The need to reset our worldview
Education is the bedrock for the development of any country. Strong education systems produce men of vision, men of character, and men of letters, not merely ‘men of degrees’. Unfortunately, our education system is producing worthless degrees. Thus, we are falling behind other nations in knowledge and research. We witness invention of every kind in the developed countries. We seem to have no other option except to borrow or beg technology and even medicines from others. Notwithstanding the Axact fake degree scam, many institutions in Pakistan are allegedly awarding procedurally genuine but factually fake degrees as majority of the degree holders are like blind followers of dead letters. The students generally memorise text without critically analysing the ideas and concepts and even without understanding the meaning of the text. In a race for getting degrees, one who gets the degree wins the rat race and instead of wining that race still remains a rat. So, we have acute shortage of genuine social and natural science scholars in Pakistan. And, some scholars that we have prefer serving abroad due to lack of academic culture and political victimisation in our educational institutions.
We continue to fail to learn from the developments in other parts of the world and seem to ignore teachings of our ancestors. We have failed to comprehend Iqbal’s philosophy of ‘self’ as well as Sayyed’s passion for education and intellectual pluralism. Iqbal’s ‘self’ demands a recurrent evolution in knowledge and morality to strengthen society. And Sayyed sees a wide-open quest for knowledge as a virtue. Instead of developing this ‘self’ and ‘quest’ for the progress of human thought, we have developed a certain anxiety about free ideas and a thirst for materialism. In fact, we lack in the values envisioned by Iqbal, Sayyed, and Jinnah and thus rarely find a restless, self-advancing, self-improving, optimistic, rational, confident, and idealistic individual – a person who believes in constant evolution, progress, and change in oneself and one’s society.
We continue to fail to learn from the developments in other parts of the world and seem to ignore teachings of our ancestors
On the other hand, one can see a high level of debate and intellectual engagement in universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. Universities in developed countries focus on creativity and original research. They introduce students to a variety of views and encourage them to apply and appreciate these ideas in different contexts. The students can challenge these ideas and differ with their teachers. They can challenge conventional wisdom in every discipline i.e., religion, culture, health, history, politics, business, music, nanotechnology, crime, fashion, etc. The people consider that ideas cannot freeze and events are contextualised in time and space so they can be revised and/or better understood employing philosophical, scientific, theological, and psychological knowledge of the present time. This perception of knowledge, in my view, can be helpful for producing fresh thinking in our educational institutions.
Moreover, what makes the West advance is not raw intellect but their commitment to reason, research, duty, discipline, and open debate. Constant engagement makes them informed and better than others in research, technology, development, and policy making. In the West, academia informs the policy making process through press coverage and consultation. In our country, however, the academia is rarely consulted by policymakers. And our policies (including educational policies) are generally motivated by short-term political objectives.
At the same time, some people think that the present in the West may be the future of the non-West. In my opinion, ideas like ‘secularism’, ‘enlightenment’, and ‘liberalism’ cannot simply be transplanted in a different soil. These concepts require space for evolution and the recognition of different religious, social, economic, and cultural realities in true spirit of democracy. I believe that every ethnicity, religion and community (national or even post-national) can maintain, evolve, and present its ‘distinctive consciousness’ while appreciating the values of the others. In my opinion, humans should learn and accommodate others’ views. They do not need any attachment to the unshakeable beliefs, ideas, ideologies, or ideocracy presented to them by others. The notions of history, origins, culture, values, customs, norms, beliefs, normality, truth, nature, authenticity, development, stability, and consensus evolve; these notions can be challenged in the light of knowledge acquired over the process of human civilisation. I do not mean that every notion and narrative is totally false; rather, I think there should always be kept a space for evolution as humans cannot claim finality in their efforts or ideas. So, we need to construct and reconstruct our worldview with reading, reflection, and constant critique. And that construction seems impossible without reconstruction of our education system.
What makes the West advance is not raw intellect but their commitment to reason, research, duty, discipline, and open debate
Finally, a true education system teaches tolerance. It develops an ‘ethics of engagement’ and appreciation of historical, religious, and cultural differences to develop an ‘overlapping world view’ providing peace and prosperity for mankind. With this optimism, I offer the following specific suggestions for Pakistan:
First, we must improve our education system from the primary school to the university level. Syllabi should be revised to include topics like pluralism, civic life, ethics, basic health, legal rights, etc. The students should be involved in leaning activity. Traditional lecture system should be replaced with open discussion and advance reading. Excessive photocopying from books and notes should be discouraged. Exams should test the basic skills of reading, writing, analysis, thinking, and not mere memory.
Second, we need to promote intellectual dialogue on important issues (e.g., extremism, electoral reforms, law and order, development, etc.) in our educational institutions. These debates should be publicised through media. Keeping in view the resources and security, tele-conferences should be arranged amongst scholars from around the world and findings of these debates should be circulated at every level in national and local languages.
Third, our media should present intellectually rich, coherent, and clear discussions regarding educational reforms and other matters of national interest. Researchers, technocrats, and academia should be provided more space on electronic and print media to address long-term national issues i.e., reconstruction of our education system.