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The trouble with the rat race By Kashif Mirza


Oct 18, 2021

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of all

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation



In an unprecedented development, about 4000 candidates of boards of intermediate and secondary education of different boards of Punjab and other provinces obtained full marks 1,100 in the result of the High and Higher Secondary School Certificate. Ironically, the pass percentage in the different boards of intermediate and secondary education of Punjab and other provinces remained 98 to 99 percentage. The annual examination was held under Examination Policy Covid-19. Under the policy, the candidates had to appear in the elective subjects only. The average marks obtained in elective subjects were reflected in compulsory subjects with five per cent additional marks. All those who failed in any subject were granted 33pc marks. As many as 5 million students appeared in the examination and were declared successful with the percentage remained around 98 to 99 percentage. The interesting thing is that in all over the Punjab total public colleges are about 775 with an admission capacity of approximately 125000 students.
But as many as 123,737 students received A+ grades, including pre-medical, pre-engineering, general science, commerce and humanities in the annual examination. However, under the policy, all the students were declared successful under the grace marks in the exam. Another important aspect that should draw the attention is that while 707 students of the only Lahore Board have secured 100 per cent marks, whereas, The top University like Government College University had only 300 seats to accommodate and same like other universities, so how many first position holders students who have got the highest position in the Board and have got 100 per cent marks this year will be accommodated. The situation is heavily imbalanced and this trend has been on the rise.
Such toppers Students of every board and province of the country have the right to seek admission in top of the universities and colleges.

The number game has to stop once and for all. The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.

No one can be neglected or deprived on the basis of region, religion or board. But it is equally true that no one should get the unwarranted advantage of studying from a board or being a resident of a particular province because this results in curbing the rights of other eligible candidates. Indeed the boards and education departments in contention is playing with the future of the young generation of the country and its constitutional obligations. This will lead to the following of similar practices by other boards as well. By giving maximum marks, the board will ensure a maximum number of its students getting admission to reputed institutes of the country. This will further push the education and the evaluation system on the descending path, Of course, the students cannot be blamed for this. This promotes the culture of soaring high cutoffs. This year the students scoring 100 per cent marks have very little understanding of the subject and they face an unprecedented communication crisis in the classroom due to COVID 19. These facts make the evaluation system at the school level highly questionable.
Though the recent full marks and grace marks controversy may be centred around the Boards or students coming from that board and province, for almost a decade now, the trend of liberal evaluation and highly inflated marks has been visible in the Boards of Secondary Education as well as most provincial boards. This situation is indeed worrisome. The increasing importance of mark sheets in studying, teaching, and life, in general, has resulted in many unwarranted challenges. First, it has taken away the joy of teaching. As the process has invariably become mechanical where the focus is on getting marks rather than learning and understanding. This has inadvertently put immense pressure and stress on the students. Over the years, board exams have become a petrifying experience for both children and their parents. Securing good marks is considered equitable to conquering the fort.
If a student is not able to perform well in these exams, the parents start to worry about their future and consider it to be bleak. Parents tend to goad their children into becoming marks-securing machines as they consider these numbers as an assurance of road to success and possibilities, and also as an enhancer in their social standing. Parents are treating their children as a means to overcome their life’s failures and unfulfilled dreams. The burden of their high expectations and pressure often results in making children end up as victims rather than success stories.
Rote learning is the dominant paradigm or model of education in Pakistan and this is a big problem. There is no leisure or opportunity for the development of creativity, critical thinking and analytical ability in this number-centred arrangement. An entire generation is in the grip of this rat race. It is quite ironic that the success or failure in the board exams justifies the standards of parenting. Nobody bothers about the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning, and which will in future make him or her a good person and a better citizen. The attention and goal of parents, society, educational institutions and government is to register maximum marks on the child’s mark sheet.
With the increasing importance of marks, parents, teachers, schools and the students themselves are under tremendous pressure of unrealistic expectations. This has led to the surge in mental disorders like anxiety, psychiatric problems, depression and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among the students. Unfortunately, to date, four students had committed suicide due to lesser marks after the results. The perverse competition to get maximum marks has robotised the students, parents and teachers. Hundreds of students are getting 100 per cent marks on every board. Students who score 100 per cent or around, take pride in their own omniscience. They no longer feel the necessary push that drives them forward to learn or do anything new. Clearly, this is a deplorable situation and needs to be fixed immediately. For this, a level-playing, inclusive and uniform evaluation system will have to be implemented across the country. Continuity and integrity are the cornerstones for a fair and transparent evaluation system. The proposal of the National Testing to conduct a centralised entrance examination for admission to all central colleges and universities, but unfortunately, it’s also not a level playing field and again it would promote a culture of commercial coaching and rote learning.
It is, therefore, necessary to devise ways and means by which children, especially from far-flung villages and poor strata of the society, are equally able to participate in this entrance examination. Also, there is a need for a wide expansion of quality and affordable higher education to protect the interest of these students. Along with this, there is also a need to promote higher education in the mother tongue as this will ensure quality education reaching more students. The consistent decline in passing percentage of the Central Superior Service (CSS) exam, conducted by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) has exposed the quality of education in Pakistan. Recently, just two per cent of candidates could secure minimum passing marks in the CSS exam, the current CSS result also pointing out the falling standard of the education system. The main reason of the declining percentage in the CSS exam is that the focus of education is more on numbers and less on quality – like the number of institutions, research articles, papers published and doctoral degree holders. This numbers’ game is multiplied by the culture of commercial academies and commercial entry tests classes.
This is a fact that no Pakistani university ranks in even the top 100 global listings. Perhaps concentrating on fewer but quality universities would have a greater impact than establishing numerous and newer universities and sub-campuses. It looks very surprised when the government’s officials say that they are not compromising on the quality of education. Indeed our education system is directionless, if look at the European education system, they initially direct their students in the education field. The language barrier was another factor that causes this failure and because of the mushroom growth of the academies culture.
Why are public or private sector schools, colleges and universities not producing scientists, inventors, innovators, philosophers, intellectuals, artists, reformers? This is not enough to say that the students are not talented. The talent is there but it’s the education system that is not capable enough to explore and polish these students. The number game has to stop once and for all. The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.

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