Noor Fatima is really confused these days. She is an eighth grader, and her Urdu subject teacher has told her that only those students will be awarded marks who memorise answers written in their notebooks and reproduce them on the answer-sheets without changing any word during exams. She is worried as she is not used to this style of attempting the papers, especially in Urdu, English, Social Studies and Islamiat.
After her family moved to a new locality in Lahore, Noor Fatima was admitted to a branch of a famous private school system of the city this year. In her earlier school, a branch of another famous private school system in city, she was almost free to pen her answers in her own words, though in case of General Science, Computer and Maths, she had to learn them by heart, especially definitions.
During a parent-teacher meeting after the monthly tests, when Noor Fatima’s father asked Ms. Shaheen, the Urdu subject teacher, about it, she admitted that there were some problems at the end of teachers in this regard. ‘‘We have so many classes to take on a daily basis and so many students in each section and each class that we didn’t find any space to focus on promoting any creativity among students,’’ she explains. ‘‘In principle, I agree that we should let our future generations remain thinking human beings and not convert them into merely machines that can reproduce only the given materials, but we teachers are helpless in various matters. Our job requirements are too pressing to focus our attention on promoting creativity among our students,’’ she admits simply.
This is only one reason Ms. Shaheen has given for ‘‘killing’’ creativity in students, other snub-calls mostly given by teachers and tutors include:-
‘We can’t afford to make a mistake’, ‘Follow the rules’, ‘Don’t try to be different’, ‘Stay within lines’, ‘There is only one way to do this,’, ‘Don’t be foolish,’ ‘Be practical,’ ‘That’s not logical,’ ‘It’s not practical,’ ‘It’s never done,’ ‘It didn’t work well,’ ‘We tried that before’, ‘Yes, but…’, etc.
Even if teachers approve of the idea of promoting and keeping alive creativity among student, they fail to develop a creative and innovative environment in classrooms, labs and even in research centres. Many teachers teach with the help of notes, many ‘‘help’’ their students cheat in exams.
British researcher and author, Sir Kenneth Robinson, concluded in his research paper that 98% children are highly creative when joining kindergarten, but afterwards in school, their creativity rapidly declines.
Naeem Ahmed Qazi, an educationist by training, agrees 100 per cent with the British researcher. He regrets that our current education system is based on rote-learning. Speaking at a consultative session in Islamabad recently, he expresses his concern that creativity is not seeded in children’s behaviour, neither in their early school life nor throughout their educational career.
Mr. Qazi believes that educational institutions in the country are killing the creativity of students by discouraging idiosyncrasy. The youth are deprived of originality and ability to think out-of-the-box. From curriculum to conduct, almost everything practiced at school only serves to make students a human-machine.
He notes it with serious concern that only memory determines the future of a student, because all kinds of examinations and entry tests are based on the ability to retain and subsequently regurgitate information. Only crammers and rote-learners achieve high grades. Today’s so-called high-achievers are unable to contribute as they are only trained to do as learned. They simply memorise to obtain higher grades and once examinations are over, everything is forgotten.
There are various other reasons, adds the educationist, which hinder students’ ability to show some creativity. A 9-year-old child carries a bag of 12-kg on their shoulders. It can physically tire children and upset them mentally as anyone can see their sober and serious faces in school. Doing homework in 12 notebooks can exhaust children and there is great possibility of psychological pressure and stress on them, Mr. Qazi relates some other reasons.
Naeem Ahmed Qazi has recent first-hand observation of class environment in various private schools. He says teachers mostly wear a grin face in classroom and maintain distance with students lest they ask some ‘‘irrelevant’’ questions or share their interests with them and be creative. Original thinking is a crime, because only the answers given at the end of the book or dictated by the teacher are correct.
Mr. Qazi says that chances of participation are only given to those who won’t err. Most of the teachers bring notes in the class because they don’t know the concept or won’t trouble themselves with different examples or method. Many won’t let children learn from any other book or the Internet due to the insecurity of being exposed and outsmarted by the pupils.
Prof. Dr. Obaidullah, however, has a little point of view. In a special talk with Cutting Edge at his department, Institute of Education and Research, the University of the Punjab, he says the real issue is what the education system we adopt and how we train our teachers to impart lessons to their students. It is also very important that what type of curricula is given to the teachers to promote creativity among future generations. He regrets that despite having a significant number of PhDs in sciences, the textbooks are written in “anti-science” way. Text with vague diagrams, memory-based exercises are the pattern, which often looks like a guide for teachers, not for student.
The professor says that mostly teachers lack the capacity even to judge creativity among students, what to talk of promoting it. They find it easier to make students memorise whatever is given to them as syllabus, instead of putting some extra effort to let students apply their own mind and do something different.
Prof. Obaidullah says sometimes teachers do have the ability to explore creativity among their students, but they prefer using the most adopted methods. When they are teaching some O- or A-level students, they try to explain concepts to students to prepare them for their exams in which rote-learning mostly doesn’t work. But the same teachers, when teach Punjab Board’s textbooks, or any other government board’s books, they make students to learn everything by heart and mostly don’t try to explain the concepts, as they believe high grades could only be achieved in matric and Inter board exams by reproducing on answer-sheets whatever is written in the textbooks.
The educationist and researcher says creativity cannot be checked or memorised, it is that uniqueness, novelty and interest that always tries to come out spontaneously. It is an expression of the mind and heart, devoid of confinements and shackles. He says that our schools are only focused on inculcating information, manners and discipline. Decision-makers can’t be produced by sharing mere information. Critical thinking and creativity plays a fundamental role in making leaders, who could realise the situation and elevate the nation, he believes.
The professor suggests reforming the prevailing ill-prepared teaching methodology. Only reasoning, critical thinking and originality can facilitate learning, he adds.
Tara Kashif, a Master’s degree-holder from the University of London, agrees with Prof. Obaidullah. She says the current education system is not preparing children for the future, it is serving the needs of the past, the industrial society. Talking to Cutting Edge informally, she says that what we need is a complete overhaul of our current education system. The ‘new and reformed’ education system should allow human imagination and creativity to flourish. Intelligence should be explored beyond academics in our institutions. Drama, music, dance and arts should be given the same importance as mathematics, science subjects and languages, she believes.