The Missing Link

The Missing Link

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Amir Hussain

Source: The NEWS

“I would like my followers to pursue the best education that can transform the individual and society toward prosperity and wellbeing. [This form of] education must promote social cohesion [and] individual wellbeing and… reinforce the value of peaceful coexistence in the context of the world in transition.

“Knowledge is not a privilege; it is the necessity of the time and a means to create interconnectedness, pluralism and tolerance among the communities of diverse culture and faith. The onus of this transformation, in part, rests with [the] civil society which must strive to improve the quality of life of the poor communities living [on] the margin of a rapidly globalising world.”

This is the summary of the speeches delivered by Prince Karim Aga Khan during his visit to Pakistan in December 2017. The suggestions that the Aga Khan made in his speeches can potentially revolutionise our education system. His vision of education as a force for transformation provides a contextual and experiential perspective of knowledge production and the processes of outcome-based learning. The Aga Khan emphasised the need for quality education as the building blocks of a tolerant, peaceful and prosperous society.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has played an instrumental role in Pakistan’s education sector and provided quality education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. By raising the quality of life through integrated development programmes in remote areas like Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, the organisation has demonstrated the fact that development reflects a long-term engagement with socioeconomic change and involves processes of engaging with the possibilities of empowering individuals and pulling them out of poverty.

Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral have the highest literacy rates in Pakistan and have also produced some of the best development professionals and civil society activists. The Aga Khan’s commitment to contribute towards the transformation of the poor in Pakistan could enable the growth of integrated rural support programmes.

The vision propounded by the Aga Khan reminds us of Paulo Freire’s concept of education as a pedagogical process of engagement with the real world to transform the conditions of oppression. Over time, we have put aside Freire’s conception of education because it potentially challenges our outmoded, ideology-induced education system of control and oppression. We live in a world where education has been reduced to a set of techniques and skills to acquire a job. The essence of education to transform human conditions has diminished. This has impacted our social, political and academic institutions.

While the AKDN has an impressive record in social service delivery, it has been less vocal about human rights, advocacy and the rights of citizens in Pakistan. This is perhaps due to the fear of persecution and the element of pragmatism to deliver its primary mandate of bridging the gap between the supply and demand of basic services in poverty-stricken areas.

With a life-cycle approach, the AKDN focuses on education as a process of life-time learning with varying approaches of pedagogy to different age groups. “The need for learning processes keeps changing and, therefore, we deploy a variety of approaches to ensure effective and outcome-based learning,” a senior official of the AKDN says. There are a number of lessons that we can learn from the network’s work to improve our educational system in Pakistan. As one of the key instruments of transformative change, education is central to the success of the network’s initiatives in the remote areas of Pakistan and across the developing world.

What does transformation mean? When we look at our conventional curriculum of education and the pedagogical practices in our schools, it is designed to promote the homogenisation of borrowed values and the uniformity of thought processes. The education system kills the diversity of human thinking, creativity and the potential for critical reflection, which are the prerequisites for transformative change in societies.

Our textbooks on history, geography and even science are ideology-driven and they strive to promote uniformity without unity, creationism without creativity, homogeneity as anti-diversity and scholasticism as anti-reason and anti-science. We are told nostalgic and ahistorical stories of the bravery and valour of our past heroes. This renders our present generation incapable to create a better world.

Our education system promotes nihilism, hatred and an unfounded allegiance to an unthoughtful state ideology. State-run educational institutions strive to instil an ideological allegiance to the country, but this is done through a systematic and rational process of the social and political necessity of ideology. In our case, textbooks on history and Pakistan Studies build a narrative of anti-reason, with magical and miraculous attributes to our supra-historical heroes. In the process of doing all this, we have lost a wealth of perspectives, the capacity for pluralistic thinking and the capability to find the unity in diversity.

Pakistan has diverse geographies, ethnicities and cultures that cannot be reduced to a single ideological narrative. The backlash of the singularity of the ideological narrative is visible through the growth of religious seminaries of diverse ideological pursuits, the private schools of Western education and the ethno-cultural schools of identity-based education. In the process of this ideological homogenisation and uniformity, we have lost the direction of nation-building. Our education system has restricted the human potential of transformative change and created a situation that Thomas Hobbes would call a “state of war of all against all”.

There is a need to focus on local perspectives and varying geographical realities by devising a new curriculum that should promote diversity, pluralism as well as intercultural and interfaith harmony. It should promote conceptual learning, critical thinking and interactive pedagogical methods of education whereby cutting-edge knowledge and local wisdom become intertwined to synthesise a broad-based and contextual perspective.

The National Education Policy of 2009 also highlighted that the diffused focus on the local context is a missing link in our educational policies. This suggests that we must compare our present educational policies with those of other countries where education has become a key instrument of social transformation. We live in a global knowledge society where fresh perspectives of learning disrupt the traditional ways of educating citizens. The means and mediums of education have also been transformed into a virtual world of simulated reality and if we fail to impart ethical, rational and value-based education to our youth, we will not be able to handle the influx of disruptive ideas.

The AKDN could provide suitable assistance in revamping our educational system. If the vision of Prince Karim Aga Khan is internalised as a social policy framework, we may be able to works towards a better Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: ahnihal@yahoo.com

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