Dr Shahid Siddiqui obtained his PhD in Language Education from University of Toronto, Canada; MEd TESOL from University of Manchester, UK; and MA English from University of Punjab. He has been involved with the educational system of Pakistan in various capacities, i.e., as a teacher, teacher educator and researcher for about three decades and has worked in prestigious educational institutions of Pakistan including the Aga Khan University-IED, GIK Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Currently he is working as Professor and Director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore.He is a prolific writer and has published extensively in national and international journals. He regularly writes on educational issues for the editorial pages of Dawn. Dr Siddiqui’s book Rethinking Education in Pakistan: Perceptions, Practices, Possibilities is used in a number of educational institutions for teacher education. His recent novel Adhe Adhoore Khwab deals with the themes of education, politics and justice, and has already attracted the attention of teachers, teacher educators and Urdu critics.
Q. You have been active as a teacher educator and researcher for the last three decades. What do you think are our educational system’s basic drawbacks? How can we improve the situation?
A. Our educational system is buffeted by multiple challenges that include access, dropout, quality, equity on the basis of gender, ethnicity and social class. In the contemporary times when there is a growing realisation about the potent correlation between education and socio-economic development, there is a need to place education at the top priority rung.
Unfortunately, we see that for the last three years the allocation for education has been on the decline. The problem of low allocation for education is multiplied by the problems of low spending and inappropriate expenditure. The improvement in education is linked with political will, good governance, effective monitoring and accountably systems, sound teacher education programmes and equitable educational opportunities for the rich and the poor.
Q. As you mentioned there is a relationship between education and development. Do you think our educational system ensures socio economic development for the masses?
A. Quality education is supposed to increase the life chances and reduce the socioeconomic gaps between different classes. Unfortunately our educational system is class-based and instead of bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots, it is widening it further. Our existing education system is conservative in terms of content, pedagogy, and assessment and thus helps validate, enrich, and perpetuate the existing power structures, injustices, and socio-economic deprivations.
Q. It was claimed at the launch of the new education policy that the level of public sector schools will be brought up to the level of private schools by 2010? How would you respond to this claim?
A. Our educational history is fraught with claims and promises. This claim is another addition to the pile. It is important to understand that the quality of a school depends on a number of factors including infrastructure, faculty, educational leadership, curriculum, textbooks, assessment, etc. The process of change is long, slow and painful as the forces of resistance simultaneously exert their own pressure. I am unable to understand how this gigantic task can be accomplished in one year. I wish that the policy-makers should try to tidy up the implementation process instead of making such ambitious, unrealistic, and misleading claims. This can happen only if we have an effective accountability system in place.
Q. We know you as a prolific writer on education in English language. Your recent book Adhe Adhoore Khwab has surprised us on two counts; it is written in the Urdu language and you chose the genre of novel to discuss the critical educational issues. What made you write this novel in Urdu? What is the early response to this novel?
A. Well, I have always been writing in the English language but I also had this feeling that I can reach more people by using Urdu. I also thought to use the genre of novel to communicate my educational beliefs in a more engaging manner. The protagonist of the novel is a university professor. The novel deals with the themes of education, equality, justice and freedom. The movement for the restoration of judiciary acts as a backdrop to this novel. It is perhaps the first literary work that came out of the memorable civil society movement. The response is overwhelming. It is even beyond my expectations.
Q. How do you view the role of teacher education in Pakistan? What are the major challenges and what would you suggest to overcome those challenges?
A. If we talk of education and the different commonplaces of the curriculum, i.e., teacher, students, teaching materials, school milieu, etc., I consider the teacher as the main actor who interacts with the other components of the curriculum and is consciously or unconsciously involved in the construction of the curriculum in the classroom on a daily basis.
If we want to improve the quality of education, we need to empower our teacher financially, socially, and academically. Teacher education programmes can play a vital role in empowering the teacher but unfortunately most such programmes are ineffective for their extra emphasis on teaching strategies and undermining the change at the conceptual and attitudinal level.
Generally the contents are obsolete, the pedagogies transmission-based and the assessment memory driven. Such teacher education programmes may produce technicians but not the reflective practitioner, which is the need of the day. There are, however, a few exceptions, e.g., the Institute for Educational Development of the Aga Khan University whose efforts must be appreciated and acknowledged.