Why rote learning (unfortunately) works for Pakistan

Published: June 29, 2012

We have classes from morning to evening and in every other class, we have to take quizzes or submit assignments so we don’t get enough time to do research for group assignments. GRAPHIC: ERUM SHAIKH

According to Charles Darwin, collaboration is the key to progress. He once said:

It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

Inspired by Dr Ashraf Iqbal, Sugata Mitra and Ken Robinson, I went on to implement various forms of collaborative learning in my own classes to check if this model would be productive in our rigid educational system.

I believe that just saying that we need to move away from rote learning is one thing, but actually attempting to do so is an entirely different thing. Having given it a shot, I was quite disappointed in that on paper, it makes sense, but our Pakistani educational system just hasn’t made the space for it just yet.

From our curriculum, to the attitude of students, I don’t think Pakistan is ready for this system yet.

Listed below are my ways of implementing collaborative learning techniques in my classroom, and the reasons why they just didn’t work out.

Group presentations or group assignments

Group presentations or group assignments are the most commonly used methods of encouraging collaboration among the students. The purpose of group presentations is to make students sit together, work as a team, prepare, discuss and present what they have learned from their discussion.

In the semester system, however, this idea does not flourish. The reason, as stated by most of my students, is the lack of time and failure to coordinate. My student, Saad, while telling me the reason behind his poor performance in the group assignments, stated;

Sir, subha se shaam tak classes hoti hain aur her doosri class mein quiz ya assignment, time hi naeen milta ke group assignment ke liye research ker ke group mein discuss ker sakein.

(Sir, we have classes from morning to evening and in every other class, we have to take quizzes or submit assignments so we don’t get enough time to do research for group assignments or even have a prolific discussion about it.)

During the semester, my students have to take six courses and for each subject they are made to take four quizzes and submit six assignments, which include two lab assignments. This, no doubt, causes them to remain overloaded with work.

Thus, as soon as something is to be done as a group, coordination and meeting becomes virtually impossible. Moreover, most of the members of the group place the entire burden on one or two members of the group while they prepare for other tests. Students who get the extra burden tend to be the ones who complain about it, or as the students like to say, ‘rat the other person out’. This, in turn, damages peer relationships.

To make group assignments and presentations possible, the whole system needs to be change to allow students more spare time. They need to be given fewer individual assignments for every class to accommodate this system.

Open-book group tests

The other method which I have seen in various pedagogical presentations and lectures is the open-book group test.

Surprisingly, most teachers and even students do not like them. There is always some hesitation towards making them a part of their curriculum.

Why though?

Teachers hate this method because making the question paper for these tests isn’t a very straight forward task and students fear this because they think they might get a question that’s unsolvable. One of my students Imran, who managed to improve his results due to these tests, complained saying,

Sir, I liked the open-book group tests but sometimes they are difficult to understand and solve within the given time.

Moreover, students tend to deem this system as cumbersome, as they feel the need to rote learn the contents of every page of the book, so as to solve the question in the allotted time.

Clearly, this method is not everyone’s cup of tea.

What I feel is necessary here is the need to train teachers as well as students about how to make and write such tests respectively. Pakistani schools lack such training, obviously leading students and teachers to resent the system.

Daily class discussions

My favourite method of teaching, and that of many other teachers, is the daily class discussion which involves questioning the motive or reason behind an author’s words. It is a way to develop minds based on cognitive reasoning.

A student’s learning curve improves a lot this way, but bringing every student to the same conclusion takes more than one lecture. As a result, it becomes difficult to complete the course within the given time of a semester.

Some mischievous students even try to deliberately lengthen the discussions just to slow down the pace of the course. This was admitted by my student Abbas, who said,

Sir, honestly we did that to stop you from moving on to the next topic.

At the same time, if the teacher is unable to complete the course, he has to face the administration. So, at some stage, he is forced to skip class discussions and resort to outdated methods of teaching, inclusive of the infamous spoon feeding method.

Group-based semester projects

The method that worked to some extent for my students was assigning them a group-based semester projects. This meant that students worked on group presentations and assignments, but because they are permitted a four-month time frame to work on the project, they tend to learn more and bank on their team working skills to some extent. Although this method involved the same techniques as the group presentations and assignments, the increased time frame made a bigger impact on the results.

To summarise then, I would say almost all methods of collaborative learning need time and a conducive environment for students to discuss and learn more collectively. In the semester system, we bombard students with just too many tests in a short span of time which leaves them with little or no time to learn and collaborate. The only choice left to them is to isolate themselves and cram ─ which, unfortunately, the test obsessed system demands them to do.

As far as teachers are concerned, an easy way to do your job is not to alter the predefined system or conduct experiments. The result of such experiments will almost always be disappointing or choked by the stranglehold of the archaic system that prevails.

But, I ask, where has taking the easy-way-out gotten us today?


Usman Shahid

A PhD candidate at North Dakota State University (USA) and a lecturer at COMSATS, Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Huria

    and the blood suckers who jump from group to group to get free ride for marks….. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Although this is out of my field, I found this very interesting. The fact that you raise the subject is in itself a positive move. I feel that possibly your exercise failed because you tried to do too much too quickly. Why not have a mix of both systems with the final goal being to produce a ‘good human being’.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    I agree – the work load on kids is too high to expect additional group assignments. You could however include a class participation score based on the quality of the comment (I quote from b-school experience but the same should be workable in a junior setting as well); we used to have 10 classes of 2-hrs each per prof, and many of these classes (including fairly technical core term subjects like corp fin, stats, marketing) had a CP section where a student could score between -3 to +3 marks per class based on the number of comments that contributed (or detracted) from the subject being discussed – could also be answering questions posed by the prof. Of course, even the seating chart was carefully modelled to ensure that no one could always hide at the back. Since typically the bell curve in most exam papers exhibited a marked degree of kurtosis, people had to really pay attention in their pre-reads as well as in class to come up with comments that made sense, and CP became the deciding factor for performance. This made classes much more interesting and motivated students to prepare as well.Recommend

  • The Patriot

    It’s sad that you make such a strong assertion about the Education System in Pakistan without researching on the different ‘successful’ teaching methods deployed in the different universities and colleges in Pakistan

    From our curriculum, to the attitude
    of students, I don’t think Pakistan is
    ready for this system yet.ready for this system yet

    All of the methods that you have mentioned of collaborative learning are being deployed at LUMS. The reason it succeeds there is because they don’t take lame excuses for an answer.

  • Dinky Mind

    All these methods + “Take-home” exams are being deployed at IBA. Sometimes we were even bombarded with 2 quizzes in our 90 min lecture!

    And know what, there are (parts of) some courses that require a bit of rote-learning along with research and group discussions. But it’s a lot more up to the professors to create the spark of research among students!

    I would like to know which subject you teach. Plus, I’d recommend, if possible, try to employ the Case Study method as well. That, for me, is one of the best methods!

    Suggestion: Try to divide your students into 2-person teams and assign them manageable work load. Larger groups tend to be inefficient and end up in quarrels.

    And best of luck! :)Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    Dr Ashraf Iqbal and Ummar Saif are/were from LUMS, and i am inspired by both of them.

    As a teacher, If you only look at the brilliant students, they can learn in every method, challenge comes when we look at the backbenchers. How much they are improving. Are they going to challenge the topper or not. Is there any difference in their previous record and the current one. Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    @Dinky Mind:

    Agreed with you.

    Second your suggestion is my experience as well :)
    I normally prefer to have a group of three or two. You are true, larger the group, more complains we get from them.Recommend

  • Farhan

    I agree with writer. In Melbourne University where I have just finished my masters, there is too much emphasis on group work. The assignments are quite open ended and need full collaboration of the group to complete. Even the assignments are very vague in the start and students have to ask questions on the forum to crystallize the requirement. In one subject (Management of Technological Enterprise), the assignment was a one liner in start. “Imagine a virtual enterprise of which you are a manager”. Then started the 1000 plus question and answers on subject web portal where the idea was elaborated and professor progressively elaborated what he has in mind. The final document was composed of full business plan, implementation of BSC and legal and commercial issues. But there are no mid semester exams, nor any quizzes. Only assignments about 50-60% of course and rest as final exam. So we had to have numerous group meetings, intra group rivalries and fights but that was a real management experience as well. Moreover I have found workload to be far lesser than in Pakistani universities, but found learning to be far more. I guess we try to force a lot of material down the throats of students which ultimately is vomited after the exams and very less is retained.

    Good work done indeed. We need such teachers who try to improve the system through innovative ideas. I wish if every teacher becomes like you.Recommend

  • Farhan

    @Dinky Mind:
    We had a group of 8 students and did end up in a lot of quarrels with some students approaching the professor with complaints. But the professors say that this is what management is all about. Without nominating a leader, someone has to take lead, guide others, resolve the differences and bring the team ahead. As I was back in university after a hiatus of 11 years work, I know that this is important skill to learn. I think the more we try to shield students from these differences, more aloof they will be from real work life full of differences and assertive egos.Recommend

  • Dinky Mind

    And yes, as @BlackJack has mentioned, CP – Class Participation – also contributes a lot. Besides, at IBA (since I’ve studied there, I can quote well) we used to have theater-style, U-shaped seating arrangements, where every student could practically see almost the whole class! Also, our seating arrangements were changed every month. That not only kept the students active and attentive during discussions, but also kept it easier for professors to give equal attention to both front and back benchers. Recommend

  • American

    I haven’t read the entire article, I just wanted to make a comment about medical education in both Pakistan and the US, as I have had exposure to both systems, and say that rote learning in Pakistani med schools has been an utter disaster. There are some good business schools in Pakistan like LUMS and IBA but medical education is for the most part FAR behind. (the exception might be AKU)

    In Pakistan they have a directionless and ancient medical education system where they force the students read and reread and memorize large textbooks. This info is regurgitated and forgotten by the end of the year. Rather than multistep problem solving, they focus on memorizing definitions and classfications. By the end of final year, you get a person who has spent 5 years buried in books with an average clinical skillset and little clue on how the information all connected together. US students fly (sometimes superficially) through subjects but focus in clinical problems from day one and practice with thousands of MCQ’s – each one its own clinical scenario involving a 2-3 step thinking process. This entire learning process to develop a clinical accumen is developed before ever setting foot in the clinical wards. Once there, students are actively involved in clinical care, unlike in Pakistan where they basically rotate around the hospital in observing groups as one or two of the more enthusiastic students tries to work on a patient’s case.

    The US system is “easier” because it is more focused and does not require you to memorize textbooks. However, it forces you to apply your knowledge and stimulates your mind in ways the Pakistani system does not. You give the American system to Pakistani kids and they would make fabulous doctors. But, alas, Pakistanis are stubborn and will insult anyone who tries to bring change to their system. (My comment compares the AVERAGE American and Pakistani medical student). Recommend

  • http://attaurrehman.com atta

    Nice article.. keep it up usmanRecommend

  • Farhan

    I agree with you. My wife is a graduate from abroad and she had been teaching in Rawalpindi Medical College. She was horrified to see what you had described. The students even do not memorize long text books but use short professors guides meanwhile boasting to have studied from heavy text books. Students focus is not to learn and improve their skills but to become doctors and start making quick bucks; something which is evident from recent heinous strike of Young docs. They have no concept of ethics and lifelong learning. Doctory to them is a ticket to big bucksRecommend

  • http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php onspot.pk

    I think the primary reason of failed education system in Pakistan is syllabus in English. When I refer to Pakistan, I mean 70% (mostly poor) population of people who cannot send their kids to good schools (e.g. roots, beacon house, etc). However, the children have to read books in English. Since, English is not our mother tongue, most of the students cannot understand the “must know points” of a topic or an actual theme of the topic, and from here rote begins.

    We need to take some major steps to improve our education system:

    English “must” be taught in each class, but as a separate subject. It should not be used in technical subjects. Since, technical subjects cannot be rewritten using plain urdu, so a mix of english and urdu is required, such that topic should be explained in urdu, with a technical words borrowed from english.
    English must be taught in IELTs pattern, i.e. emphasis should be on speaking, reading, listening, and innovative writing. Students must be forced to write and speak. Of course we need good english teachers for that.
    If a student fails in a particular course due to lack of hardwork, he/she shouldn’t be given extra marks. But, unfortunately, this is another main reason of our failed education system.
    We did experiment on having lectures of a few selected topics in urdu on educational website: http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php and students response was very positive.

  • Sara

    i hate group projects because in the end one or two people end up doing all the work!Recommend

  • Bain

    There is some thing wrong with the entire Asian education system, from Singapore to South Korea all the was to Pakistan.

    Asians are just too obsessed with getting grades and not playing any sports.

    After-school tuitons are really popular across Asia whereas in the states and elsewhere teens spend their extra time on leisure and relaxing.

    Schools in Asia don’t really teach anything, tuition centers do.

    pakistan should try adopting the Finnish school system, they get scores on math and science as high as korea and singapore but, their students are well-rounded, and have a life.Recommend

  • Confused

    Great blog. I guess it will take an effort from the whole staff to implement these collaborative learning methods, and it will take a while for the students to acclimatize. You just don’t get breathing time to realize the value of what you’re being taught. I think less tests but with more material and weight could help.
    I also like the idea of open ended projects, with more focus on the processes than the results. Having no definite conclusion and doubting my technique makes me prone to backtracking and thus learning on how to approach with different alternatives in mind. It also makes me appreciate the material itself (how it evolved from an idea into a functional operation).
    One should also value mistakes/faults more, because these help formulate your analysis into a more concrete state. Why did you make that mistake in the first place? Is it recurring, and if so how can you treat it? etc.
    There would not be any learning without error. Recommend

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid


    I had the same thinking about dual language before i asked the same question to Dr Ashraf Iqbal in his talk in FIT conference.(www.fit.edu.pk). In reply he showed the talk of Sugata Mitra on “Hole in the wall” project. According to mitra, language is not the barrier, illiterate girls of india learned and started to speak English without any teacher, due to collaboration with other girls and free access to computers. (Hard to believe initially, but that had happened).

    Read about the hole in the wall project of sugata mitra. Recommend

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid

    @Confused: Finland some how implemented this and removed the burden of standardized testing and now they are top in education. Similarly Denmark had experimented by providing Internet access in examination system. But here it is really hard to experiment new things in education system.

    Second you wrote my thought, “There would not be any learning without error” and in our semester systems, students don’t have time to learn by doing mistake, if they do mistake, they have no chance of getting back. Recommend

  • Mohsin Golra

    Sir we have gained alot from yours lectures, the thing is i don’t take interest in Web. but i before final papers i tried the whole thing practically on my PC , then i picked concepts of WEB which u have given to me and the whole class. and i got 75% in ELance test. and cleared test in a “Ovex Technologies”(s/w house). the good thing in this semister was the group study, the thing we have done in the group gave us good concepts, but the negative thing was that, was the person who don’t know anything about the web was got marks because of the group.specially ME in some of the quizes and assingments.
    Sir! your way of teacher is very good, and you have a good command on your class and related subject…


  • Atta ur Rehman

    Great article Sir… Your methods of teaching are always best and very much easy for us to understand. And this time these methods of Group working was best but there is a little problem that some students in the group take it very easy and burden comes over only one or two students that’s why most of the time toppers of the Class do not want to work in group with such students. One more thing if our system give priority to practical work than theory that will be good because by doing things practically we learn more and we take more interest in doing that. And this technique of group working should be included in our education system and in my opinion group and practical work is need of the time.Recommend

  • Mohsin Golra

    @atta ur Rehman!
    yes you are 100% right, and this is the reason it haven’t been implemented in organizations.the average student always ask to work with the topper, but the topper will not help those. we must always help each others to encourage the bottom and average students. some of the students have the ability, but they don’t have courage to express it. Recommend

  • Mohsin Golra

    Sir group work is good but we must bring students on stage. like you have alreay done in the class. most of the students rejected to come on stage but, you have to encourage them. this is the way students get confidence. and it will be helpful for them after the completion of there degrees.Recommend

  • current


    this is what is embedded among desi students at a very young age.. Recommend

  • vigilant

    Being an engineering student some time back….our education system is full of BS!…..when i left university and stepped in the professional i was like engineer in a completely different world.
    University was all about cramming, copying assignments and lectures which donot make sense in real life. It would be best to have open book exams and tests with real life problems. Semester projects focusing on-going technological advancements and real projects. Engineering university teachers are hired without considering their practical experince in the field.
    Everyone at universities wants to get a degree not to be a professional.Recommend

  • http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php onspot.pk

    Speaking english is not a big deal. Even our rickshaw drivers / taxi drivers can speak some form of english. I was talking about the use of english in technical educational subjects, where understanding is involved. We think in urdu (or other native language), we talk in urdu, in classes even our teachers have to teach an english text book in urdu (at univ level), as most students cannot understand properly in english, especially students coming from backward areas of Pakistan. Similary, a few teachers also cannot speak properly in english.

    It is surprising, why Dr. Ashraf Iqbal couldn’t understand a simple point. Here, in this country where people even don’t feel proud speaking urdu (http://www.census.gov.pk/MotherTongue.htm), are they gonna speak english at homes? I think he also need to see what other countries are doing (indicated below), apart from India. I am not against speaking and writing in english, provided that the quality is good. I am against use of english in technical education, as it leads to rote. This is what has been happening in Pakistan since its creation.

    China: No. 1 world economy, Official Language: Chinese
    Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic.
    Japan Official language(s) Recognised regional languages Aynu itak, Ryukyuan
    France Official language(s) French
    German: Official language(s) German
    Official language(s) Russian official throughout the country;Recommend

  • Reluctant Revolutionary

    I got my education from UK before I came back to Pakistan and stated teaching at a Pakistani Government sector university recently. I am shocked to see the state of our university students specially in the departments of business, information technology and computer science but the situation in not very promising in medical and other engineering disciplines I suppose after reading some of the comments here.

    First of all language is a big issue. We have to admit that our FSc and Matric system is broke big time, all the students in my class have at least second division in FSc or I . com but they lack the very basic English language skills (like writing and reading) required to progress in university. How on earth am I supposed to teach these students a curriculum which is completely in English.

    Our students are just obsessed with grades and often ask me to tell them straight on that what should they rote to get good grades in exam. I have tried to teach them to think creatively and have had some success but the biggest problem I am encountering is that all the other teachers are following the old rote learning system so a productive change in just one class cannot make a huge difference.

    I think our best hope to change this is to create a united front against this by all the university teachers who believe in changing our rotten education system for good. We can start by making a facebook page where all the teachers can discuss their tactics i.e. what works and what doesn’t, motivate each other because when you are the only lone voice chances are you will get disappointed. So I purpose the author of the article to make a face book page and invite all the like minded teachers there to take our cause to the next level.Recommend

  • Farhan Shahid Khan

    To avoid ratta, some teachers are giving exams over internet in Melbourne Uni. Students receive a question paper online and they have 24 hours to respond. They can always collaborate but questions are subjective type where individual opinions and creative thinking is required. Therefore plagiarism will come into play if they copy each other. Remember the purpose of exam is not to test but force the students to learn; whatever method can achieve that is good enoughRecommend

  • BlackJack

    Speaking English is not a big deal in Pakistan precisely because the language is used for instruction and communication at very early stages. Despite far lower literacy levels, the average Indian/ Pakistani may be more comfortable than the average Chinese/ Japanese in English – and I speak from personal experience. Move to a pervasive Urdu medium and you consign your masses to a smaller bucket of opportunity. For example, if you look at the world’s top universities, nearly 30% of them have non-English teaching at early stages; however, if you look at top business schools, almost 100% teach in English, even in these same universities as above. Consequently the enrollment from these very non-English speaking countries in the best schools is comparatively low. Now following your suggestion, you will find it difficult to build world-class universities because you will not get top-notch teaching staff at least for the next couple of generations to teach in Urdu, and because of their lack of comfort with English (due to teaching through Urdu), your students will find it difficult to gain admission to most of these institutions mentioned above in the future. Lastly, I don’t think there is any connection between stating your Mother Tongue truthfully and being proud to speak Urdu. I love speaking Hindi despite it not being my mother tongue.Recommend

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid


    Finland’s student learn in two languages just like us, but they have proved that Language is not the barrier for education.

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid

    @Reluctant Revolutionary:

    In my view, language is not the barrier, barrier is the system, it doesn’t give time to enjoy the subject, as a result student become shy of subjects and language barrier comes infront because student doesn’t get any attraction to force himself forward.

    I have seen students who were very very poor in english at the start of the degree but as somehow they find interest in the subject, they not only excelled in subject but also they improved in english language a lot.

    Agreed with you 100% in the last two paragraphs.
    OK , i will make a page on facebook, let us see how many of us will join out there. I will share it link after creating it. Recommend

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid

    @Reluctant Revolutionary and all
    Page has been created on social networking sites

  • http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php onspot.pk

    I proposed a solution. Do you have any solutions in mind…. other than “a general observation”. Or you will wait for next 60 years for something happening automatically. I feel proud to speak urdu, as it is my national language, and a language that at least 90% Pakistanis can understand.Recommend

  • http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php onspot.pk

    @Usman Shahid:
    First, this is a research paper, not a national or govt. decision document.

    Second, the test is performed only for 60 students, that cannot represent whole country.

    Third from wikipedia:
    Official language(s) Finnish (90.0%)
    Swedish (5.4%)
    Recognised regional languages Sami (0.03%)

    Fourth: English is a “must” as i said many times before….. but shouldn’t be in technical subjects. Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/HIGHRaJa Reluctant Revolutionary

    You last post didn’t have a face book link.Recommend

  • Arooj Khan

    Commendable article.I agree with the writer that such a system can only be changed through the collaborative efforts of the whole education department together with the teachers.And therefore will take a lot of time to get implemented.We as students feel that our teachers are biased and are so wrapped up in this rote system that they cannot make space for any new development.Even if the course for some subjects is short they still resort to the old method since it is the only method that they know and have been trained to teach the same way from the start.As for the language issue the majority of students cannot string 3 words together properly in English except for those few who have came from English medium institutions.Inspite of their poor writing skills they cram and manage to get top grades.This in itself speaks volumes about the deplorable state of education in our institutions.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Innovative-Teaching-in-Pakistan/243154029135181 Usman Shahid

    @Reluctant Revolutionary: That was moderated

    @Arooj: Agreed with you.
    The reason why they do not improve in writing skill because they do not feel attraction from it. Second as normal papers require “copy pasted stuff” so they cram and get good grades but their writing skill doesn’t improve. Again this is the problem of the system. They are doing what exactly system is demanding from them.Recommend

  • Farhan

    @Arooj Khan: You are spot on. Capacity building of teachers is required. Previously those who could not find job anywhere else used to teach. Now with Dr Ata having raised the pays to over 0.2 Million a Month for PhDs, the quality of teaching has still not improved. May be our teachers are useless because they are a product of a useless system. I don’t know but despite getting fat salaries (even higher than private sectors), they are still not doing anythingRecommend

  • fvd


    what is your mother tongue ?Recommend

  • trd


    what is your mother tongue ?Recommend

  • abcxyz

    Being a BS graduate now, I feel that I have the right to comment over these issues. I have been taught various courses by various styles in my university, where a few teachers ‘tried’ to implement a few of the above-mentioned techniques in the collaborative learning approach. I say ‘tried’ because according to me, they failed, although they thought they were doing okay. Sometimes the students were also at fault, but what annoyed me more was that the instructors never learnt from their failures. I feel that if an instructor wants to implement such an approach towards learning, they need to do it slowly, always maintaining some sort of a compromise between the lecture-based and collaborative learning. If only collaborative learning approach is used, the result might be arguments as well as a state of confusion in everyone’s mind, while not guaranteeing that everyone in the class has well understood the concept. At times, the required material to be covered can also be missed out. However, if only lecture-based (or textbook-based as some might put it) approach is used, the result is always a forced agreement over what the instructor says. Therefore, the ideal instructor should always know about the current status of the class, and try to use both approaches to ensure maximum learning.

    Group presentations might be okay, but group assignments is definitely a very poor idea, taking into consideration the mentality of Pakistani students. Within a group, there are a few students who are bright, a few who are weak. A few who want to learn, a few whose only concern is getting a good grade. A few who want to work, a few who will try everything to force the other to do the work. In such circumstances, group assignments can never ensure maximum learning. I had taken a course in which assignments were supposed to be done in pairs, and most of the times I ended up doing the entire assignment myself, whereas the other did not care, not even bothered to ask what was going on in the assignment. Either this idea should be implemented with measures to ensure that everyone did put in some effort, or should not be implemented at all.
    Open-book quizzes are the worst idea ever. If it is an exam, it is perfectly fine, as there is ample time, and the students need to refer to the formulas or underlying theory during the exam. However, if it is a small quiz, which hardly lasts for 15 minutes, the open-book idea is not so good because the unprepared student would focus on finding the solution within the text/notes, whereas the prepared student is at no advantage. I also don’t like the idea of quizzes being done in groups, or any sort of discussion during quizzes/tests. These instruments of a course are meant to test individual learning of a student, and any discussions would not fulfill the purpose. I took a course in which discussion in quizzes was allowed for a few minutes in between the quiz. For example, during a ten-minute quiz, the first 3 minutes were to be spent alone, the next 4 in discussion, and the last three alone again. During the 4 minutes in between, the class literally became a fish market. After reading and analyzing the quiz, the unprepared student always sought help from the prepared, ‘laaiq’ students. That was a total failure.
    Class discussions, again need to be limited such that the purpose of class, which is learning (for everyone in class), remains fulfilled. The result of class discussions in my case was that a handful of students were actively participating and arguing with the instructor, whereas all others were sitting blank throughout the lecture, cursing the guy who had started all the discussion. These students always ‘hijacked’ the lecture. The instructors need to make sure that everyone is actively participating in the class discussions. This is possible by cold-calling students, and the handful ‘hijackers’ should be asked to limit their discussions in the class room and to contact the instructor in the outside-the-class timings.
    Group projects again need to make sure that every student in the project did put in considerable effort to be awarded a grade. In my senior year project, we were a group of four, and one student did not participate at all. However, at the end of the year, he was awarded the same grade as everyone else in the group. Such an evaluation of the project, after logical thinking, needs to be considered unfair.

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid

    @abcxyz: What ever you have told is true. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    I do not propose sweeping changes like yours simply because I don’t think they will work. No solution is better than one that has a negative impact. I have already provided my input on improving the quality of classroom interaction which requires a structural intervention in terms of course material that aids discussion and provokes debate, teachers who are willing to invest time in drawing responses out from all their students, as well as grading structure modification by including qualitative assessment of class participation (this is also meant to address those who complain that a couple of students hog most of the time – in this brave new world, they would desist because such behavior is penalized if the quality of content is poor). Recommend

  • Farhan

    @abcxyz: Group work is not teaching you about material. It is about people management which you will face in jobs. It is about teaching leadership, compromise and negotiations. These skills are more important to learn than something of course material which one would forget after the semester break. Every group passess through stages of forming, storming and norming. The biggest complaint against technical people is that they cannot delegate work and want to do it themselves. This is because they are habitual of individual work. Getting work out of others is far more difficult than individual work but every engineer should master itRecommend

  • Anum Khurshid

    Great article sir, your method of teaching has been a splendid change during our monotonous semester routine… group work, group assignments and group quizes have helped us a lot especially the average and believe it or not they teach a lot more than solo assignments… And the daily class discussions helped us to understand better and enabled us to stay active and present throughout the 90 min lecture… I really hope that your teaching pattern remains same :) Recommend

  • ..

    @Usman Shahid:
    At my University we used to be graded (ranking 1-5) by our peers when we worked as part of groups and each member had to write a feedback about the other (1-2 sentences). Each team member’s group feedback was then submitted along with the final write up.
    Depending on the feedback, our final score could be adjusted up or down from the group score. To avoid collusion i.e all group members giving each other a favorable feedback to push up the final score, a negative mark could be applied. This could be a work around for the issue that abcxyz mentioned.Recommend

  • http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php onspot.pk


    “I do not propose sweeping changes like yours simply because I don’t think they will work. No solution is better than one that has a negative impact.”

    I was expecting this reply from you. As, it is always difficult to take one step forward with some practical solution, other than a “bunch of advises” for young generation. However, the real world is always faced with problems which are solved by different solutions proposed by people. Of course, at least there must be some solution in hand (the merits or demerits of which could be decided later). The author of this post also came up with a bold step and proposed a solution. It is not necessary that if his solution couldn’t bring 100% results, then no one should come forward with such steps. For your information, I never said the English is not required. English is a must. But, it should be taught like a foreign language (e.g. Arabic), but of course more professionally, on IELTS pattern. However, a mix of Urdu+English should be used in technical subjects, so that teacher and students both can “comfortably interact” in the same language, with out having any guilt of not speaking a foreign language (English). I have a few queries for you:

    You wrote:
    “which requires a structural intervention in terms of course material that aids discussion and provokes debate, teachers who are willing to invest time in drawing responses out from all their students,”

    Question: What structural intervention in terms of course material you propose? I have already suggested my solution :)

    You wrote:
    teachers who are willing to invest time in drawing responses out from all their students

    Question: How do you propose the teachers of a government school will perform this, any solution?

    You wrote:
    grading structure modification by including qualitative assessment

    Question: Who’s gonna do that? Govt? or people themselves, or it is also solution-less.

    You wrote:

    (this is also meant to address those who complain that a couple of students hog most of the time – in this brave new world, they would desist because such behavior is penalized if the quality of content is poor).

    Question: It is rather a comment than a question. Please visit the govt. schools and see the conditions. Take interviews of Matric and F.Sc students in English. Who’s gonna fix that, any solutions…??? :)Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Thanks for explaining how the real world works. In line with my previous comment, I will restrict my response to your questions.
    Question 1: Already answered within the question itself (pls read)
    Question 2: How do you propose the teachers of a government school will perform this, any solution? My comment focuses on the target segment that this blog addresses. I think it is a fair question in terms of whether this can be implemented in govt institutions. I don’t know – possibly not.
    Question 3: School administration should be sufficient – govt can manage the exams. Most schools have some form of internal scoring, what goes into that is left to them.
    Question 4: It was not a comment (or question) but an elaboration of my earlier comment.
    As mentioned earlier, I am not the one who has recommended sweeping changes, so I don’t have to take the helpful suggestions that you offer to survey all and sundry. My points are limited to addressing by-rote learning in the education system. You will find that the same learning (by memorizing) continues in even non-English medium systems – so your ‘practical’ solution will not address that problem. I also did not see the writer’s suggestions that you mention – only his experiences with various methods that already exist. Pls consider this the last post on this topic as I feel you are more interested in attacking my post than discussing the issue at hand.Recommend

  • http://www.onspot.pk/onlinetutor/tutor.php onspot.pk

    Well, thanks for your reply. I just came up with my solution. If you had nothing to put on table, it is fine. About the practicability of the solution that I proposed, of course, I already mentioned that every solution may have some merits of demerits (at least a solution is required). However, if we focus on the language issue, I am confident enough that I am giving a practical solution, based on the facts and figures, that is happening in the world (see my previous posts).Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    CP can be implemented, if more focus is given to it from all sections of the curricullum,
    to over come time limitations,
    1. One Day should be allocated exclusively for CP
    2. Initial grouping to be done by guides(lecturers) to aid shy students.
    3. Allocation of syllabus should be done by students themselves with guides help.
    4. Most Importantly Library/other institution facility is a must.Recommend

  • Morning Glory

    I read the title and here I am to comment!

    And the answer to that is: It doesn’t!

    It only works till school/10th grade. And that’s it!Recommend

  • Sabeen Ali

    @Sir Usman Shahid:
    You are right sir. The biggest problem is that the education system forces students to focus on cramming instead of actual learning. With the passage of time students lose the ability to think out of the box. Group presentations, assignments, open-book quizzes can be effective in kick starting the learning process in students, but the obstacle here is that students are not ready for a change, because their minds have become programmed to cram. It’s not going to be helpful if only two or three teachers out of the lot try to bring a change, because in order to change the mind set of students, everyone has to chip in. Sir it is quite commendable that you have taken the initiative to bring change, but a revolution will only come if all the teachers adopt the new system. Recommend

  • Saad

    Nice article Sir…Recommend

  • http://www.footlockerus.com/Air-Jordan-13-215 air jordan 13 flint for sale

    Great Ideas… Number 3 is a great force…sharing what you have learned is a great education…Thanks for sharing…Greg AveryRecommend