You probably know what the Pakistani Education System is like already if you remember being forced to write the life story of Allama Iqbal and an essay on “My school”, year after horrible year, from the first grade till graduation. It was always about where the philosopher poet got his “ibtidai taleem” from and how he dreamt of a separate Muslim Homeland.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only recently discovered that he didn’t actually see Pakistan in a dream. Just shows how little one learns from all those lengthy essays; which happen to be dictated half of the time.

Our classrooms have never had that conducive environment for learning through discussions and debates. We have always been told there’s only one right answer and it’s pointless to consider others. But what do we do when we are out in the real world, constantly haunted by situations the textbooks say nothing about; forever plagued by indecisiveness?

The country is full of bright minds; no doubt about that. But do we really manage to recognize and acknowledge all of them? According to Howard Gardner’s Theory of multiple intelligences, there are different forms of what we call “Intelligence”. Our schools only serve children with perhaps linguistic and logical intelligence. Sometimes, smarter kids are mistaken for slow learners. How many educators here ever consider that maybe a child can’t- or won’t- solve the math problem the usual way because he can see an easier, less complicated way to do it? The dull methods of teaching and learning don’t work with everybody, after all.

Once, when I was younger, we were doing the word matching exercise in our English class and I suggested matching the word “Loyal” with “Subjects”. The teacher was amused; asking me if subjects were ever loyal. I still remember thinking at that point, “Hasn’t she ever watched the King Arthur cartoon?” She went on making mundane combinations and I soon lost interest in what seemed to be an exercise in mediocrity. Thinking outside the box has never really been encouraged here, has it?

And then there’s the infamous Matriculation system of Pakistan. Some opt for it because it’s their only option; others, to get into Pre-med and engineering. And no one’s particularly happy with it. There’s just one textbook for every subject and the questions set on the exam are taken straight from the same one book. The answers are hence expected to be the same too- word for word. Any deviation inevitably results in loss of points. So, who needs research? What good is grasping the concepts? All you have to do is cram, cram and cram; without getting anything!

Young minds are impressionable. You can mold them any way you want. You get to frame their concept of right and wrong, what is acceptable, what’s not. That determines how they perceive the world; and even themselves. And who do you think wields the power to make them or break them? That’s right: the teachers. There are many teachers in our schools who are discouraging, intimidating or even plain abusive. And there’s this thing about kids: they have amazing memories. An offhand comment can haunt for years and do more than a little damage to one’s self- esteem. If you tell a child he’ll never succeed in life; he might just believe you. And never try.

Ibrahim Shahid, the boy who set a world record by securing 23 A’s in his O’ levels, was told by his teacher in Australia that he would “never excel”. He had the will to succeed; what if the many talented ones here don’t?

If we don’t revamp our Education System, we might just end up with a generation of unyielding and utterly confused conformists with no sense of how to get around in the world. We will have lots of unhappy, incompetent doctors and engineers but few genuine leaders, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, lawyers or athletes. And what kind of a society would that be?