In today’s era of machines and the burgeoning artificial intelligence, the outlook of education has been completely transformed especially at the level of higher education. The archetypal blackboard is supplanted by the projection screen, where a teacher with otherwise illegible handwriting, can produce a world of various colourful animations at the stroke of his hand. The relationship between a teacher and a student has also changed from a spiritual guide and a disciple to that between a service provider and a client. Dazzling educational resources have made the process of acquiring knowledge entertaining, enjoyable and comfortable. You may have also noticed that educational institutes, in their advertisements, campaign well-furnished and comfortable air-conditioned classrooms and lucrative job opportunities for their alumni; some even stating average salaries.
In addition, imitative migration from the annual to semester system facilitates those who can score well and can keep up with the rapid pace of the semester; while the reflective, thoughtful individuals may be left behind. The pace of the system has also produced many psychological problems. All of these changes are not the result of any soul-searching or inward thinking but reflect our sense of elation in adopting and copying an ‘international’ pattern of rules. This globalisation is all the more natural after we shunned a deeply rooted traditional educational system intrinsic to this region and whose vestige can be seen in the form of predominantly low-quality madrasas spread out in the country.
All policies of the HEC (Higher Education Commission) and our educational management are also a reflection of this new way of education. For example, there is an across the board encouragement of a semester-based calendar; rules and regulations for faculty promotion are quantitative and based on superficial metrics that can be easily gamed; there is a requirement for mandatory internships; and the mantra of commercialisation, entrepreneurship and innovation cloaks all kinds of deep, thoughtful, creative processes. Furthermore, the craze for research publications and a race for international ranking has veered and set the overall direction of educational institutes.
Currently, we are going through an ‘era of enlightenment’ in which human discourse is shaped by harnessing the ability to utilise logic, mathematics, analysis and argument, understanding of the universe and by abandoning the conservative nature of spiritual faculties. This new attitude demanded a new ‘education’ system. Obviously, it is foolish and dangerous to remain infatuated with tradition and to be hostile towards modernisation. Not accepting these changes and delving into a romantic nostalgia of the past by revolting against modern wisdom, industrialisation and the scientific way of analysis and reasoning is self-annihilating.
For example, the enlightened educationist, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was a clairvoyant ahead of his times. He vehemently supported the adoption of British educational ideals. He suggested riding the tide of the system introduced by a technologically and intellectually superior nation. With his pragmatic realisation,he introduced Indian countrymen to the ‘European’ educational system. But Sir Syed was not at all facing the civilisation we are presented with today.
In the era of enlightenment, there is little room left for Sir Syed’s philosophy of tahzib-al akhlaq (‘refinement of character’).
Education and training are the best testing grounds for human nature. The real purpose of education is jeopardised if this process is devoid of subtle human emotions. In this era of enlightenment, we may be asking too much for us to handle
The foremost element for the moral and cognitive development of students, especially graduate students, requires the teacher’s physical presence and intimate interaction. However, the overly regimented system has left little time in the teacher’s daily schedule to spend with students
For the creative process, the highest level of peace, serenity and silence is necessary. Social media disrupts this silence time and again and converts solitude into a congregation. Information oozes out drop by drop from the vial of the internet; unable to quench the thirst of the soul.
In today’s enterprise of higher education, there is very little rapport between student and teacher. The teachers are busy with ‘administrative’ and irrelevant matters which have little to do with education. Often, the institutes of higher education are in political turmoil. Law-suits have become a common practice. Making new curriculums, introducing new courses and modifying existing ones is a labyrinth in its own right.
In hard sciences, practical laboratories are dysfunctional due to lack of time and determination. The attractive nature and incentives placed in applied fields have dulled the charm of ‘theoretical’ sciences. The science which is in pursuit of exploring the unseen with hardly any immediate tangible output is considered unnecessary and a mere mental luxury. Moreover, research is now squarely associated with money and is solely gauged on the basis of quantity instead of quality.
Education and training are the best testing grounds of human nature. The real purpose of education is jeopardised if this process is devoid of subtle human emotions. In this era of enlightenment, we may be asking too much for us to handle. Our class divisions may fester if we allow blind enlightenment to take over, leaving behind the ones who are not the achievers, who are not successful and cannot cope with the fast pace of our educational and the ensuing economic systems.
Former Vice Chancellor of the Punjab University, Prof Hameed Ahmed Khan while addressing Government College Jauharabad’s convocation on 20 March 1966 said, “A good teacher is not content with knowing only the outwardly apparent traits of his student’s personality, he also strives to touch his inner being and his holistic personality. In the process, a teacher forgets his own self and makes another human flourish and thrive. Only through this process of sacrifice and selflessness, does a teacher reach his true mission”.
Uncertainty and doubt are considered to be more important than the clean, pristine mental state of being satisfied and content. For a student, gratitude and contentment, which were once thought of as ‘virtues’ have now become symbols of incompetence and subdued capability. Soul-searching is replaced by pomposity. The ultimate purpose of parents, teachers and students is to receive education for maintaining their higher ranks in the social hierarchy.
Education is not business and the classroom is not a place of commerce. A teacher is not an alien and neither the student a robot. The human mind works differently from a computer, and the university should not be treated as a factory. Education is a process of two-way flow of knowledge and wisdom from one human being to another.
Dr Sabieh Anwar is an Associate Professor of Physics at LUMS and the Secretary of the Khwarizmi Science Society, and Javaria Munir is a PhD student at Soonchunhyang University, South Korea
Published in Daily Times, July 27th 2018.