I’d like to thank everyone for the overwhelming response received to my inaugural blog post.  I never imagined that my next post would actually take me beyond Eid ul Azha/Hari Raya but, since it has, let me take this opportunity to ‘hope’ that you all had a very happy Eid (assuming you celebrate it).  Moreover, I hope it was a happy occasion for the underprivileged and the unpossessed who are all too convenient to forget on joyous occasions.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who commented on my blog post.  I have read and appreciated all your comments and, though it is difficult to reply to everyone individually, I want you to know that I am grateful for your feedback – whether you agreed with me or not.

I realize that my next post was supposed to be about the politically desirable but otherwise elusive ‘common national curriculum’ but I’ve decided to defer that to a later date – also, I may fall asleep writing it. I am also now going to scrap, with much regret, a blog post I wrote but never managed to complete (and thus publish) on Malala – because the moment has passed – though I continue to pray for her complete recovery.

For now, I want to focus on something closer at hand because, as I type this, I am about to start descending into Kuala Lumpur and am pretending not to have heard an annoying announcement about having to switch off all electronic devices.  (As you may have gathered, I am on an airplane – much as I might want to descend into KL on my own wings).  I am here on an ‘advance trip’ in connection with our forthcoming ‘School of Tomorrow’ conference in Kuala Lumpur on 20-21 November.  (Amongst other things, I will be groveling before local media representatives in the hope that they may cover the conference.)

(Landed without laptop jamming the plane.)

End of next day… The School of Tomorrow is a journey that started in November 2000 when, on the 25th anniversary of Beaconhouse, we organized a conference in Islamabad called ‘Rethinking Education’ (more importantly, I was still in my 20s at the time!).  While this was by no means the first Beaconhouse Academic Conference, it was perhaps the first time that we recognized that people outside Beaconhouse might also know a thing or two about education and invited, as our keynote speaker, Dr Roger Schank (www.rogerschank.com), learning theorist/artificial intelligence pioneer/outraged educator, along with a few other non-Beaconhouse speakers and delegates.  Under the presiding gaze of General Pervez Musharraf (who was our chief guest as well as ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan at the time), Roger Schank recounted a little story that has since stuck with me: “Many years ago,” he said (or so I imagine), “my son got an A+ on a Chemistry test.  He was very pleased with himself and showed me his test paper.  I took a hard look at it.  Now, I’ve been a professor of computer science at Yale and Stanford but I couldn’t answer a single question.  I congratulated my son cautiously but kept the paper.  A year later, I showed it to him.  He could not answer a single question.”

Although the crowd laughed appreciatively (though I suspect several people didn’t really get the point) and General Musharraf, uncharacteristically hanging onto the keynote speaker’s every word, smiled knowingly, Dr Schank’s story was anything but funny. It was Tragic and lies at the Heart of all our education conferences.  It is, in fact, stories like his son’s that have led us to a continuing journey that has become the ‘School of Tomorrow’ conference series (as I explained to a mystified journalist in KL today, it is indeed a journey, not a destination…because we won’t suddenly decide on Sept 1, 2015 that we are Now a school of tomorrow [this was, of course, just before I remembered that the academic year in Malaysia starts in January, causing my ‘semi-joke’ to create further confusion.])

The School of Tomorrow conferences challenge our subconscious and deeply ingrained notions about education.  They may even make some people shift a little uncomfortably in their seats.  Nonetheless, these conferences are important because they confront us with hard questions such as Why is it that, when we all went to some school or another (presumably), most of us don’t remember much (if any) of the physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, algebra, history (etc.) that we learnt…even those of us who got 450 A grades in our O and A Level exams.

Think about it.

To be continued… (this one really will be, because the School of Tomorrow does not put me to sleep!)

  16 Responses to “Why the School of Tomorrow?”

  1. Could be retracting my words soon but I wouldn’t agree with Dr Roger Schank.
    What I eat today I will certainly not remember years later but that meal nourished me at the time. I do feel that our education in its current context needs overhauling but it broadens our mind, gives us choices to pursue in future, improves the quality of our understanding and helps us exercise our grey matter.
    The reason he couldn’t answer was because his area of expertise was computers and not chemistry.

  2. Thank you Kasim, a really interesting read. Enjoy the conference, wish I could be there!

    Kim

  3. To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.
    Anatole France

    Mr. Kasim, I can relate to the above saying when I see your vision for empowering learners. I truly believe and agree with you that it’s a journey and not the destination. Every generation will bring a new change in education and I am glad that we are a part of this ongoing process. I wish you best of luck and will definitely do my bit to empower my learners. But here let’s get back to your previous post and think over empowering Pakistan by bring possible positive change in our government sector too. Good Luck

  4. I do not know if things have changed over the past 12 years but I have always felt that the Pakistan (local and international) educational system does not inculcate the raw and pure desire of ‘learning’.

    As a student at Aitchison, I remember how the only thing that mattered was the O/A Level, and/or SAT score you got. The process of getting there was secondary. By any means necessary, as some would say.

    It was only at the elite, private, liberal arts college of Grinnell where I learned how important it was to just learn. How students would not cheat ‘even when the professor was not in the room during the exam’? What was wrong with them, I used to imagine.

    If we can get anything out of this conference, it is to figure out that…learn..

  5. Thanks for the blog Kasim …I too have come to believe at this age that most of our schools actually fail students. There are many questions that come into my mind now about what today’s schools are really achieving ….when I was a primary school head I used to wonder why some students who did so well in the primary school became disillusioned, frustrated, low achieving and angry within a couple of years in the secondary…. But you know interestingly when I heard Roger Schank the first time, it seemed like a laughing matter….the more SOT conferences I attend ….my thoughts on the matter get more complex ..I look for more solutions , more ideas now ..more ways to get there.
    The goal is clearer, the path yet not so visible.
    Thanks for the conference Kasim …thanks for initiating the debate.

    • Respected Madam,

      I personally would like to salute analytical thinking of Worthy Kasim Sb because his good self has extracted a serious element from a situation looking like a joke. I do not know about the details of conference but i will rate this conference “Successful” on the basis of such output and debate initiative
      Coming to point, As an output conference has given us a situation for solution. Such conferences can provide basis for the up gradation of existing educational system. Situation is demanding to equip teaching staff with latest teaching and decoding techniques to meet such challenging situations.
      I hope SCHOOL OF TOMORROW will be the major input for the up gradation of curriculum and education system…… INSHA ALLAH

  6. Best wishes for this upcoming conference. A leader of vision like you could only think of organizing such a big international event like this.Just a few things to share.
    I don’t remember much that was taught at the school or the college level. The only thing that remains ingrained in my mind even today are the books that I read due to my own interest which helped me in enhancing my knowledge as well as my language skills. My extensive travelling both National and International which helped me in getting to know the people, places, cultures, History and Geography. From my parents & grandparents I learned to be generous, kind, obedient, respectful, loving, caring and being responsible. I learnt social skills from my siblings( we were eight of us) like taking turns, giving, sharing, confiding, appreciating, collaborating and working as a team.
    So my point is that learning need not be confined to classroom. Learning takes place on an ongoing basis from our daily interactions with others.

    • A good point Nighat. A child’s school should complement the family, however times have changed and in many places in the world, the family is no longer as strong as it used to be. If a child is extremely lucky he/she will have a strong learning school and family to lean on and learn from.

  7. R Sir,

    Very interesting blog,
    No doubt we forgot the things if remain out of touch but the things never wiped out which are comes in knowledge after practical. As per my opinion this is possible with two methods:
    1. Focused or Specialized education from early childhood by making analysis of child behavior.
    2. By Empowering child to;
    Power to Dream (Wonder, Visualize, Imagine, Conceptualize)
    Power to Discover (Observe, Analyze, Question, Experiment)
    Power to Develop (Explore, Create, Design, Synthesis)
    Power to Deliver (Solve Problems, Take Decisions, Achieve, Lead)

    Such things can only be managed with the development of student career management system with proper research. I think as a whole most focused area is “Defining knowledge (fine grained teachable and measurable) and skills at the operational level, means Focused Training of Teachers. To start this activity small Knowledge and skill modules can be introduced

    Every problem has solution but needs to be explored sincerely

  8. Respected Sir
    I totally agree with the point that such conferences will give us an opportunity to learn and develop together for a better tomorrow. I believe that schools of today are obsessed with producing students with A grads, ignoring their potential growth outside the examination spectrum. Personally, I learn more in those classes where we discuss things (e.g Life,History,Religion,Social problems) other than our curriculum content.

    • Dialogue and involvement to me are the keys to deep learning, and how often does that occur in most classrooms at every level of education???

  9. Dear Kasim saheb,
    I really enjoy reading your blogs and especially enjoy the humour that makes even the unpalatable somewhat easier to read/digest.
    On the note of Roger Schank ,his child and the chemistry paper, what sums it up so
    well is “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”, by Robert Fulghum…. a must read.
    Regards,
    Faryal

  10. Respected Sir,

    Really I loved that motivation behind the School Of Tomorrow conferences! A very similar thing I read regarding a person – who used to teach English Language at some unviersity, but was reading the English text book of 10th grade, and when he was asked the reason, he said that he would have otherwise forgotten everything, this was just to refresh his knowledge.

    I think we all need to be reminded time and again – of our learnings, goals etc – so we do not detrack, and really such a Conference would be that ultimate reminder. Furthermore, this interaction between educationists of the world will bear nothing but fruitful results!

    Good Luck, and may the success continue!
    Best Regards!

  11. The School of Tomorrow is a vision,a dream that most of us ( specially the optimist still surviving in the education systems of Pakistan) follow. It makes me recall a famous saying which went something like…education is what is left , when you have learned all books and forgotten all that was written in them ): I hope my kids wont read this .. Honestly speaking, I don’t claim on remembering any of my bio or physics lessons of O’levels but whenever and wherever I come across a concept that I learned or maybe I should call it grabbed I’m as clear on it as the teacher teaching it today, could be.
    Moreover, ideas that have passed the test of time,are conveyed to students ,it is only the way the applications of it are attached to it by the teacher who implants those ideas. If surrounded by the right inter-actives,the idea will form strong neural-connections in the brain and will remain available to solve similar or diverse concerns later on.
    The environment in which that idea is put across also is as essential to its survival as anything else..
    Regards

  12. Sir, I’d like to say that I particularly agree with this post. I am an avid history buff and very, very interested in every science under the sun from particle physics to astrophysics and geology to biology, but I developed these interests after leaving school, finding them incredibly onerous as subjects to study in class. Still, merely a year out of school, I pored over book upon book on these subjects and still spend every free minute I have trying to read up on them and other things that – presented to me in the classroom environment of my day – would put me into a torpor rivalling Sleeping Beauty at her best.

    If such conferences eventually lead to an educational environment that invigorates rather than dulls the intellect of its charges, we would all be the better for it. Let’s hope that’s the ultimate result, even if it takes us all a long time and a lot of concerted effort to get there.

  13. Hey Kasim – good to know your notebook didn’t jam the plane – I guess only economy class devices do so because they never allow me to use once they announce!

    Well, I tried recalling chemistry/bio lessons that I took in late 80′s when I was at a high school (dreaming to be a doctor), I realize I never applied that knowledge to my life/work and have forgotton much of it.

    Similarly, my elder son in Class III at one of your Karachi branches has forgotton the distance between Earth & Sun and could only recall some million miles (wasn’t sure it was 93) when I asked him last week – I hope he doesn’t forget what he is being taught at BSS…! Just curious btw, how are you guys managing a curriculam that may have things easy to forget?

    Not expecting a reply on this particular question but hope your article will have some cover on this. Have fun in KL.

    Riaz

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