Discouraging Higher Level of Learning, A study of examination systems in Pakistan


Sibte Hasan

Learning process is like a ladder. It upgrades itself from lower (simple) to higher (complex) levels. Learning starts when someone understands something. According to the taxonomy of learning (cognition) developed by the British educationist Benjamin Bloom, this process culminates when someone acquires the capability of creating new ideas. From understanding to creating, learning meanders through the stages of applying ideas in a new situation, analysing a concept by breaking it into parts and critically evaluating a phenomenon. Only through pitching pertinent questions, we climb from lower to higher levels of learning.

A research on type of questions asked in examinations given by BISE (Lahore), Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) and Cambridge University was conducted by GIZ, (a project of the German Government) recently. Summary of this research is as under:


Questions pertaining  to Cramming Questions pertaining  to understanding Questions pertaining  to application Questions pertaining  to higher order
BISE, Lahore Class.X





PEC class.viii






11% 30% 26%


This is quite evident from the above report that in case of BISE and PEC, students are not judged on higher level of learning. Both examining agencies cater for the government school system and in this system, strategies to develop higher level of learning are not used. Learning is restricted to cramming. According to Freire, a philosopher of liberatory learning, cramming facts is not learning at all. He explains that cramming is like depositing facts in the minds of children like depositing money in a bank. He describes this mode of ‘learning’ as banking system of education. Children reproduce memorized facts in examinations as we draw money from a bank through a cheque. After this process, the container of student’s mind remains empty, devoid of any learning. It seems that in countries like Pakistan, there is an alliance among pre-service education institutions, school management and the examination bodies to restrict the ‘learning processes to cramming or comprehension at the optimum. Even teachers cannot frame questions beyond cramming or stage of comprehension. Not only that, this alliance discourages students to strive for higher level of learning. In non- prescriptive systems of education, students are offered to answer variety of questions pertaining to all levels of questions. Students, who answer higher levels of questions, get better credit than the ones who attempt questions pertaining to lower levels of learning. A student having competence of analysis or creativity is far better than the one who simply crams or understands. If questions pertaining to analysis or creativity are not asked at all in the examination, this means we are snubbing such brilliant students.  Due to these factors, professional institutions do not trust this examination system and they judge students at the time of admission on their own standards of learning. They are right in the sense that students without higher thinking competence would not be able to pursue their professional studies comfortably. Nobody sympathizes with the students who are shunted out of this process rather they are compelled to accept the blame for not giving good performance for which they have not been trained. They are the victims of this system of education and nobody is ready to take the responsibility of their exclusion from the career market. Everybody in the government and society knows these facts, still this matter is trivialised.   Silently this process of exclusion has been legitimized and accepted.

In the last forty years or so, education has been commoditized in our society. The more you pay the better education you get. The elite schools in private sector have taken full advantage of this situation and offering education according to what you spend. In these institutions, students are prepared for international standard of education and therefore encouraged to excel in higher levels of learning. The graduates from these schools are allured to become part of the transnational human resources. This provides them an opportunity to get possibilities for a better life and relatively a free society.

Such elite institutions are beyond the reach of lower and lower middle classes. People belonging to these strata of society have only one possibility for their social or economic mobility and that is through education of their children. At the same time, they are constrained to send their children to government schools where they have no future. So, these classes are doomed to remain in destitution and deprivation for ever. Is there a method behind this madness?

Changing the style of questions and for that matter changing the mode of learning is not a simple issue. Traditionally, our education system is less geared to learning than to behaviour modification —- surviving in oppression. Banking method suits the traditional societies to perpetuate themselves from one generation to another. In this way, such people are ‘produced’ who adhere to the norms of endurance and submission. Human beings are not allowed to flourish their creative faculties. According to Freire, the world renowned philosopher of liberatory education, this kind of societies produces a culture of silence where questions are not asked. In this perspective, students taught in banking method of education are well adjusted in local societies. In this perspective, not asking questions pertaining to critical thinking is a well-designed strategy to perpetuate oppression.

Planning education system requires critically informed and conscious efforts. Especially, under the present global set up, where excellence is welcomed in any part of the world. Now, opportunities of better life are available beyond national boundaries. Therefore, traditional or national outlook on world will not do in future. To be partners in this world system, we need to develop such a system of learning which develops faculties of questioning and critical consciousness. This requires paradigm shift, hence, total transformation of education system by developing new curricula and their implementation strategies in a global perspective. This cannot happen until education is taken as a political issue by the masses.



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