Why do we impose such heavy educational burdens on our children? Is it possible to alleviate this load? Why do we expose our youngest learners to a multitude of subjects, each year raising the academic bar for every discipline?
The weighty academic demands placed upon students do not necessarily equate to effective learning and quality education. Consequently, our children perpetually find themselves under an immense amount of pressure. Teachers and our education system often prioritize testing, which only serves to intensify the stress children experience in their pursuit of knowledge.
Most of the time, students are engulfed in exam preparation, facing a barrage of assessments such as mocks, pre-mocks, weekly tests, monthly tests, term exams, and finals. The outcome of this relentless cycle is an educational system that forces children into rote learning. Within such a system, children neither care for nor pay attention to what they are being taught, making it difficult for them to truly enjoy the learning process or grasp the essence of education.
We've all seen students carrying backpacks laden with textbooks, sometimes weighing more than 10 kilograms. Is this truly necessary? How can we expect our young learners to bear such a heavy burden, and how can we expect them to excel under these conditions?
Why do we need to introduce subjects other than English, Urdu, and mathematics in the first two or three years of schooling? During these formative years, children require a solid foundation in fundamental skills such as numeracy, literacy, speaking, listening, and writing. Therefore, our focus should be directed towards nurturing these skills. Surveys conducted by organizations like ASER reveal that we are struggling to effectively teach children these core skills.
Rather than diverting our attention to additional subjects like religious education or general knowledge, we should incorporate art, music, play, and other social activities into the curriculum. This approach will not only foster holistic development in our children but also enhance their mental and physical capabilities.
Furthermore, the subjects of English, Urdu, and Mathematics should be introduced gradually. How do children naturally learn languages? Typically, they acquire new languages through listening (often from their parents during their early years), speaking, reading, and eventually writing. Our current education system places disproportionate emphasis on writing, teaching children to write from the early years of school. Instead, we should prioritize oral communication during the first two or three grades.
We don't need to inundate young minds with an overwhelming number of subjects. If necessary, we can tell stories to children in both English and Urdu, providing them with new opportunities through art, music, and songs. Children should feel a deep connection to their school and education, free from the anxiety of curriculum overload, teacher pressure, and academic stress.
As students progress to higher grades, they can gradually be introduced to additional subjects. However, even in this process, careful consideration must be given to the selection of subjects. We cannot enhance our education system by attempting to make children proficient in everything.
Whether we talk about 21st-century skills, computer science, or even religious studies, if we wish to add something new to the curriculum, it must come at the cost of removing something else. Inclusion and deletion should be based on sound reasoning, not the arbitrary decisions of schools, curriculum councils, or even the highest authorities. Regrettably, syllabus revisions often result in the addition of more subjects and content rather than thoughtful restructuring.
One Pakistani school system's website states that they teach eight subjects in the sixth grade, including English, Urdu, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Computer Science, and Religious subjects. This array of subjects is already quite extensive and does not even account for extracurricular activities. What, then, do we envision for our sixth-grade students?
A closer look at the curriculum reveals a staggering number of textbooks, including five English books, three Urdu books, two Science books, and one book for each of the remaining five subjects. This plethora of books may explain why students often prefer reading over understanding. Do our students truly need such an overwhelming volume of textbooks?
Numerous academics have voiced concerns about this issue, pointing out the detrimental impact on comprehension and learning. Teaching is fundamentally distinct from learning and understanding. Teachers often lament their inability to slow down the pace, provide additional support to struggling students, and revisit challenging topics due to the need to cover the syllabus within a set timeframe. However, this raises a critical question: Is completing the curriculum more important than ensuring true understanding and effective learning? The answer is self-evident, yet regrettably, it remains largely unacknowledged. In most schools, at all levels, completing the curriculum often takes precedence over genuine learning and comprehension.