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In conversation with an Aitchisonian: The decline of an institution

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In conversation with an Aitchisonian: The decline of an institution

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For years, Aitchison College has been the most sought out boys school for most middle/middle-upper class families. Speaking from anecdotal experience, I would say that the decline of Aitchison started from 2015/2016 onwards. Today, when I interact with people who have young children, none of them are interested in sending their sons to Aitchison College anymore, something that was unfathomable in the outgoing decade. What are the factors behind this decline and why did this elitist boys school dominate the Pakistani education sector for so many years?

Why has there been a decline?

For Taimoor*, an Aitchisonian who graduated in 2012, it is easy to pinpoint why Aitchison College has been declining in recent years. Looking back at his years in the college (he was there from Junior School until graduation), he emphasises the lack in quality of education as the school’s main problem. For many Lahori boys starting out at Aitchison, it was very common to have family members who were former Aitchisonians.

Taimoor explained how this phenomenon, which could have been a very positive thing, actually turned out negative because it gave way for teachers and students to draw comparisons. “If a child wasn’t performing well in a subject, the thought process wouldn’t be ‘he can’t do well in this subject’, but rather ‘xyz’s brother or son can’t do well in this subject’,” explains the former Aitchisonian. He further adds that this constant comparing to family members created an unhealthy environment where individuals weren’t encouraged to be themselves, find their own personalities or build a sense of independence.

These analogies also weighed heavier on those with complicated family lives or relationships with their Aitichisonian family members.

Lack in quality of education

Moreover, Taimoor recalls the major lack in quality of education. For a college so prestigious and renown in Lahore, it is strange that little to no investment was given to the actual education there.

He explains that the teachers were incredibly narrow-minded and egotistical, recalling an anecdote of a student during maths class. In the class, the teacher was explaining one of many ways to do an equation. When the student politely offered an alternative method that would make the problem solving easier, the teacher immediately got angry and offended, yelling at the student that he doesn’t know more than she does (he didn’t claim he did) and even threatening him with expulsion from class.

“These types of teachers were commonplace in Aitchison”, says Taimoor. Additionally, personal relationships and grudges went a long way in the college. If your first impression wasn’t favourable or if your teacher wasn’t a fan of your Aitchisonian brother or father, then you would have no chance to redeem yourself in his or her eyes. These grudges seeped into the way students were graded as well. “There was no sense of professionalism” explains Taimoor.

No long-lasting effect

Today, when Taimoor looks back at his education in the college he emphatically states that he learnt nothing in terms of actual education. “Everything I’ve learnt I had to teach myself,” he explains, further adding “Everyone took tuitions for every subject. Aitchison was not the place to learn”.

In addition to this, the selection of O and A level teachers for certain subjects was incredibly randomised. No one was selected based off their specialisation in a subject, a decision which understandably caused a major downfall in the quality of education. Taimoor recalls an instance when an O level Maths teacher was shifted to teach History, then to teach English, then back to Maths. This teacher didn’t have a degree in any of these fields.

Toxic culture

Then there was the issue of the type of culture that existed within the college. As is the case with most all-boys schools, Aitchison breaded a strong sense of hyper-masculinity within its students.

This resulted in a ‘bully or be bullied culture’. Students who exuded a certain level of confidence, whether for better or worse, were given the bulk of attention whereas those students who were more reserved and shy were mostly ignored unless they were able to achieve major academic success, such as become headboy or prefect. “The environment was very ‘survival of the fittest'” is the best way Taimoor could describe it.

Silver lining?

He’s quick to mention that it wasn’t all bad though. “For me, because I was an outgoing and confident kid, I had a great time during school. These are observations I’ve made years after graduating” he says. He further says that there a few trademark Aitchisonian qualities, those being the act of being a gentleman and a sense of unity and brotherhood among students.

“From the beginning, you’re instilled this idea that Aitchison is a family”. He explains that even today, in his social circle and professional life the network of Aitchisonians runs far and wide and each one is looking out for the other regardless of age or year of graduation. “Whenever I bump into an Aitchisonian, there’s this immediate bond that’s formed and this can really help elevate your professional and personal life” explains Taimoor. The mutual connection and separate bond that Aitchisonians share is unlike that of any other institution.

Additionally, he explains that Aitchison did its utmost to create gentlemen. Major emphasis was given to respecting seniors, a quality that still exists in former Aitchisonians today. “You can tell someone is an Aitchisonian based on their mannerisms; they have a strong sense of respect for their seniors, they understand social and professional etiquette, table manners, ect” says Taimoor.

So why is it still declining?

In terms of why the college has been witnessing a decline in recent years, Taimoor believes it isn’t because anything changed, rather, people have started to catch wind of the gaping holes in education quality and culture. “While I was at school, no one really believed Aitchison wasn’t good in terms of actual education,” explains Taimoor “even when I would try to explain to my parents that I needed additional tuitions, they wouldn’t believe that it was a problem with Aitchison.”

Moreover, in recent years we have witnessed the rise of various social movements surrounding feminism and the dismantling of patriarchal and misogynistic institutions. Taimoor believes that this new found “wokeness” of our generation is another factor steering parents away from the once prestigious institution. “When we were in school, ‘hyper-masculinity’ wasn’t a concept that many were familiar with,” he says “these types of attitudes and men were all that we knew. Now, with more knowledge, people’s perceptions have changed a lot”.

It will be interesting to see whether Aitchison sees a rise in the coming years. It is clear, however, that before the college can witness any major increase in it’s popularity, major internal changes and strides need to made to modernise and fix the glaring issues that exist within the institution.

*names have been changed to maintain privacy

Keep up to date with more news at ProperGaanda: The Pakistani fear of being ‘paindoo’

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36 Comments

  1. AC 20 January 14, 2020

    It’s not totally the case. The college still is a great place for education. It seems that things after 2012 have changed a lot. The admissions on merit bases and recent infrastructural developments speak for the change. Moreover, bullying is no more there. Since last several years their has been no incident as such but yeah when you run a boys college ,so their are some feuds which are seriously dealt with.

    Reply
  2. AC 22 January 15, 2020

    Bullying really has seen a rather harsh decline in the past few years, and physical bullying really doesn’t even exist anymore. In addition, you completely neglected an aspect of the Aitchisonian education that places Aitchison on a entirely different tier compared to other schools: the sports and extra-curricular/co-curricular activities available at Aitchison. No school in the 5 provinces can come close to AC in this aspect. What you fail to understand is that a sound education isn’t just academic. However, I will wholeheartedly admit that Aitchison could have way more open-minded and accomplished teachers. I mean, just look at Shifu.

    Reply
  3. Bostonian February 19, 2020

    Aitchison was never really known for the education. I am a graduate of 2008. My dad graduated in 1978. My cousins graduated in 1996, 2000, and 2016. As you can tell, my roots run deep with this institution, which as richly pointed out cultivates roots and a network deep into Pakistan – that is unreplicated, unparalleled by any other formal institution in Pakistan. It’s the bond and the common experience that keep it all together. To non-Aitchisonians including my family members, this is something that can’t really be explained. To all the top universities abroad, Aitchison is a recognizable brand and if you do a poll of Pakistan’s top business men, military and politicians, 80-85% attended Aitchison. You can do a poll of this sort on all the successful Pakistanis abroad, Aitchison will be the top feeder. If not education, what’s the reason for the success? It’s the well-rounded skill set that you develop through sports and co-curricular and the network that you develop (old Aitchisonians go out of their way to help younger abroad)…anyway not to say that the school doesn’t produce rich idiots, but I always advice you to not send your kid to Ac at ur own peril

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