Education, Development, and Change
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

DAWN.COM | Editorial | Interdisciplinary approach

By
Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Monday, 18 Jan, 2010
THERE is growing realisation of the fact that there exist multiple versions of reality and to understand and interpret a certain phenomenon a uni-directional approach may not be the answer. We need to take a holistic approach.

This realisation has direct implications for the teaching/learning process. Gone are the days when different academic disciplines were confined to defined boundaries. The contemporary approach to teaching a subject relies on bringing together insights from different academic fields in order to construct a comprehensive and informed vision.

This approach requires academicians to unfreeze the fixed conceptual blocks and reform them with the help of useful knowledge from diverse fields. The discipline of education also needs to be revisited in order to make use of some interesting insights from the disciplines of sociology, gender studies, anthropology, philosophy, psychology and literature etc. Such insights play an important role in challenging the fixity of meanings and interpretations.

Unfortunately, teacher education in Pakistan has been suffering from the lack of innovative and creative practices which are effective and closely connected with indigenous needs. There are set courses in most teacher education institutions that have been taught repeatedly in a detached and de-motivating manner. The result is that there are a large number of teachers — ‘trained’ through such teacher education programmes — who keep on moving in fixed grooves without creating a ripple in classroom practices or making a difference in students’ lives.

What makes most of the teacher education programmes ineffective are obsolete courses, disconnect between theory and practice and uninspiring pedagogy that does not make use of diverse academic disciplines. Consequently the students and teachers find the subject of education irrelevant, uninteresting and of little use to their practical lives. The emphasis is on getting a degree or certificate that should help them get a teaching job.

Education, on the other hand, is a very important subject that can be made relevant, interesting and thus useful for students. One of the ways of realising this is to take an interdisciplinary approach to education by making use of examples from other disciplines not necessarily written as texts for the subject of education. I would like to take the example of literature in order to demonstrate how the point of certain important educational messages can be driven home.

Literature has the capacity to communicate a message in a subtle, indirect and engaging manner. I recall Russian writer Chekhov’s short story The School Master that presents the character of a sincere and dedicated teacher who has trust in his students. The story conveys the message in an interesting and effective manner. Braithwaite’s famous novel, To Sir, with Love, (later turned into a film starring Sidney Poitier) was based on the character of a teacher who deals with the students in a school suffering from racial and social issues.

Kleinbaum’s novel, Dead Poets’ Society, is about an innovative teacher who makes students experience, feel, live and cherish literature by going beyond the stereotypical approach to teaching the subject. Freedom Writers’ Diary by Erin Gruwell is another book that later was made into a film. In the recent past, Tare Zameen Par, an Indian movie by Aamir Khan, revolves around a dyslexic child and the important issue of teaching, mentoring and motivation in learning.

Some interesting examples can be found in Urdu literature as well where the character of a teacher has been presented in the genres of short stories and novels. Ashfaque Ahmed’s short story, Gadaria, revolves around the immortal character of Dao Jee, a village schoolteacher who imparts knowledge to students of all creeds with dedication and devotion without any financial benefit. Another short story is Zamzama-i-Muhabbat, written by Ghulam-us-Saqlain Naqvi, woven around the selfless character of a teacher. In Bano Qudsia’s novel, Raja Gidh, Professor Sohail’s character is that of an unorthodox professor who is frank and friendly and students feel at home in his class.

Another interesting document of education is the famous letter written by Abraham Lincoln to his son’s headmaster. In Arabic we find an interesting piece by Ghazali titled O Son. These documents talk about some important educational issues in an indirect manner. I tried to refer to some examples from the domain of literature in order to demonstrate how examples from a different discipline can be used to enrich and enhance the discussion on education.

Similarly, disciplines like sociology, psychology, anthropology, gender studies and linguistics can offer a lot and add new and useful dimensions to the discipline of education. This, of course, has a direct implication for teacher education programmes and pedagogy. The syllabi of different courses need to be interwoven in such a way that they are informed by contemporary trends in other fields. The teachers, while teaching, need to cite examples from other fields of learning.

This would mean that teachers are required to read more and be informed about other disciplines. It is this wide range of familiarity with diverse topics that makes the teaching base wide and strong.

The writer is director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com