On the Relevance of Modern Education
6 Jul, 2018
.. by Mir Wazir Khan
The other day, an Educational Research Conference was organized by Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan Chitral in Chitral to review the progress and evolution of education in Chitral and to highlight the contribution of Aga Khan Education Service in the promotion of education particularly female education in Chitral. Senior educators–both serving and retired– from public education sector and senior community leaders participated. The community and educational leaders spoke about the importance and the different phases of the development of education in Chitral.
The history and development of formal education can conveniently be traced to ancient Greece. Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno, Socrates and Plato-to name a few- flourished in Greece about five hundred years before the beginning of Christian era. Their cosmogony, man’s place and role in the universe and the purpose and objective of education and personal quest as expounded by these ancient philosophers appears to be as relevant today as it was some two thousand years ago. The theories and philosophies of these philosophers and educationists are still extant. From the study of these it becomes clear that at that time education was more spiritualistic and focused on the elevation and development of the soul, on the principle of ‘know thyself’ and on the development of just and judicious societies. Education was geared towards the understanding of the self, spiritual development and man’s quest for a perfect form of polity where humans can live in peace and prosperity leading towards further development of human civilization.
Islam also placed great emphasis on a kind of education which enables the individual to know ‘thyself’. Islam considers man as a microcosm—a miniature universe- (alam-e- saghir) created to reflect and contemplate on macrocosm—the greater universe. Contemplation on the physical universe (afaq)- the outer world- and on the inner working of human soul and spirit (anfas) has been emphasized by Islam. Islam laid great stress on ‘knowing thyself’ and it has been narrated in a hadith that ‘he who knows himself knows God’. (maan arafa nafsahu faqad arafa rabaho). Reflection and contemplation on the working of universe and Nature has been of great significance in Islamic concept of education. This shows that Islam placed greatest emphasis on individual’s self-actualization, self- realization and self-fulfillment and the objective of education in Islam is directed towards the achievement of this objective first and foremost.
This doesn’t mean that education in Islam, in any way, is against material progress and prosperity. Islam is considered as ‘Din-e- Fitra’ because Islam favors ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’ in every human undertaking. Hermetic life, Isolation and reclusiveness has been strongly forbidden in Islam and Muslims are commanded to observe neat and nice balance between this world and the hereafter and between the temporal and the spiritual. In all religions and in the ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese civilizations, the purpose of education has been to develop strong character ethics in individuals. Education in all religions and cultures, in the final analyses, has been an ethical and moral endeavor.
However, from the middle of 18th century and with the Industrial Revolution in Europe, European powers became leaders in education. With European leadership in education, a new materialistic phase in human civilization began. With that the objective of education also underwent radical changes. Inventions, discoveries and navigation accelerated production and means of production and marketing of goods. Materialism gradually overshadowed education’s ethical and moralistic aspects. For more and more wealth, more and more raw materials were needed. Acquisition of raw materials necessitated colonization and competition for colonies accelerated wars and conflicts in Europe in which millions perished. World War 1 and II, the Korea War, the Vietnam War and many other regional wars and conflicts were, by and large, for possession of regions having vast natural resources and for economic and political domination.
The proceedings of the conference compelled me to write about the ultimate purpose of education and some of the negative aspects of unbridled materialistic education. Education is a double-edged sword. If it is used for the better of self and society, it is a panacea for all ills and if it is directed towards the acquisition of maximum material comforts by all means then it becomes a dangerous thing. Look, those whose decisions led toward great wars were greatest educated minds of their time. Today, if we look at village, town, city, country or global level, it is the educated segments in society and the most educationally advanced nations who are involved in maximization of personal and national profits, through different regulations and policies that lead toward exploitation in societies. The uneducated are also involved in corruption and other wrongful acts but the size and magnitude of their wrongs, in comparison to the educated lot, are very tinny and trifle. The challenges of corruption, omission and commission, bad governance, misuse of power and other related problems are mostly the products of minds educated in the most elitist educational systems the world over. Is it not a fact that business classes and ruling elites in every country are people graduating from the best schools?
Modern education has bridged distances, increased production and has created comforts unimagined in human history. But are these benefits of education and technological progress available to the majority of humanity? In the most advanced phase of our civilizational progress have we been able to eradicate hunger, ignorance and diseases to the vast numbers of humanity? Has exploitation of man by man become any less now than it was, say, a few centuries ago? Have we been able to eliminate the dangers of wars and armed conflicts and the hazards to our environment and ecosystem?
Amir Hussain, a renowned columnist, in his column in the daily ‘ The News’ under the title ‘Fragmented truth’ has highlighted economic inequality and social disparity in the USA which is the world’s most advanced nation and is considered a ‘knowledge society’. He writes: ‘according to estimates, the top 20% of American households own more than 84% of the wealth and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than the combined wealth of 42% of American families”.
Barrack Obama, former US president, while campaigning for the Democratic Party ticket in 2007 said about inequality thus: “If what a CEO gets in a month which an ordinary worker cannot get in a year then there is something wrong somewhere which needs to be corrected”. Barrack Obama was an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton against Trump during the 2017 presidential elections in USA. After Hillary’s defeat and while leaving the White House for the last time on January 19, 2017 Obama addressed an audience and said so: ‘many people voted for Donald Trump because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised…… you don’t want to have an America in which a small group (silver) of people are doing really well and everyone else is fighting for crumbs…..’
There has never been and will never be an absolute equity and equality in society and that human efforts and fortunes are differently determined. But what is happening across the world and particularly in the Third World countries is something that is unjustified and intolerable. Oxfam report 2017, while discussing glaring economic inequalities and wide gap between the rich and poor says that ‘the world’s 1% richest people get 82% of global wealth while 99% survive on the remaining 18%.’
Worse is the situation in Pakistan and other countries of the Third World because their share in the remaining 18% is again very meager. In terms of Human Development Indicators, Pakistan ranks among the world’s poorest countries such as Afghanistan and countries in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2018, there are still 22 million children out of school; 44% of children suffer malnutrition; 25% of the youth are infected with hepatitis and 60% of our population does not have access to potable water and around 70 million of the population live below poverty line that is they cannot earn $2 per day. The irony of the matter is that the world is ruled by the educated and elitist classes and not the illiterate and the poor. However, in God’s beautiful vast Earth, life has become difficult for the majority under the rule of well-educated minority ruling classes. Switch on TV and hear any channel who will listen to news of chaos, conflicts, killings, accusation of corruption and counter accusations. You rarely hear something that brings hope and happiness. Is it not the right time to reorient and restructure our educational systems in ways that bring us closer to Nature and enable us to develop a new outlook on life and afterlife? In the prevailing scenario, education will provide upward mobility and will enable a person to join the dominant class without having wider humanistic impact on society. .. Mir Wazir Khan, Chitral 06 Jul 2018