowledge base, developments in technology and an increasingly globalised perspective. It is imperative, then, to make students into active rather than passive learners to deal with this changing context – but this is a lesson that many in Southasia, and particularly in Pakistan, have yet to appreciate.
Around the world, the idea of ‘quality’ education has itself been forced to evolve in recent years, in three particular ways. First, in terms of the education process itself, students must be taught how to relate their learning to their day-to-day lives, with a focus on how to learn rather than depending solely on teachers and textbooks. Second, the goal of quality education has also changed, with an eye to enabling students to perform well academically and socially, and to become thinking, caring and tolerant global citizens. The third aspect is facilitating learners not only to perform well academically, but also to groom them to think for themselves. In short, we hope that they will be adaptive, mature and tolerant; and to respect ideological, cultural and religious diversity. Indeed, such skills – quite removed from the central tenets of the traditional curricula in this region’s countries – have become important for a student’s very survival in the globalised world. Quality education assumes the pivotal role of trained teachers who have a solid knowledge base, and have control over what to teach and how to teach it. The teachers themselves, therefore, need to be allowed to develop the expertise and self-confidence to show students the path to independent thinking and learning – and without feeling threatened themselves.