Interview with Farida Rokadia

SADAF AURANGZAIB, Senior Correspondent
Sep 10 - 16, 2007

I met Farida Rokadia in 2004; she inspired me in the sense that she devoted her life to her children and education. She is always confident of the fact that education is the only mean of getting success in one's life. She is the only daughter of Mr. Siddique Dawood (late).Her dedication with the field is evident by her active involvement with the following institutes, Board Member Karachi American School, History Teacher Karachi American School, Treasurer Anjuman Behbood Samad Atfal, ABSA School for the hearing Impaired and Administrator Westminster College Karachi. She resides in the USA but her involvement with Pakistan and its educational set up is always there in her mind. Here is the transcript of her discussion with me about education and its philosophy.


PAGE: Tell me a bit about yourself, how long have you been associated with the field of education and what milestones have you achieved in that?

FR: I have gone back to college and am enjoying the experience tremendously. After my children finished college and started working and moved away from home I decided I would indulge myself and do what I love to do, which is to learn. Education has always been of paramount importance in my family from my grandmother's schools and the family education foundation. Personally I have always been involved in my children's school and at the Karachi American School I was a member of the School Board and actively involved in the Strategic Plan process.

I was instrumental in setting up a college in Karachi for the UK based David Game group.

PAGE: How do you define "education" in the context of "enlightened moderation"?

FR: Education is the imparting of knowledge to teach specific skills to the students which will enhance their positive talents and develop sound judgment. Education is the need of the hour to break the cycle of agenda based education and to bring some light into the darkness that is education in Pakistan. To highlight "enlightened and enhanced moderation" it needs to go further and also impart culture and socialization. This needs to be taught along with the pedagogic disciplines. There has been a concerted effort to ensure that there is a balanced curriculum and substantive changes in textbooks. All this underscores the need for very dedicated and well-trained teachers. It would useful if technology could be provided as a new way to engage the students as it offers powerful teaching tools and demands new skills and understanding.

PAGE: What role do you think education plays in the social development and how can it relate and link to democracy?

FR: Education is the only way to enable the population to change their life. Education brings a broad outlook and breaks the insulation of home and work, in which the most of the poor population lives. It leads to socialization, understanding and the ability to make the best choices. An educated mother will have a smaller and healthier family, an educated man will have the capacity to earn more and provide a more comfortable home, an educated populace will not be easily manipulated by political parties and can make good choices, and an educated business class will be able to provide better job opportunities. Democracy needs an informed electorate and is not even possible without an educated citizenry. Progress depends on the capacities that education provides. Creating a civil society means creating responsible and enterprising citizens, who are mindful of their rights and responsibilities.

PAGE: If I ask you to define the philosophy of education for our generation, how would you define it?

FR: Since philosophy of education relates to the purpose, nature and content of education, this generation needs education more than earlier generations. It is not possible to get a well-paying job without a good education on your resume. Other than some family industrial units where children work for or inherit from their fathers, education is a positive advantage. The present generation has also seen an up tick in female labor force, which speaks well for the future. The philosophy also relates to development psychology while reflecting the pace of human development, and drastic changes to the content and the purpose of education have been implemented to keep pace with technological and economic advances. On the global scale, to compete with people from other countries, this generation has to have the edge needed to succeed and they can only gain this by availing good learning, being more technologically sound, and by applying good judgment. This should be their foundation so that they display understanding of ethical principles, moral values and understand their place in the global society.

PAGE: As an educationist, and having lived abroad, what are the major barriers do you think our society is having in spreading education and how can we overcome this problem?

FR: Providing education to its citizens is not a high priority for the Government of Pakistan. The amounts spent are infinitesimal compared to other sectors. By not investing in its people there are shortcomings not only in the people but also the society and nation as a whole. Lack of skills and high literacy levels are a great barrier to economic development and national prosperity. The absence of mandatory education and the abysmal conditions of the government schools have compounded the problem. Parents do not send their children to school because the education they receive is extremely inadequate and an inefficient use of public resources. Dissatisfaction with government schools is reflected in low attendance rates. Parents are unaware of the importance of education and would rather have their children work to supplement the family income, looking for short term earnings over the long term benefits that education would impart. On the national level and the provincial level, the education departments are clueless about their mission. It is bureaucratic red tape, nepotism, paychecks sent out to ghost schools and absent teachers. The vacuum created by non-existent government provided education has been filled by money making ventures like private schools, or NGO provided education for the poor. The private schools teach by rote learning to tests and examinations and the student gains nothing because the rote learning disappears as soon as the test or exam is over. Another criticism is the gender disparity in enrollment levels. Girls have always been discouraged from going to school due to social and cultural obstacles. There is a dearth of quality education and opportunities for intellectual growth. Although the current situation is dismal, there is a high demand for quality education and intensive investment in the right kind of education can yield high returns in terms of enrollment and achievement rates.

PAGE: How could the culture of social activism and community participation be inculcated in our children and what could be the tools for this advancement?

FR: Schools are the place for children to learn socialization skills. Along with that they have to be educated in the world around them and made aware of social injustice and social inequities. Having it as an educational element makes it more powerful since it is taught in conjunction with other learning modalities. Any social activism conducted with peers makes it more palatable. In the school environment it could be accomplished by having social clubs that focus on social issues. Another major breakthrough would be making community service compulsory for graduation. In the last two years of school, students should choose a social ill and make them available to attack and solve the problem cause by it. Hands on experience are a great teacher.

PAGE: What efforts do you think the parents could take to make their children a positive addition towards a humane society?

FR: Parents are their child's first and last teacher. Early and consistent involvement is conducive to good interpersonal communication between parent and child. The parent as role model has to teach by example. Parent involvement is an important element, and in schools it could be as volunteer, field trip, attendance at parent teacher meetings. It shows the child that education is of the highest priority with the parents and enables him to understand the parent's emphasis on his learning. I am a keen advocate of parental involvement in their child's education. Parents can hold school responsible if they are negligent in their approach to education. But to supplement the school's culture of inclusion, a parent's own attitude to humane conditions for society has to be imparted so that the child will mirror it. Exposing children to diverse situations and cultures leads to an awareness of social injustices and inculcates a desire to alleviate them. There has to be a collective effort by parents, teachers, and community leaders to help the child understand his environment and want to make it better.

PAGE: How do you see the development and advancement of education in Pakistan, what suggestions you would like to give in the course outline for the primary level children?

FR: Education is not a high priority for the Government of Pakistan. The situation on the ground is very bleak and any advancement and development do not look feasible. The vacuum has been taken up by private schools that are money making ventures or NGOS trying to provide education to the poor. Madressahs have morphed from the corner masjid where our children went to learn to recite the Quran to huge institutions with a parallel education system. Unless there is a political will to become members of the international community and compete with them economically and socially, there is going to be no change. There are four areas that cry for immediate and expeditious change: curriculum, textbooks, examinations, and teacher training. A complete overhaul of the system is necessary and an infrastructure of a network of schools and commitment to quality mandatory education needs to be installed. An institutionalized review of the curriculum, the textbooks, and the maze of examination boards has to be undertaken as well and effort to provide excellent teacher training. The Higher Education Ministry is setting up new universities but since the local population does not have the capacity for university studies due to the poor primary and secondary education, that seems to be a waste of money. If the stakeholders do not have the capacities to attend, why build universities?

Primary education is the basis and foundation of all future learning. Children learn in different ways and a system or curriculum, which favors a balanced combination, is desirable. Children learn kinesthetically (by hands-on activities), visually (by observing what is being learned) and auditory (by hearing what information is being imparted). Depending on their preferred learning modality, different teaching techniques have different levels of effectiveness.

PAGE: Any other thing that you would like to mention?

FR: I do not believe that it is necessary to teach provincial languages to the children. Those they learn at home. I would propose that all schools be English medium, for the nation to be able to have a literate citizenry that can compete economically and technologically with the rest of the world. This is now a global community and our horizons have to be widened. But if there are Urdu medium schools, they should endeavor to teach English well and vice versa English medium school should not teach a meager Urdu language that leaves much to be desired. There is an increasing interest in using computers and technology to improve education. Print media is still the cheapest and most accessible and there is limited infrastructure and high costs of access to technology, but print should not be the only delivery system but rather a combination of various technologies.

PAGE: Message to the people?

FR: Education is a privilege and an important component in a good lifestyle. I would like everyone one of us to undertake to mentor and educate one child, so that one by one we can create a more equitable society and bring prosperity to our people and our nation.