In a Pakistani family, trouble arises when a student enters the ninth grade. The choice between O/A levels or the local conventional “board” system marks a pivotal moment in their decision-making process, casting a shadow on the road leading to a promising future. Discussions on this issue within social circles often lead to increased stress. Limited critical thinking can lead to making the wrong decision. To navigate this situation successfully, it is essential to take a step back and assess the situation.
Firstly, the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) system operates at the national level and encompasses public schools, with private institutes offering it as an option. Tuition fees are minimal, and endorsed textbooks are affordable. However, public schools, with their overcrowded classrooms and underqualified teachers, tend to promote rote learning. The ‘Memorise and Reproduce’ rule prevails. Private schools, in comparison, provide essential resources and rely to some extent on a conceptual approach. Nevertheless, the system’s occasional updates, particularly regarding the curriculum, weaken an already fragile structure. Just like a car with all its tyres at risk of going flat, it can hardly be expected to drive smoothly to its destination.
Moreover, the limited subject choices, either ‘Science group’ or ‘Arts group,’ constrain career options. Exams occur only once a year in the spring, and the examination department is on the brink of collapse. Common problems include paper leaks, cheating, and unauthorized access to answer booklets. These exams primarily assess students’ memorization abilities rather than their conceptual understanding and critical analysis skills. Students are often expected to reproduce textbooks verbatim in their answer sheets, and practical exams are carried out with dysfunctional labs, poor infrastructure, and missing experimental equipment.
All of this underscores the commercial nature of the system, where marks can be obtained through the exchange of money. Recent reforms, such as the shift to a Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) approach by the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE) in 2022 and the introduction of a more effective grading system by the BISE system in the same year, have shown promise. Nevertheless, the educational system still requires more comprehensive reforms. The syllabus needs a thorough review, teaching methods need to be revised, and the examination department needs rehabilitation.
On the opposite side, we find the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) framework. Let’s delve into the details. The Cambridge system, based in the UK, offers a significant advantage over the BISE system: its international recognition. Numerous textbooks are available, allowing students to select the ones that suit them best. The emphasis is on grasping complex concepts, and the biannual exams provide a stress-free learning experience, with students choosing the number of exams they want to take. The system is highly conducive to achieving good grades. The syllabus is regularly updated to include the latest discoveries and content in the field, and a broad array of subjects opens doors to greater success.
However, there are pros and cons to consider. The high tuition fees and exorbitant exam registration costs make the system accessible primarily to affluent families in Pakistan’s current economic scenario. Another challenge is the longer study duration, with schools typically offering a standard three-year program. An exception is being a private candidate and having the energy and resources to excel in the exams.
From the discussion above, a clear solution emerges. If your future academic plans are centered in Pakistan, it’s advisable to opt for the BISE system, despite its flaws. This decision should be made considering the individual’s commitment, compatibility with the grading system, and alignment with the path to higher educational institutions. In contrast, if you aspire to pursue higher education abroad, CIEs are generally considered the superior choice. This also saves you the trouble of obtaining an equivalence certificate, a time-consuming process that can impact your academic percentage.
Often, parents choose CIEs for one child, typically the eldest, while the others receive a conventional education. This approach can have detrimental effects, impacting the family budget and perpetuating inequality. A better approach is to consult with career counselors and respected teachers.
Additionally, families with limited financial resources should consider encouraging private schools to provide scholarships to students from the public sector rather than only catering to affluent students. In any case, personal strengths play a decisive role in determining success. While despair and panic may offer momentary relief, consistent hard work is the narrow path to an inspiring future. Even if a wrong decision sets you back, challenge yourself and don’t miss the opportunity.