Do we really need schools?

This is not a new question. Most students ask this question after some experience of schooling. Many parents ask this question and, having failed to find a definite answer, start teaching their own kids at home; an idea slowly gaining ground and is referred to as homeschooling. With the kind of technology available to us today, children can be taught without schools with proper training and utilisation of the available teaching resource. We can easily have a large number of children watching online videos and tutorials on virtually everything under the sun. This makes an unsmiling and boring teacher absolutely redundant.

Schools are like inefficient machines. There is a tremendous input in terms of physical space, human capital and effort. However, the output is disproportionately small. A very large number of students are not motivated. They find it anything but useful and interesting. This is true for almost all schools in the public sector in Pakistan. There are all kinds of studies to prove that. But even If we focus only the more established private schools, the situation is not very encouraging. The emphasis continues to be on stuffing young minds with loads of information and then create an impression that something extraordinary has been achieved. In most situations, intellect of young students is insulted by giving them tasks which are either not challenging or are outright useless. Character building is only given a lip service in most private schools. Some confuse it with religious education which makes the matter only worse. The good habits or virtues that students are supposed to assimilate start to diminish if a student spends long enough time at a private school.

This is made even worse by majority of teachers again who themselves are a product of similar schooling process. These teachers waste hours in tasks which are only remotely related to the process of learning, though private schools consider them lifeblood of the entire learning process. One such task is writing lesson planners. Another one is preparing soft boards. I have seen teachers doing these and many other similar tasks for years without much belief in their usefulness. What is worse is they often indulge in endless gossip and petty school politics. That is often the case because in most O/A schools, teachers are free after December ends. One reason our children fail to learn some values in schools is the kind of personalities our teachers have as model for these young people.

There is hardly any meaningful debate over issues which are of direct relevance to the young children. Yes we have debates in schools over some of these issues, but we always make sure in schools that students do not take their arguments too seriously. It is a kind of win-win situation.

We are having schools because society, which means majority of us, does not know any other way to educate its children. Parents can’t do that. Politicians are unable to replace schools with anything more useful. They are giving us only more schools of similar type. But it is like adding zeros. People in the business of education have too high a stake to change the status quo. We are kind of conditioned to living in the past when people were controlled by training them in schools. These models of educating our children ought to be changed if we are really interested in making our society creative and liberal, freeing it from the shackles of bigotry and intolerance. This will not be possible with the existing schools which have failed to produce enough creativity and critical thinking among our young generation. It has performed badly in producing people with strong values. Almost all of them are studying because they want a career. What we are witnessing as a result of this approach is a fierce competition between schools and between students of the same school. Collaboration is fighting a battle for its survival in our schools.

We need to have systems of learning in which children have chance to spend more time with their own families, understanding their needs and aspirations linking them to their own learning. They should be skillfully exposed to a large number of possibilities in life. They should be assembled at one place only when it is highly needed. There should be no shouting at them. Not for being late. Not for wearing wrong shoes. There is no need for grading, and hence degrading them.

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