All publications of Muhammad Majid Shafi . اسلام آباد , Pākistān
An evaluation of the outcomes on Pakistani students of the closure of educational institutions during the Coronavirus pandemic
The Turkish drama, Drilis Ertugrul has been an absolute super-hit in Pakistan for a number of reasons, the foremost being the fact that it is full of moral lessons may they be in the character of Ibn-al-Arabi, Sulaiman Shah or Ertugrul, himself. However, it is very unfortunate that we, as a nation, have focused more on adapting the style of beards and hair-cuts of the actors, the dresses of the actresses and the background music as the ringtone of our mobile phones. Even more agonizing is the fact that, on the Independence Day of Pakistan, a number of people had displayed the flag of the Kayi tribe on their vehicles! Obviously this was not the real purpose of introducing the Urdu dubbed version of the drama in Pakistan; the real purpose was to learn lessons and inculcate them in our lives. Following are a couple of applicable lessons.
The drama, Drilis Ertugrul, is a splendid model of what respect for parents actually means. For instance, the protagonist, Ertugrul, always asked permission of his father, Sulaiman Shah, before doing anything or setting out on any expedition despite the fact that he, himself, was a mature adult capable of taking decisions, independently. In addition, he follows his father’s orders even if they are against his personal opinion. Ertugrul’s elder brother, Gundogdu, clearly said, “My father is my life”. These examples teach us to always keep our parents in the highest esteem and always have the highest regard for them.
No compromise on self-respect:
Every person is respectable and it is his right that others should respect him; his duty to not let his self-respect down. The best example of valuing self-respect is evident in the figure of Ertugrul, himself. When Ertugrul went to Halep to ask the king to give his people land, he, clearly, said when he felt that the king’s uncle and prime minister was not lending him an attentive ear, “I speak with eyes in eyes”. Throughout his talks with the king, neither did he feel pressurized nor did he show inferiority complex. It was this attitude of Ertugrul that moved the king towards fulfilling Ertugrul’s request. Hence, we should always keep our self-respect up but without being arrogant.
Expect the unexpected:
A person should always remain watchful and alert. A short phase of inattentiveness can prove itself to be very costly. A sagacious saying is common, “Watchful eyes get no surprise”. In the drama, Ertugrul was watchful even while resting on his journey to Halep, which is why he was quick to react when Karatoygur’s spies attempted to kill him. He and his companions quickly rose to their feet and fought against the spies defeating them and escaping what would have ordinarily been an evident death.
Prayers count a lot:
The Salebi’s and a few people in the castle at Halep organized an attempt to kill Ertugrul. As something was added in the wax of the candle that burnt in the room he was resting in, Ertugrul lost consciousness. However, a prayer by Ibn-al-Arabi brought him to his senses and made him successful in defeating those with a cruel intent. Had Ibn-al-Arabi not prayed for him, Ertugrul would have been dead. Furthermore, Ertugrul prayed to Allah to make him successful in his purpose of visiting Halep. Ultimately, he became successful despite the fact that there were many who opposed his mission. Hence, we all should pray to Allah and do good to others so that they also pray for our well-being; all prayers count, indeed.
Those involved in wrong acts are destined to fail:
Standing with justice and truth might apparently seem difficult but it is rewarding in the end. Similarly, lending a hand to the wrongdoers or doing wrong acts is, definitely, attractive at that particular moment but the consequences are bitter. For instance, in the entire drama, a wrongdoer did not succeed despite coming across a short phase of hope. Bypora decided to side with Kartoglu, Sulaiman Shah’s brother, in creating anarchy in the tribe. When Sulaiman Shah went to Karatoygur’s castle, Bypora encouraged the people towards a rebellion on Kartoglu’s order. However, when they failed in that particular attempt, owing to a possibility of getting in danger and, on the initiative of the same person, Kartoglu, Bypora’s life ended! Another traitor of the tribe, Al-Barku, sided with Kartoglu; he got caught in a plan devised by the same Kartoglu and lost his life. Later, on being detected in his evil practices, Kartoglu, himself, was beheaded and his dreams to become leader of the tribe went in vain. At another instance, Karatoygur planned to cheat on Ertugrul, his father and his friends and kill them. He, himself, ended up in arrest by his own soldiers, Ertugrul and his friends! This clearly shows that wrongdoers are destined to fail.
Respect your traditions:
The drama teaches us a very important lesson to respect our traditions, always. The afore-mentioned lesson is much required nowadays when, owing to the negative role of the media and a few trouble-mongers, foreign culture is influencing us and we are getting further and further away from our own brilliant traditions. In the drama, despite the possibility of danger, Sulaiman Shah decided to respect his guests comprising of Halime, her brother and her father according to the culture of his tribe and not to hand them over to Karatoygur. On arresting Karatoygur, the people demanded him to be slain, immediately, but Sulaiman Shah refused and said that his fate will be decided according to the traditions of the tribe. Sulaiman Shah was well aware of Kartoglu’s backstabbing but, respecting what his traditions had taught him, he only punished Kartoglu when he got sound evidence of his disloyalty. The last words of Sulaiman Shah to his sons also included the order to always respect their traditions. At various other instances as well, Ertugrul held steadfast to the cultures and traditions of his tribe. It is our duty, as well, to respect our culture and never consider it inferior.
Follow Allah’s path:
Throughout the drama, great emphasis has been laid on the above-mentioned point. Apart from doing good to please Allah Alone and asking Him for help, we should also fulfill all his orders. Ertugrul and his companions had no desire to acquire land and wealth; they put their lives in danger for the sole reason of ensuring the safety of Islam. After they conquered Salebi’s castle, a huge amount of wealth including gold fell into their hands but, abiding by the fair disposition of Sulaiman Shah, it was distributed among the needy. Had there been a lust for wealth in the hearts of the aforesaid warriors, the wealth would have blinded their eyes. Ertugrul, at one point, remarked, “As long as we follow Allah’s path, no one can bring us down to our knees”. Hence, we should also follow Allah’s path with full commitment and hope for reward.
Stand with the oppressed, against the oppressor:
At the very start of the drama, Halime, her brother and her father were in captivity of the Salebis and were shouting for help. Ertugrul and his companions were out for hunting when they heard the voice of someone yelling for help. Instantly, they rushed towards the voice and bravely fought against the Salebi warriors ending up rescuing Halime and her family. Karatoygur repeatedly asked Sulaiman Shah to hand Halime’s brother and father over to him but he refused. At a later instance, Ertugrul clearly remarked, “Come what may, we can never side with the oppressor.” This teaches us the moral lesson to always side with the oppressed and not the oppressor.
Concisely, it is not our duty to debate on whether the actors really are virtuous or not and whether the history, which the afore-mentioned drama depicts, is forged or true. Our duty is to learn lessons and ingrain them in our daily lives for which purpose the drama presents an excellent opportunity.
For the past couple of years, the marks students score in Matric and FSc exams have witnessed a trend of rapid increase. However, the equivalence awarded to O’ Levels and A’ Levels students have remained constant. While intelligent students score over 95% marks in FSc and even more in Matric, the talented student who achieves the feat of scoring all A*s in O’ Levels as well as in A’ Levels is awarded an equivalence of 90% by the IBCC. With fair opportunities unavailable to a foreign system in Pakistan, the better foreign system’s approach is restricted; the progress in our monopolized system is stagnant.
According to the recently devised policy by the PMC, for admissions in medical colleges 50% marks of FSc or any equivalent program are included in determining the overall merit. As the above mentioned calculations reveal, A’ Levels students are short of 3 marks by default as compared to FSc students of the same mental caliber in merit calculation!
With only around 3500 seats in public sector medical colleges of Punjab as compared to around 90,000 eligible candidates, the competition for a seat in a public sector medical college ends at 4 decimal places! The outcome of this situation is crystal clear: A’ Levels students either turn to the much expensive private medical colleges in Pakistan and abroad or, in some cases, are forced to pursue another career.
Recently, I met a friend who did A’ Levels and then had to go abroad, away from his family in order to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. When I inquired from him the reason of going abroad, he replied, “A’ levels students hardly make it to a public sector medical college here in Pakistan”. This is not the view of just one person; unfortunately, this is now a well-established fact!
As far as merit calculation for medical universities is concerned, one more aspect needs consideration. Last year, for FSc students, 50% of their FSc marks were included in calculating merit. In other words, two years of hard work is required from them. However, for A’ Levels students, apart from the 3 compulsory subjects of A’ Levels, 8 compulsory subjects of O’ Levels are also included in determining the overall equivalence. As a result, five long years of hard work is required from them. Summing up, a greater hard work ends up in a lesser reward!
Owing to the Coronavirus outbreak, the exams were cancelled this year. A’ Levels students were awarded their expected grades whereas students of second year in FSc were awarded the marks they scored in first year along with 3% grace marks. While there has been no change in the equivalence awarded to A’ Levels students against their grades, FSc students have 3% grace marks added to their results giving them an even better chance to secure seats in public sector medical colleges. Instead of bridging the gap, this decision has further widened it!
So, if one is looking towards gaining admission in a public sector medical college at a later stage, he has only one option: do FSc rather than A’ Levels. However, this decision brings with it some long-term adverse consequences as well. Conceptual learning of A’ Levels will be suppressed by the rote learning of FSc. The students will be restricted to bookish information rather than having a broad base of study. Their ability to think out of the box will gradually be lost!
Increasing the equivalence awarded to O’ Levels and A’ Levels students is the possibly the best remedy in this regard. Awarding 90% for an A* may have been a fair decision some years ago; nowadays, 95% for an A*seems a just approach. This measure will offer equal opportunities to both A’ Levels and FSc students leading to an increased competition for gaining admission in medical colleges and will give rise to a more skillful youth of Pakistan.
A strong counter argument in this regard is that taking the afore-mentioned step will undermine the scope and hence the popularity of our system – Matric and FSc. Though this may seem apparently true but there is a silver lining to it as well! The increasing popularity of O’ Levels and A’ Levels, as a result, will pressurize our system to adopt the better methodology of teaching and examinations offered by Cambridge which, in turn, will go a long way in elevating the standard of education system in Pakistan.
Decisions are made keeping in view the situation at that particular time and are attempted to satisfy the majority. So should be the aims of the decision concerning awarding an equal equivalence to O’ Levels and A’ Levels students.
Boards in Pakistan have been offering Matric and FSc programs for a fairly long time; a recent entry (at least in terms of fame and public outreach) is the O’ Levels, IGCSE and A’ Levels programs offered by Cambridge. With the system introduced by Cambridge earning rapid fame, especially among students belonging to middle-class and high-class families, the Boards are compelled to endeavor in order to maintain the popularity of their educational programs.
However, for a couple of reasons, visualizing a situation in which the programs offered by Cambridge completely replace those offered by the Boards of Pakistan is unrealistic. Both systems have their pros and cons which press for a need of a wise decision making process.
Probably the most dominant factor in any decision making process is the money associated with it. And, it is the relatively lesser amount of money associated with the programs offered by the Boards that is not letting their prestige down.
For getting a Matric degree, obviously apart from passing the relevant exams, one has to pay around 3,000 rupees as examination fee. However, for a similar degree offered by Cambridge, 120,000 rupees is the examination fee!
Same is the difference for FSc program offered by the Boards and A’ Levels program offered by Cambridge. Moreover, joining an academy for O’ Levels costs 5,000-6,000 rupees monthly per subject; for A’ Levels it raises to 10,000 rupees monthly per subject. On the other hand, for Matric and FSc, a renowned academy offers 3 subjects for 6,000 rupees. The afore-mentioned figures completely rule out opting for O’ Levels and A’ Levels at least for low-income families and for most middle-class families as well who are reluctant to spend much on education.
A second important factor requiring thoughtful consideration is the scope of the degrees offered by either of the two systems. For those aiming for admissions in universities abroad or in just a couple of Pakistani universities such as LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences), the degrees offered by Cambridge is the best choice.
On the other hand, majority of the engineering universities of Pakistan have their entry tests based on the syllabus outlines of FSc, not A’ Levels. Though there have been frequent assertions that the tests have a general base, experiences of the past reveal that the reality is different from the afore-mentioned assertions.
As far as admissions in medical universities are concerned, A’ Levels students are at an even greater loss! The medical universities of Pakistan have a common test: MDCAT (excluding universities affiliated with NUMS and Agha Khan University). This test, again, is based on the syllabus outlines of FSc.
Furthermore, the maximum equivalence O’ Levels and A’ Levels students can get against their grades is 90%. Intelligent FSc students easily score over 90%; last year, the merit for MBBS admissions in public sector medical colleges of Punjab closed at 91.56%.Concisely, if students, who do A’ Levels instead of FSc do not score extra-ordinarily high marks in MDCAT, they have no chance to make it to public sector medical colleges!
Cambridge exams are held twice a year i.e.in May-June and October-November. This facilitates students who opt for extra subjects apart from the compulsory ones; there is no concept of opting for extra subjects in Matric or FSc, whatsoever.
However, the Boards hold their exams once a year for the vast majority of students i.e. in April-May. The supplementary exams of the Boards are held in October-November but they are only for those students who had failed one or more subjects in the regular April-May session.
The third point of comparison is the teaching methodology of both systems. While there is no denying of the fact that Matric and FSc are mostly based on rote learning and that there is not much to offer apart from the bookish information in both these programs, the approach of O’ Levels and A’ Levels is focused more on building concepts. Furthermore, there is no restriction to bookish information in O’ Levels and A’ Levels; students, on the other hand, are encouraged to access a wide variety of resources.
Similarly, the exams of O’ Levels and A’ Levels are devised to test student’s hold on the concepts; those of Matric and FSc are devised to test the capacity of students to ‘memorize’ the concepts!
While the focus of Cambridge examiners is to evaluate the content written by the students, the examiners marking Matric and FSc exams do consider paper presentation of the examinee. Though efforts have come to light, in the recent years, by the Board to include questions testing concepts of students, there is still a long way to go in meeting the standards of Cambridge examinations. So, in this regard, the Cambridge system clearly outruns the system of the Boards.
Lastly, the Cambridge exams are candidate friendly where the candidates are only asked to write their names, candidate numbers and center numbers once on their answer scripts, whereas the Board exams are befuddling for most of the candidates who are asked to write various types of information twice on the answer sheet.
Most importantly, pin drop silence is ensured throughout the duration of exams in centers for Cambridge exams. Contrary to this, disturbance ensues at least for some of the duration of exams in Board exams’ centers.
It is unfortunate to highlight that in an effort to make more money, examiners of Board exams just skim pass the answer scripts of students; this makes paper presentation of the student so important. On the contrary, patience is observed by examiners of Cambridge; a marking key and Examiner’s report is also published later for students’ ease. Though the Boards have taken steps to ensure transparency, as a matter of fact, marking by Cambridge is more impartial than that of Board.
Summing up, both systems have different plus points to offer. Adopting some of the strengths of Cambridge examination system by the Boards requires a sincere effort. However, once this feat is achieved, a boost to the recognition of Boards is imminent.