The equivalence method adopted by the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) is biased towards the students of the local matriculation and intermediate systems, placing O and A level students at a great disadvantage. Consequently, it is a common practice among O level students aspiring admissions in government medical colleges to choose the pre-medical F.Sc. program instead of A levels. It was with a heavy heart that I bade adieu to my alma mater, Aitchison College, and sought admission in Government College University, Lahore. Since then, the fallacies and drawbacks of Pakistan’s local education system have continuously tormented me, and I repeatedly find myself struggling with the same question, “Where is this country heading to?”
During my interview at GCU, I tried to impress the interviewer (Advisor Debating Society) by expressing my interest in debating activities and community service. With a smile, he said that this might prove very difficult for a pre-medical F.Sc. student. One and a half years later, I realize he underestimated the statement. With the due course, I have dutifully learned that pre-medical F.Sc. students dare not venture outside academics, not because they lack the prerequisite abilities, but simply because these ‘useless’, ‘time-consuming’ activities do not earn extra marks in the final examinations.
In his novel ‘Eleven Minutes’, Paulo Coelho observes that the whole world revolves around the eleven minutes spent during the intimate act of sex. To others life would be an adventure, an enigma or a set of goals. The life of a F.Sc. student, however, revolves around the number of marks achieved in the final examinations. Everything is classified as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on its effect on the academic result. Thus, participation in co-curricular activities is heresy because it does not earn extra marks and wastes time that could otherwise be used in more fruitful activities i.e. studying a bit more.
The problem doesn’t lie within studying a lot. The problem lies in the method of studying, which is directly linked to the examination system. Students preparing for O levels, A levels or SAT examinations adopt a conceptual approach because they are not only tested on their ability to recall facts, but also on their ability to understand concepts, apply knowledge to practical situations, solve problems and integrate information to form conclusions. Students preparing for F.Sc. examinations adopt the corrupt practice of rote learning because they are not merely tested on recalling facts, but on their ability to reproduce whole sections of the textbook (a sheer violation of the copyright notice!).
In the following paragraphs I have attempted to summarize the major problems that arise due to this inefficient and absurd examination system.
The Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board is responsible for providing low price textbooks. The low price, unfortunately, compensates for the substandard quality and poor content of these books. The examination system leaves students with no option other than to cram everything written in the textbooks.
i. Pakistan Studies: This book may be appropriately titled ‘Propaganda Studies’ because of the biased and untrue conclusions formed at the end of each topic. It is full of exaggerated praise for the leaders of the Pakistan Movement and everyone else is portrayed as ‘evil’. The events are narrated in the style of a cartoon for kids. The heroes (Mr. Jinnah and Co.) come to the rescue of the poor Muslims and defeat the villains (every political figure other than Mr. Jinnah and Co.). To the reader, it seems that Pakistan is the perfect utopian state that is in complete accordance with the systems of Islam.
Page 7 of the book states that Maulana Hali wrote ‘Moazana Dabeer-o-Nawaz’. This is factually incorrect. The author of ‘Moazana Dabeer-o-Anees’ is Maulana Shibli Nomani. The teachers, however, make it clear that the same mistake MUST be repeated in the exams otherwise marks would be deducted.
ii. Urdu: In Urdu examinations, students are judged on their ability to memorize as much references as possible. The explanation of a verse remains incomplete and ‘shallow’ unless two reference verses are added. Students are expected to write ten-page long essays punctuated with references. All this might not have been a complete waste if students attempted to write their own essays. Instead, they just memorize the essays written in different guides.
iii. English: What good will it do to my English literary skills if I were to be able to answer these short questions?:
· When did Mr. Chips join Brookfield Institute?
· What do we mean by spontaneous generation?
· What are antiseptics and what is the antiseptic method?
Essay writing is even more pathetic. Students of intermediate level rote learn essays on ‘My first day at college’ or ‘My hobby’.
iv. Physics, Chemistry and Biology: All three books are extremely dull and serve to instill disinterest and inculcate a lack of enthusiasm. Students simply memorize the content without yielding any information from the book.
Almost all 17 MCQ’s that are asked in the Chemistry final examinations are taken from the textbook exercises. Similarly, the short questions and numerical problems asked in the Physics final examination are also taken from the textbook exercises.
Preparing for Exams – Notes and Academies
The foreword to a certain notes series claims that these books were published because “grade-conscious students not only seek guidance from insightful teachers but also look for something other than run-of-the-mill stuff that is teeming in the market” giving the impression that F.Sc. students seek knowledge from sources other than the textbooks. A brief comparison of the notes and the textbook exposes the weakness of this claim. The notes are essentially a word to word copy of the textbook with two exceptions. Firstly, the notes include ‘headings’ before every paragraph (the importance of these headings are discussed in the next section). Secondly, the notes include solutions of the textbook exercises enabling the students to cram answers without grasping the objective of the question. English and Urdu notes contain essays, letters and applications which are memorized word to word. Interestingly, almost all students write the same content for a particular topic. Even their chronological orders are the same!
Academies are centers that promote all the ‘unethical’ learning habits. They also conduct tests regularly on the same format as the final examinations. Thus, F.Sc. students are cramming chapters throughout the year because they have a test every other day (leaving no time for co-curricular activities). The inefficiency of the system is evident from the fact that whenever a student prepares for a certain chapter he has to learn everything again, regardless of how many times he has prepared for the same chapter previously.
Attempting the Examinations – Presentation
Candidates are required to attempt the exam on an answer booklet. ‘The more beautiful the answer sheet, the more the marks scored’ is a common principle. When they receive the booklet, students start drawing margin lines with markers. After that they write ‘Subjective Type’ in beautiful calligraphy. The question number is written beneath which candidates repeat the question statement by a marker. Then comes the answer and at the end of each short question comes a straight line indicating the end. Long questions may extend up to 4 pages in sciences and more in Pakistan Studies and Islamiat. One long question is usually one topic of the textbook. The book is written in continuous prose. If the same is copied on the answer booklet, the required length would have not been met. Here, the notes prove beneficial. The headings written in the notes are copied here at the start of each paragraph. The trick is to leave a line before the heading and a line after the heading. This consumes more space and the required length is easily met. In English and Urdu essays an empty line is left before every reference and one after every reference. This makes it easy to fulfill the ten page requirement in Urdu essays. The references are written in marker.
A candidate who does not know precise answers may score good marks if he manages to present a beautiful answer booklet to the examiner. On the other hand, someone who knows all the answers may not get good marks if his presentation is not good.
In a nutshell, the core problem lies with the ineffective, irrational and fundamentally corrupt system of examinations. The aim of the examiners must not be to judge the memorizing capability of the students, rather they should aim at instilling a conceptual and analytical approach in the minds of the students. Their failure to do this has resulted in the form of degree holders who have no skills apart from copying and pasting already available information. Examiners must realize the important role of the education system in the character building of a person. In our case, the education system is content with producing machines that can reproduce whatever they come across. At the most, they may reverse engineer something. But they lack the basic instinct of curiosity. They lack the urge to discover or invent something new. They lack the skills to observe, analyze, compare, integrate and conclude results.
It is time that the Government of Pakistan takes notice of this issue, prioritizes the education sector and works for the development of education across the country.
Written by: Suleiman Malik