Education is an activity vitally concerned with the life and future of a nation. Naturally, people of all walks of life, of all shades of opinion, whether rich or poor, are all.concerned with the development of education. There is, perhaps, no other area of human activity which is so extensively discussed. During the last several months, there has been a nationwide debate on reform in our educational system. It is a healthy sign that a broad consensus has emerged from these discussions that our educational system needs reforms and that it should be developed into a powerful instrument of social change. It is indeed gratifying to see that there is a greater concern today about the purpose of education, what is taught, with what purpose and to what purpose and to what effect.
Education: An Instrument of Change
Through time education has played an important role shaping the destinies of various societies. Education improves knowledge and advancement in knowledge brings about change in the methods and techniques of production and distribution of wealth, and above all, the relationship between man and man. As more and more people get the benefits of education, they become increasingly conscious of their role and rights as members of society. This awakening, in turn, gets reflected in a larger number of people effectively participating in the processes of development itself. It is in this process education plays a crucial role.
In the long run, education helps to bring about change; but it is at the same time, an important stabilizing force. There is inevitable repetition in the process of teaching and learning; it seeks to cultivate forms and structures which tend to become rigid over a period of time. The system itself absorbs changes almost imperceptibly and it would seem that the stability of the system is such that it can never change itself, let alone change the other systems. And yet, it is this complex interplay of various forces, one opposing the other, that makes education the most powerful and dynamic instrument for social development.
During the last 30 years, we have been largely preoccupied with the expansion of educational facilities. We did not give adequate attention to the fact that this expansion should at the same time be expected to ensure greater access to education for all sections of the community. There was greater emphasis on expand ing the facilities for higher education than strengthening the base itself. In this process, higher education and technical education understandably got precedence over elementary education, leave alone adult education. The inevitable consequences of these imbalances are reflected in the doubts expressed in the utility of higher education, the tendency to consider higher education as a concern of the elite in the society and the growing disillusionment among the masses with university education.
If, on the other hand, we had been able to provide a mass base for the development of our educational systems, the situation today would perhaps have been different. If education remains a seemingly unattainable goal for the large masses of people, it is difficult to conceive how the aspirations aroused by political and economic development in a democratic society demands more positive and purposeful participation of the people themselves in the process of development. Such participation would become possible and effective only if the masses of our people are enabled to become useful members of society who are able to make a contribution to the process of production of national wealth and to play an effective role as equal partners in the political process. All this would need an adequate degree of social awareness, which in turn demands a wider base for knowledge, methods and techniques of production, and so on. Unless the benefits of education are made available to the largest number of our population, their participation in the development process could only be passive with no involvement in the building up of a future, which is full of hopes and promises.
It is not easy to change a system that has its. roots in traditions built over centuries. Such a change cannot be brought about by Governmental action alone. Ultimately, it is the change in the outlook and attitudes of the people and their increasing involvement in social development that would help to create conditions favorable for such a change. This is a process that will take time, but we have to make a beginning. I am glad that we have taken the first step in this direction by deciding that elementary education and adult education will get overriding priority in the development of our educational system. It is sad that it took us over 30 years to take this decision; having taken this decision, it is now the responsibility of all of us to see that we put in dedicated hard work so as to make good for the lost time and ensure that we implement these programmes in quick time.
Unfortunately, there are several built-in deficiencies in the educational system that we have developed over the years. The disability that we suffer on account of the legacies of the colonial system is obvious. It is true that a larger number of people have access to education today. But, as I have said earlier, such facilities as are available to cater only to the needs of the top 30 percent of the income groups. Why is it so? It is not because the remaining 70 percent are not interested in education. It is because the system somehow promotes a kind of exclusiveness. Instead of widening the outlook and developing the total personality of man, it has come to be regarded as a status symbol and an index of one’s privileges in society. It is in this context that doubts are, expressed about the relevance of courses, their content, the methods of examinations, etc. It is very often said that an average child today has to assimilate much more information than his counterpart of a generation earlier; the load that a child has to bear at the school stage itself is too heavy; that certain subjects tend to be incomprehensible, even to an informed average citizen. And at the end of it all, the future still remains uncertain; the number of educated unemployed continues to increase. All these add up to make education a frustrating experience for a considerable proportion of children and their parents. How do we break this situation? How can we restore to education its true purpose and meaning? How do we go about making our education relevant to the needs and aspirations of our people? These are some of the major problems to which we have to find answers.
The present emphasis on acquiring too much information in too short time makes the process of learning itself tedious. If the Teal purpose of education is to develop the ability to learn and the faculties to comprehend, it should not matter if a large number of children take a little longer time in their learning process. After all, it has been widely recognized that education is a life-long process and it should be our endeavor to make it so. In that case, there is a contradiction in packing the syllabus of the school stage with such heavy content as we see today.
The frustration arising out of the inability to cope with the course content is one of the reasons for the larger number of dropouts in the early stages. In fact, the system is structured in such a manner that the less privileged sections of the society get eliminated from the system itself at a very early age. Consequently, at the higher secondary and higher education stages, it is seldom that the less privileged sections are able to find their due place. Consciously or unconsciously, this is how the elitist character has emerged. Unless we make a determined effort to change this character of our education, the vast sections of our population will always remain outside the system itself.
We have accepted the philosophy that the curriculum at the school stage should include some socially useful productive work. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the development of creativity is an essential function of education. If a child at a very young age discovers himself, and if his creative urges find expression in one form or the other he becomes more confident about himself and about the environment of which he is a part. Education thus comes nearer to life. Secondly, and this needs to be emphasized most, education must develop in man the capacity to work. There is no escape from it. A large number of our young men and women crowd the corridors of institutions of higher education today, in the hope that they could secure some white-collar job or the other. Experience has, however, belied their expectations. What is worse, they have developed neither the capacity nor the attitude for work with their own hands. Not unexpectedly, the whole system of education falls into disrepute. There is no other way to redeem the situation than inculcate in the young mind the right attitude towards manual work, emphasizing the dignity of labor and encouraging creativity. It is only through the cultivation of such attitudes that we can increase our productivity, improve the opportunities of employment and ensure a better future for the generation yet to be born. And it is by such means only that education can acquire meaning, content and purpose. That is what M.A. Jinnah had beckoned us to do.
The real purpose of education is to develop the individual, to build a society of men and women of character, Intelligence, honesty alertness and fearlessness are the traits that we have to develop. But these are all individual attributes. These individual qualities have also to be tempered by a social sense, a genuine concern for other individuals and groups. The objective of education should be to strive to attain this goal through an integration of the individual and the society, the individual and the environment and evolve a balanced citizen. To strive continuously to attain this integration is, in short, the pursuit of excellence. That is what higher education should be all about, and not the attainment of intellectual sophistry.
National Adult Education Programme
The Medium of Instruction
I wish to touch briefly on another important issue, which has been generating considerable apprehension and excitement. The National Education Policy adopted by the country in 1968, states in no uncertain terms that the regional languages have to be adopted as the media of instruction and examinations, right up to the highest level. However, we have not achieved the desired results in this direction. Unfortunately, any discussion on languages generates considerable emotions. If we look at the purpose of education in its broad perspective, which I have attempted to set out, I am sure that the apprehensions and the reservations about the adoption of the regional languages as the media of instruction are not well-founded. The real objective of education is to develop human faculties and the role that language plays is that of a vehicle of communication.
If these broad purposes are achieved, it should not really matter in which form one communicates. In fact, one’s ability to comprehend and communicate will soon find expression in any medium that is near to him, but what is important is that education should develop in man that ability to comprehend and to communicate. If the ability is not developed, no language can become a growing, dynamic medium. Unfortunately, we have been tempted to identify university education with proficiency in a certain language as a means for securing jobs. This link between jobs and university degrees has in fact done much damage to our educational system. We have to break it and make education really an instrument that will bring about change in our attitudes and approach, make us better citizens and productive members of the society rather than making us merely wage-earners in an unequal society.
Role of the Teacher
Moreover, I would like to stress the role of teachers in the reconstruction of our education system. Teachers at all levels and especially at the University level have to provide the social and educational leadership in this task of reconstruction. Their moral authority and commitment to ideals make teachers the natural leaders in this great revolution. The teacher, theMaulvicshas always enjoyed a prestigious position in the Pakistani tradition. He occupies a place of primacy in society. He is not merely, a communicator of knowledge and information, but he is the molder of character and personality. It should be his endeavor to shape and mold constructive public opinion and responses. We have to pause and ponder whether the teaching community as a whole is fulfilling these responsibilities today. It is true that teachers enjoy a large measure of respect and appreciation, but can it be said with certainty that they occupy their due place in society today? Are they able to function effectively as leaders influencing the community at large? Are they utilizing their opportunity to appreciate and assess the damage done by social inequalities, prejudices and practices, which stand in the way of progress, in removing these impediments to growth?
I believe our teachers have an opportunity to recapture the spirit of the traditional Imams I have no doubt that they will make a conscious effort to transform education into an instrument to subserve the larger interest of the community. Teaching cannot be confined merely to classrooms, and education is not a process in which only small groups of students participate. It should be a process, on the other hand, in which the whole community takes part, and it is this process of involving the whole community in the system of education that the teacher assumes his natural role of a leader. It is only when the teacher himself is able to gain an adequate insight into the problems of the community that he will be able to appreciate the relevance of the educational programmes and to experiment with new approaches and innovations. It is through such a process of teaching and learning that education is enriched and made purposeful and relevant. If the teacher can: assume the role of a community adviser in small local communities. and influences the functioning of community organizations like panchayats, co-operative societies and so on, he can emerge on the national scene also as a leader in social reconstruction and national development.
If our objective of ensuring a total reconstruction of our educational system has to be achieved, we have to build a strong movement of teachers’ organizations in the country on a constructive line. Indeed, I would go to the extent of suggesting that there should be one strong, unified movement of teachers at all levels in the country, which can play its due role in developing and shaping our educational policies. Regrettably; one does not see such efforts taking shape today, though there are teachers’ organizations, by and large, confined to promotion of sectional interests, with little or marginal concern for the larger problems of the country. It is my hope that the teaching community at all levels would address themselves to this important question and work together to create a situation in which they would be able to initiate studies, conduct research, and solutions to problems that face the educational development of our country. In fact, I would like to see teachers themselves taking the initiative in studying the problems which I mentioned earlier, namely, reasons for large dropouts at the school stage, the problem of access for weaker sections course content, and above all, reasons for the inequalities and imbalances in our educational development. If they take up these problems in a serious manner and assist the society in finding solutions, I am sure the teaching community in the country would have regained its natural role.