Educative utopia | Pakistan Today

Educative utopia

  • The way to power 
In today’s world, knowledge has become the source of all power that shapes the destiny of the nations by adding to their economy, society, politics, and militaries. Universities are the seats of knowledge since they produce human resource that conceive ideas – source of knowledge. In that way, universities are responsible for the unhindered supply of ideas. As in 21st century, ideas have taken the shape of weaponry in the battle of wits among nations.
The purpose of education is to test, refine, or replace the assumed truths and improve human conditions in a society. Speaking of industry, it is also liable to cater the needs of the industry with work force supplies.
The rise of Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Malaysia is owed to their education that produced engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. They lacked natural resources but refused to sit idle and developed the alternative – human resource and emerged as ‘nations of engineers and entrepreneurs’.
Why has Pakistan not been in the list? Its education syste, instead of producing knowledge, merely transmits the information. It is not conducive for independent, critical, and creative thinking. This system does not actualise the potential of the students for not putting them to the test of puzzles and problems for interpretation and solutions. Hence, a stagnant and conformist society – immune to debate and change, is the product of the system.
Education does not mean to maintain the existing socio-economic structure, it must transform it by changing the lives of the people. Education happens to be the blood of societies and academics are the hemoglobin that carry oxygenated ideas – necessary for the nation building.
Unfortunately, with few exceptions, academics in Pakistan act as persuaders. They neither create new knowledge nor do appreciate the critical thinking by their students. MPhil and PhD students are asked for ‘desired findings’ – consistent with the established truths. This intellectual dishonesty proves fatal for the nation’s present and future as it seizes the autonomy of the future intellectuals and reduces them to a mere acquiescent. Academia as ‘intellectual industrial complex’ exerts power the way other cartels in the society wield. They act in unison, from appointments to the publishing of research articles in journals. Why is the case so? For pure economic reasons…, that country has put in place by incentivising education with the economic perks. This gerontocracy in the realm of education has turned Pakistan into the graveyard of ideas.
A recent survey of five elite universities of Islamabad, conducted by a team of young researchers, reveals that it is the faculty that influences the students’ opinion more than the curriculum
Why to blame academia for all this mess when many other contributing factors are also there? Answer lies, education system starts with the teacher and ends with students. A well-resourced faculty should be held responsible than the bricks of the building and the bits of the internet.
A recent survey of five elite universities of Islamabad, conducted by a team of young researchers, reveals that it is the faculty that influences the students’ opinion more than the curriculum. Whatever the content might be, teacher deals in his/her own way. Not surprisingly, universities have become new hot beds of extremism. The very study also identifies three types of university teachers: one, teacher as Wa’ez – who always, instead of the field of study he/she is hired for, teaches religious morality and ethics; two, anti-science teacher – who pitches science against the religion and instead of encouraging evidence and inquiry makes the students find the solutions in the faith; third, selective theory-fixed teacher – who supports a certain set of assumptions and propagates it as truth because it suits to his/her class, faith, ethnicity, or political affiliation.
Incapacity and disbelief about the subject are the common factors in all three cases. When a university teacher teaches one thing and believes in something else, is intellectual deficiency. Therefore, they rely on appealing the emotions of the students than inquiry, and unwittingly hamper critical and inquisitive potentials of the students. This is seduction not education. For critical thinking it is necessary to motivate the students to make them interested in the topic and encourage their independent observation and explanation. The system that fails to teach how to think, successfully imposes ignorance in the name of education.
Another aspect that students frequently complained about – the behavior of the academics. According to them, numerous faculty members emulated the behavior of bureaucrats both in exercising power and arrogance. This observation is incredibly consistent with the reality. Both have subjects to deal with, bureaucrats control the bodies of ordinary masses; whereas, academics control the brains. Both defy change and innovation: one takes the pride in carrying the colonial legacy of British Raj; whereas, the other suffocates the society with its unchangeable mediocrity.
What is the way out? To put the nation on the track of progress, peace, and prosperity, academics and intellectuals should conceive an ‘educative utopia’: place students into the frame as building blocks and persuade politicians and policy makers to apply it. This is not impossible, physical infrastructure is already in place, only the change of mind is required.

The writer is a PhD (IR) candidate at National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan, and Research Fellow at the University of Maryland, USA.