Laws of learning

A former Punjab University student shares his experiences on the campus

By Rab Nawaz

I belong to the rural upper-class of central Punjab. Despite my mediocre schooling, I developed a profound interest in learning. By the time I knew what academic life could be, I started dreaming of university education. After graduation, the prospect of studying law in Pakistan’s largest university, Punjab University, was nothing short of a dream. At the end of my programme, I cannot help sharing with you my experience.

To start with, a bundle of procedural troubles haunted me to get admission into the Law College and the university’s hostel. The social environment around the campus was the first blow to my self-esteem. I was desperate to find the whole university, and the administration, enslaved by a handful of students who claimed their right to rule on the basis of a student union’s election held two decades ago. A number of administrative issues like hostel allotments, hostel governance and maintenance, extra curricular activities, rules and regulations of classes and all the social spaces were forcefully captured by them. Their social and political manoeuvring was a source of great discomfort.

The threatening environment at the campus forced me to limit myself to the class room. I dared to question the teachers. As a consequence my grades started falling. Had I not begged for forgiveness, I would have been expelled. My image of university education was shaken. The questions I asked, let me assure, were neither offensive nor harmful. I always kept the sanctity of the teacher-student relationship in my mind.

I found a consolation in study hours at the library but was, at times, disappointed to discover that a certain book listed in the catalogue was not there at all. But I figured out that the library had compensated my other grievances from the university.

I tried to socialise during my time at the hostel and mingle with those with whom I shared some interests. To my surprise, I found social groupings based mainly on caste, sect or region. I seldom found some literary circle and academic discourses in the hostels. Absence of internet facility in the hostels and the disturbing attitude of my room-mates further discouraged me. The vast green fields and games, however, compensated somewhat.

The start of final year brought good news in the form of a fascinating promise of a cubicle for me. I thought it would end my troubles of living in the dormitory and provide space and solitude required for my studies which I was never allotted because I did not have some strange seniority rule based on early deposit of fee. I argued that the students were not warned of any such action at the time of depositing fee. None of my arguments bore fruit. I failed because, unlike my friends, I couldn’t flatter the administrative authorities. As for studies, I must admit, I gained little. I can rightly assess now that the more I studied, the lesser marks I got. Good grades were gained by rot learning a few important questions and good handwriting which, I believe, is irrelevant in practical life.

One of the most important things in this ‘seat of academic’ excellence was one’s relations with the teacher. These so-called relations, with the exceptions of a few teachers included flattery and agreeing with him at every point. Disagreement with teacher and even writing something out of his lecture and recommended textbook meant lowering your grades. Grades did not bother me only if I knew I was truly learning something. During my time at the university, I can remember only a very few instances which provoked research and critical thinking, a basic purpose of education. The out-dated syllabus I studied carries no scope in modern times. I could never satisfy my longing of in-depth comprehension of legal philosophy and constitutionalism.

Today I am left with a piece of paper called ‘degree’ and a loss of three years with little knowledge.

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3 responses to “Laws of learning

  1. You have commented on the state of learning at Punjab University. How would you fill these gaps? In order of priority what would be the three or five things that need to be looked at to change the Punjab University campus around?

  2. Wish it was as simple as identifying a few things that would lead to change. The systemic rot is so widespread and complex that changing it will require a generation.

    My list of three things:
    a. freeing the campus of criminal control of mafia[s]
    b. Faculty improvement – better salaries and performance measurement system
    c. Accountability of Deans for results and improved academics

  3. Naeem Ahmed Bajwa

    Criminal mafia is none other than the cadre of Islami Jamiat.
    But let us face it, Punjab university basically caters to the student from third rate colleges. Poorly educated and mostly from smaller cities and towns, these students end up in the folds of Jamiat which provides them with strength and and purpose.
    Who is interested in teaching and learning in such environments.
    Jamiat gets cannon foder and the teachers, (most of them) their salaries without work

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