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Education – the biggest tool to counter extremists’ thoughts

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UE VC Dr. Rauf-i-Azam says curricula for the primary and secondary school is not unsatisfactory

Interview by Shabbir Sarwar

Transcribed by Raheel Anwar

Photography by Sameer Shahbaz

Education is the biggest tool that can help us to counter extremists’ thoughts but our curricula for the primary and secondary school is not geared accordingly as there is confusion in the mind of people, who develop that curricula, write the text books and learning materials. We need to clarify what kind of society we want whether it should be religious or a secular, or what kind of values we want to inoculate in our children.These thought were shared by University of Education Vice Chancellor Dr. Rauf-i-Azam during an interview with The Educationist.

UE has 20,000 students in all campuses and 400 full- teachers time with one-third PhD from Pakistan and abroad. Rest of teaching needs are fulfilled through visiting faculty. We are working hard to improve this ratio through increasing numbers of PhD faculty.

The Educationist: Please do tell us about your early life and education?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: I was born in 1966 in a small village namely Sakhokay of District Sialkot where I lived thirteen years of my life and complete my middle (secondary school) education. My father was in army so we moved with him to Quetta where I did my Matric and first-year. Then we moved to Rawalpindi, I got admitted to Sir Syed College Rawalpindi for F.Sc. and B.Sc. Later, I got admission in Quaid-i-Azam University and completed MSc Mathematics in 1990 and M.Phil in 1992 from there. I got a scholarship namely SnT (Science and Technology), this scholarship was  offered by Ministry of Science and Technology, initiated in early 80’s; with an objective to send hundred selected scholars to developed countries for PhD. I was selected for this scholarship in 1992 and I went to Japan for my PhD in 1994 and completed the degree in 1998.

Since coming back in 1998, I have been working with different universities, mostly in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. In my last job, I was heading Agricultural University for the last 10 years.

The Educationist: When did you join University of Education and what are your major achievements?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: I joined this university on August 28, 2015 and since my joining we have done lots of things…..reverted the focus of university to teachers’ education, revised our curricula to bring more development in it, introduced education courses in almost all our Bachelor’s including some of Master’s degree curricula. We have trained about 3,000 college teachers from all over Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan; trained some principles of government colleges; implemented scholarship programmers of the Punjab government and we are working on large project which have been submitted to HEC to strengthen the facilities of different campuses of this university.

Meanwhile, one of our campus have become a university itself, i.e. Education University of Okara and some of its development projects are in process. Research is also being promoted in this university. First time in the history, we have submitted various research projects to different funding agencies i.e. HEC and some foreign agencies including USAID, British funding agency and European Union e I think their fruit will start coming in few months or a year.

The Educationist: What are key barriers or issues while taking steps for reforms in the university?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: There are certain issues as shortage of professors, senior faculty in many disciplines, even our attempts to recruit or attract senior faculty are not succeeding because of less availability of deserving people. Additionally, I think models of compensation must exist, particularly for the public-sector university which enables them to compete with private sector universities. Private-sector universities are very relaxed while recruitment and they also offer higher-level appointment to faculty. For instance, a person not qualifying to become an associate professor at a public-sector university is employed as a professor at private university; they also offer distinctive salaries, so we need to create an attraction and more opportunities for faculty. As we have campuses across Punjab, problems in terms of facilities and faculty in remote areas is a specific challenges for this university.  We have to spend on them to improve and up-grade their facilities. These are actual challenges we are looking forward to resolve. .

Q: What are the key stats of your faculty and what is the student-teacher ratio?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: Well, the student-teacher ratio is not much impressive right now. We have about 20 thousand enrolled students across all campuses, whereas, full time faculty is around 400 with one-third PhD from Pakistan and abroad. Rest of teaching needs are fulfilled through visiting faculty. We are working hard to improve this ratio; through increasing numbers of PhD faculty. Similarly, improving student-teacher ratio, but right now it’s a big challenge because full time faculty means that you have higher financial burdens on university and more offices are required to house them in university. So we are working on such expansions to higher more faculty on permanent basis. Shortage of qualified teachers in market is also a major problem.

The Educationist: Some private sector universities like LUMS opened the School of Education and they are attracting international donors, why do not public sectors universities attract smartly?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: We also do that…. these private universities work on a small scale with a diverse fee-structure. As for as funding is concerned, I think it’s not a big problem as other allied facilities. For instance, you need a lot of good faculty to offer high quality education. Faculty is something which you can’t prepare within few months or years, as it’s a long term process. Then they should have a system that help in retaining that faculty. So we are working on all possible avenues, of course, it will take some time to mature.

The Educationist: What do you feel about funding in the education sector?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: We need a continuous investment in higher education for a very long time. Since many years, academics are demanding at least four percent of GDP to be invested in education but we are not getting it. Students must be provided with   facilities of 21st century; so that they can experiment and practice what they have learnt but that’s not the case. Similarly, my university tends more focuses on teacher’s education and when you prepare teachers with text books that come from the West and trained according to the system of the West. But when they go to the colleges or schools of this country where they don’t find any facilities then they consider book is irrelevant…; this leads to many problems in our country. Because we should have real life as close to books as possible. But that is not a case. We have to work on whole educational sector to advance our facilities and infrastructure. If we want to improve the quality of education we must work on all these dimensions.

The Educationist: Is there any role of the Education University in curricula development of primary, secondary and other standards?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: No, there is no formal role because curricula development process is handled by the government and university has no direct or formal role in it. Our faculty get involved in some formal consultations, we do some research and write some reports but I am not satisfied as these reports and findings do not practically impact curricula development or the text books development.

The Educationist: Currently, Pakistan is in a wave of terrorism as Operation Rad-ul-Fasad (fight against terrorism) is continue. In your opinion, how can we link education to counter the terrorism?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: Well! I think education is the biggest tool that can help us to counter extremists’ thoughts but, our education is not succeeding because our curricula for the primary and secondary school is not geared accordingly. There is confusion in the mind of people, who develop that curricula, write the text books and learning materials. We need to clarify what kind of society we want weather it should be religious or a secular, or what kind of values we want to inoculate in our children. We should develop material not having any contradictions embedded in it, right now it is not so. The teachers think differently; the text book are written differently, parents want to teach something else. So, distinctive sources of input with conflicts and contradictions applied on minds of children resulting as a confused nation. On the one side, we tell student to work hard if they want to succeed in life, but at the same time we tell them no need to work hard as it is already decided somewhere else about their destiny.

The Educationist: Semester system demands higher level of honesty from teachers. Are our teachers really at the level to implement this system? Did it damage student-teacher relationship?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: Our education system, right from its beginning has less education and is more about preparation for examinations.  Whatever we teach or learn is focused on good grades in examinations. Hence, we don’t learn, study or teach we prepare for examinations. For instance; students of Matric or Inter go to academies where they get prepared for examinations. Every day they are tested and are not much provided with feedback on those tests, hence learning is out of the system. Similarly, when those students come to universities they only focus to get good grades and try to manipulate the system. Success of a teacher is determined from the grades of his/her students. If I’m teacher and my students are getting good grades that means I’m unsuccessful; and when I myself have to give the grades, I would certainly want to be successful. So, this is something that is inbuilt in the system.

But semester system has its positive aspects as at secondary or intermediate levels learning activity takes place for five or six months,  whereas in semester system; there are two semesters in a year with an active learning and teaching in the form of regular lectures,  assignments, presentations, quizzes, or tests. But it must be more learning and less examination orientated. There must be some better ways of assessing outcomes of learning, but it requires trained and educated teachers committed with their profession.

The universities are being created every day but there is a consistent shortage of faculty in all universities. We see in old high-profiled universities where departments are headed by assistance professors even by lecturers – it is the way to run a university. We have highly qualified and experienced faculty and we should prevent them to go abroad. To improve overall system, incentive or reward for more committed faculty must be introduced.

The Educationist: What will you say about HEC teachers’ evolution system ?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: Well, there are good and bad (things) about teachers’ evaluation. We do it every year but in a public-sector we can’t account teacher with poor performance. The system protects the bad performance not only due to politics; but also the rules and regulations make it very difficult to punish or ask a teacher with bad performances. Once a person is hired in a public sector, he will subsist up to thirty or thirty five years. There must be a cleansing system for bad performers, but it is very difficult right now. Teachers’ evaluation is a process but it doesn’t give intended outcomes particularly for the regular employees.

The Educationist: In the end, what is your message to students and teachers of the University of Education?

Dr. Rauf-i-Azam: I would say, whatever we are doing, must do with best of honesty and capabilities. If a teacher do not love teaching he should join some other professions. Similarly, a student must seek knowledge with the best efforts. It’s not tough to find any information as Internet has made easy for teachers and students to assess all sources of knowledge. With a positive learning orientation and commitment, we all should work hard to prepare ourselves for a better future.

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