From Ivory Towers To Building Blocks

1 October 2021

Shad Moarif

#Inequality #education

Changing Axis

Today, we see bright, knowledgeable folks of all ages, male and female, who know and understand education far better than those with decision-making powers. Almost all come from a segment of society that has benefitted from elite forms of educational opportunity. So it is about time they descended from their ivory towers and embraced a few changed realities on the ground. They need to enter the fray with simple, common-sensical approaches that resonate in the minds of many around them. Few doubt that honestly-inspired needs for emancipation and reform in education carry a more authentic ring than donor-driven ones.

It would make a great beginning to translate into Urdu the variety of documentation and discourse that captures how our concerned citizens pursue new pathways and present fresh ideas for change, or how they inquire into regressive educational practices. These need to be shared in Urdu among education practitioners in the field. They shape the frontline community that manages and runs government schools, sets up admin systems, trains teachers and teaches students. The majority is comprised of primary teachers in government schools, NGO-run schools, state-schools adopted by well-intentioned NGO’s, and low-cost private schools.

Urdu-translated content that stirs their consciousness and revives their quest for solutions would be used far more effectually by them than our policymakers. After all, in the past four decades, very little has been gained by pivoting progressive ideas in education, written in English, to an ivory tower club of anglicised intellectuals. Of course, they are intended for policymakers. But non-anglicised, non-elitist policy thinkers pretend to cosy up to them - for self-advancement, but mainly to bask in others’ light.

The same literature and proposals, if translated into Urdu, modified and adapted in easy-to-understand language, would carry more weight. They may be debated in popular digital and electronic forums, introduced (in Urdu) as “interesting” reading by the media as well as among practitioners. Certainly, they would shed more light on the prevalent practices of teachers and trainers, perhaps even generate serious heat beneath the cushioned seats of our policymakers.

The Rise Of New Practitioners

The daily realities in Pakistan remain unbearably toxic: rising prices, the pandemic, climate change, unbridled corruption & the indefensible denial to the poor of quality education, jobs, access to technology and the internet. These factors reinforce populist perceptions of social inequities and economic disparities. If curated and suitably modified articles on education were shared in the mother tongue, they may help practitioners review their perspectives on socio-economic injustices. It may provoke the grim realisation that much of our insufferable anguish can be traced back to educational practices that destroy forever all portals to knowledge acquisition and skills-development among our citizenry.

Tragically, albeit with a few exceptions, almost all our public education practitioners are innocent victims of their own ignorance about what education means, how it should be understood and valued. Yet, despite that, a growing number among them have begun to worry about the dreadful consequences of wrong practices in schools and classrooms. They are starting to realise the consequences of bad education in their own private lives. A growing number worry about their children’s future prospects of livelihoods in a ‘tech-knowledgy’ driven society.

These “few” practitioners are also emerging in the rural heartland after being exposed to education, its fundamentals, what it means and why it is important. They experience how better teaching (and thinking) practices provoke curiosity, interest and attention among learners of all ages. Over time, they understand the value of inferential thinking to explain important concepts. Many enjoy the use of reasoning to demonstrate them, even tinker with critical thinking in problem-solving. They become more self-aware and aspire for knowledge that converts nascent abilities into useable skills, which transform learning into knowing.

Education practitioners number in hundreds of thousands throughout the country. If they are given access to education literature in their own mother tongue (starting with Urdu), they can, as portals for catalytic change, expand the geographical scale of knowledge delivery substantially. Indeed, in their role as “new practitioners” in education, they would be pioneers.

We are witnessing how the ill-advised and the ill-equipped cobble together their dubious ideas on education to produce textbooks. They will keep baking into the textbook’s lessons resounding social messages directed at our educated elite: “We only show you what you have done to yourselves. It is not our shame but yours”. New knowledgeable practitioners are badly needed to work at such granular levels as designing textbooks and curating content.

Think Deeply, Not Differently

There is another dimension to the education practitioner, one in which the person in question is largely unable to critique content of learning material used regularly in school. Understandably so, given that they may have no reference point, intrinsic or extrinsic criteria by which to judge the textbooks except through an ideologically-grounded lens on social justice such that even science and mathematics texts may incorporate material unsuited to schoolchildren’s learning levels.

Volumes can be written on who made them feel this way and why. What has generated this tragic consciousness of feeling different and separate? A majority from among us have been alienated for so long, educationally disenfranchised and culturally deprived so much that, at the end of the day, it is willing to sacrifice its children’s future simply to reclaim its own honour and self-respect.

The silver lining is: when explained in their own language, even rural practitioners not only grasp complex ideas but are also very grateful for it. They intuitively reach for ways to review and correct their own practices in the light of new knowledge. They seek reasons and means to discard committing to memory rules, facts and procedures that neither they nor their students understand. For decades, their students have been witnessing their teachers regurgitate what they don’t understand. Students are being taught to do the same. This growing realisation about the hollowness, the emptiness of it all, among practitioners, is opening up spaces for new learning.

So Here’s The Thing

If Intention lies at the core of one’s being, and we take unconditional ownership of it, then we can encode it across our sensory system. The first wheel that turns is “knowing what to do and why”. The second wheel is Knowledge. Acquire the “how-to” that is needed to activate the sensory system, then something that was intended, gets pretty close to getting done.

Shad Moarif, Founder-Developer Karismath