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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Education: Beyond The East and West Myopia

Education: Beyond The East and West Myopia

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

Recently (August, 15, 2010) I read two ‘interesting’ articles published on the Education page in Dawn. The first article titled, ‘Game of deceit’ [ http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/education/game-of-deceit-580 ] by Ismat Riaz, has been written in the backdrop of the current crises of the fake degree phenomenon of our parliamentarians. The author rightfully calls it fraud and links it to the prevalence of injustice in our society. The author laments the fact that this kind of cheating and fraud lead to ‘regression’ in the society and ‘erodes its sense of fairness and honesty which should be the hallmark of progressiveness’. The author argues that as a consequence of conferring fake degrees on unqualified people, our universities have lost their credibility. According to the author, "transparency and accountability have been eroded from the matriculation examination which is why the international O and A levels have become popular as alternatives within the system in Pakistan. At least, if nothing else, their results can be accepted as reliable in terms of transparency in fair and honest checking of examination papers". The author brings in support for introducing morality and ethics into education through ‘Western’ philosophers such as John Dewey and Edmud Burk and seems to tacitly appreciate their moral standing and progressive educational philosophies based on democracy, freedom and fair play. In order to elaborate the harms of ‘fraud’ she quotes Edmund Burk, a ‘Western’ philosopher saying, “Fraud is the ready minister of injustice”. There is however an interesting twist in her argument when she compares these ‘western’ philosophies for upholding morality in the society with Zia regime’s making of "Islamiyat compulsory in schools as part of the Islamisation programme of that era", which she thinks had the "underlying purpose" "to inculcate moral and ethical values through the study of religion." It doesn’t seem easy to accept this assertion without a pinch of salt though. Zia’s motives seem to be going beyond this simple face-value claim. Overall the author seems to be of the view that by ‘unfortunately’ ignoring ‘progressive’ (Western?) philosophies such as reconstructionism and progressivism through the adoption of which the West "has been able to radically change its societies by equalising educational opportunities for all and laying the foundations of a qualitative and progressive society", "Social evils have worsened and equity is a distant dream" in Pakistan. As a whole the gist of the article seems to be an appreciation for Western educational philosophies and progressive education system which has culminated in phenomenal development in every field of life in the West.
Ironically, the same page which carries this article, carries another article titled, "Westward bound" [http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/education/westward-bound-580 ] by Afshain Afzal, which seems almost a complete contradiction of whatever is proposed in the above article. It is a classic example of a jump from the paradigm of ‘inclusion’ to the paradigm of ‘exclusion. From education for internationalism to education for narrow natinoalism. The author bitterly announces the unlucky news, "top universities from the USA opening campuses in Islamabad is fetching new hopes for the elite class here. Their children would obviously be able to bag the top jobs while also saving the parents millions of rupees being spent in sending them abroad for further studies". One feels like asking: is it a bad thing for top USA universities to open campuses in Pakistan? Is it unfortunate if our ‘elites’ educate their children inside Pakistan and save ‘millions of rupees’ rather than keep, as they do now, sending them abroad and spend those millions there in foreign countries? Is it indeed bad to construct an ‘Educational city’ in Islamabad? Before moving further to fully deconstruct the author's thesis of opposing foreing universities' campuses, it would be in order to mention just a few benefits of these campuses in Pakistan. First of all the cost of a degree from a foreign university through its local branch would be enormously reduced (in terms of travel cost, and living cost in a foregin country)and students from those strata of our society who cannot pursue education in those foreign countries would be able to get the same or almost the same level of education at a much lower (less than half on a rough estimate)cost in their own country. Investment by foreign universities in the form of establishing local branches in Pakistan would enhance cooperation in the field of education between our local universities and academia and those foreign universities. By establishing these local campuses not only our middle classes and lower middle classes would have access to foreign univeristies' education but also it will create enormous opportunities for jobs in the local educational market for our people. These foregin university campuses by providing world class education would bring in competition for the local educational institutions and universities who would strive for excellence in order to compete with these rivals. Politically speaking it is an irony that we are happy when these foreign/western nations sell us their weapons and fighter jets and tanks and missiles at exhorbitant prices but we are not ready to accomodate their educatinoal institutions as those are a 'danger to our identity and ideology'!
The author, for all we know, somehow associates the establishment of "foreign schools and university campuses’ with "running away from our identity"! "Foreign or western institutions, no matter how high in stature they might be, would promote western values while failing to make provision for Islamic aspects in their way of teaching", writes the author! It is difficult though to know the logic behind any such assumption. One is inclined to ask: How many ‘foreign or Western’ institutions are already working in our country, on the basis of their impact in terms of imposing Western values on us, as the author concludes that they would promote “Western values while failing to make provision for Islamic aspects in their way of teaching”? Besides what are those harmful ‘Western’ values and what kind of ‘Islamic aspects’ does the author think are in danger of withering away? The author says, “Subject to law and public morality, we in Pakistan encourage the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures. Not allowing the Muslims to have a public education system of their own, which protects their religion and culture, poses a danger for the ideology of Pakistan.” One is inclined to ask the author,if she could let us know who is not allowing Muslims to have a public education system of their own and thus causing a danger to the “ideology of Pakistan”? Does the author think that by establishing a few university campuses in Islamabad, the Westerners will be able to take hold of our entire public education system; and “cause danger to the ideology of Pakistan”? Isn't is the case that our existing educational system and our curriculum is almost entirely based on 'Western' educational philosophies both in the fields of natural and social sciences? What presently is so 'Eastern' or 'Islamic' about it anyway, that will be endangered by the establishment of a few 'Western' university campuses in Islamabad? What is so rational about wrapping iron curtains around ourselves, our people and our country? Why is our 'identity' so fragile that it cannot stand the weight of a few foreign university campuses? This again belies logic.
The real eye-opener is the paragraph where the author says, “Turning back the pages of history… It would be a matter of interest for many to note that Aligarh University initially came into being as a conspiracy against the Muslims in order to produce a pro-western educated lot. It was a tool in the hands of British imperialists and their handful of sympathisers, who wanted to destroy the religion, culture, traditions and values of the people of this region.” Hmmm! so what does the author here think of the ‘original founder’ of the ‘Two Nation Theory’, the very basis for the creation of Pakistan and the founder of the Aligarh movement: Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan? Was that great Muslim thinker, the originator of the Two-Nation theory, the basis of the demand for Pakistan, a ‘conspirator’ against the Muslims and their identity then? This is immediately followed by a school girl level reasoning (contradiction?), “Today, no one can deny that Aligarh University is a well-reputed institution. However, it has very little to do with the struggle for Pakistan. In the same regard, although, certain leaders from the university became active members of the Pakistan movement, they had different ideologies as compared to the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Allama Mohammad Iqbal”. Interesting isn’t it, if one can twist logic to its ultimate limits.
The author subsequently, out of the blue, comes up with a ‘message’ on the value of indigenous education from the Quaid-i-Azam trying to put a stamp of validity and approval on her argument but obviously remaining oblivious to the finishing words of message, “…bring our educational policy and programmes on the lines suited to the genius of our people consonant with our history and culture, and having regard to modern conditions and vast developments that have taken place all over the world [emphasis mine].”
The author in the end has an interesting suggestion for us, “We must rebuild our educational system on the foundations of the Islamia and Jamia Millia schools, colleges and universities”. Well, why go so far back in history? Why not instead follow the models of their recent counterparts which are flourishing in every nook and corner of our blessed country at the moment and the graduates of which are now dragging us back to the cave era in every way they can? The author gives examples of a number of universities, from which campuses should be including in the ‘Education City’, including ‘Khyber University’. I wonder if there is any university in Pakistan by that name. Finally the author comes up with her ultimate piece of wisdom: allowing foreign universities to establish campuses in the "heart" of Pakistan (Islamabad), according to the author is akin to nullifying the very creation of Pakistan! And what does she think about herself writing in ENGLISH, a ‘Western’ language in an English language newspaper which somehow promotes this ‘foreign’ ‘Western’ language? Doesn’t it feel like a conspiracy against our ‘identity’ as well?

The writer is a PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

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