A little over a decade ago, I moved to Government College for my F.Sc. after completing my S.C. from Aitchison College. It was a major cultural shock for me not just in terms of the environment and the gentry I was studying with, but, also, in terms of the way one is supposed to think. I didn’t realize it until one of my teachers ejected me of the class for arguing with him that a certain equation was solved incorrectly in our prescribed textbook, published by the very reliable Punjab Textbook Board, which is responsible for providing educational literature for most of Pakistani schools and colleges in and outside the country, and authored by a leading academic with a doctorate. The next day, my teacher caught up with me in the college cafeteria and asked me to come back to the class. I was right. He was surprised he hadn’t himself picked up the mistake despite teaching from the textbook from a number of years.
The problem I wanted to highlight in the above anecdote doesn’t lie with the way students are disciplined by teachers, but with the prevailing mindset in most Government and private schools and colleges in Pakistan. Nobody challenges what is written! Nobody challenges a common practice or an accepted notion! Those who do are harried and cast out, not for being indecorous, but for disrupting the status quo. This “disease” is evident in the modus operandi of all national and private institutions, where outdated written rules of business and the “rule of precedence” take precedence over what is right. Priority is given to “doing things right” rather than “doing the right thing”, simply because it is convenient to go with the flow.
The sole onus of this “disease” lies with our formal and informal educational systems. A child is allowed to ask as many questions as he wants. But, as soon as that child enters school, everything changes. That child, who was once filled with curiosity and wonderment, is forced to quell his desire to learn about everything under the sun. He or she is forced to learn what he or she is told is right and not learning what is right. Or, rather, that it is your right to challenge the established norms, practices and, especially, knowledge. This inability to “challenge the established” things has led our schools and colleges to churn out a huge number of individuals that have no individual thought of their own, resulting in a flood of a degree-wielding workforce with no actual capacity to perform in the job they are qualified for. Such people are unable to think their way out of a problem, the first time, and can only do so by basing their judgement based on “precedence” or rules. Conformity is important, not ability.
Across the globe, universities and colleges are leading the way in improving lives of millions through research and innovation. But, is that the case with our universities? Every once is a while, a Ph.D. holder is stripped of his or her doctorate because it was plagiarized. Yet, education is big business here, registering a phenomenal growth rate over the past decade and a half, not only in terms of the number of schools, colleges and universities springing up out of nothing, but, also, as a medium of rapid revenue generation. And, yet, there are fewer and fewer solutions to our problems in sight. This ability of educational institutions to curb innovation in our youth is, I feel, the major reason why we, as a nation, have failed to move out of the “Third World” classification despite being the touted as the emerging economic powerhouse in the 1960’s.