Rediscovering education

Knowledge that is attained through education is key to the stability of any state, solidarity of society as well as welfare and development of people. Education is only purposeful when it enables individuals to positively change themselves, society and the environment. For this, the most important requirement is that institutions must have personnel as well as curricula, which develop and polish critical thinking faculties of students. Institutions, teachers and curricula which don’t do so fail to serve any purpose.

Education is also instrumental in enabling members of a society to form an independent view of the world. True education has no bounds or barriers; it is free from the limitations of time and space of biases and prejudices. But it is debatable whether true education is imparted anywhere in the world. It isn’t and can’t be for various reasons. Societies, to a great extent, depend upon propaganda, ie, doctoring of facts, to remain ‘integrated’ and maintain a social ‘order’. This propaganda is mainly textbooks and is euphemistically called education.

Imparting knowledge is the best purpose education can serve. Nevertheless, for knowledge information is sorely required. Unfortunately, most information carries with it a lot of propaganda material, thus such information can’t be instrumental in imparting knowledge to students and developing their critical faculties to come up with solutions. Curricula of educational institutions in Pakistan have always been laced with extensive and profound propaganda. Resultantly, education has largely been ineffective and purposeless. According to Plato, true knowledge not only informs the mind but also the soul. In this way, knowledge through true education regulates human conduct and builds individuals’ characters. Knowledge is practical as it translates the noble and pro-social human characteristics of truth, judiciousness, goodness and morality into practice. This knowledge promotes virtue.

Libertarian philosophy, which was the upshot of the Reformation and following intellectual, scientific, technological and democratic revolutions in the West since the 16th century, believed in the infallible nature of an individual man. It emphasised the use of education to improve individual’s faculties so as to attain the ideal of infallibility, which it thought was the source of the greatest good. In the post-Industrial Revolution era vested economic and commercial interests conceived of using educational institutions for their ‘profit motive’ by exploiting the same individual. Libertarian philosophy was distorted in such a way to make it compatible with the selfish ends of capitalists.

The menace of nationalism that emerged in early 19th century in the aftermath of the French Revolution further impeded the pursuit of true education. For instance, several restrictions were imposed on the freedom of expression of intellectuals, the very force behind the caravan of education. They were now made to think subjectively in terms of their own nation. The ways of their respective nation had become the standards of goodness. It was made incumbent by the powers that be on intellectuals that they had to think, write and educate in terms of national policies. Only a handful of intellectuals could brave these restrictions. This trend has continued to date, rather it has exacerbated particularly in states like Pakistan. The perverted individualism unleashed by intellectual movements of our age and its sociocultural manifestation in the form of hedonism has further incapacitated the power of education.

The rise of commercialism in the late 19th and early 20th century Europe and America, besides incorporation of this in the curricula, struck at the very roots of true education. Education no more remained a tool to improve the intellectual faculties of pupils, but rather to inculcate in their minds the novel methods of persuading the masses to the commercial interests of a few.

We need to rediscover the need and purpose of education, otherwise this potent force of human societies would further lose its value.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2018.

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