One of the major objectives of education is the holistic development of an individual. As a result, educational institutions are expected to contribute to the academic, intellectual, moral, social, and physical development of a child. They are also entrusted with the responsibility of enhancing the life skills of children that will be particularly useful in their socioeconomic development.
In the wake of neoliberal model of education that has led to the mushrooming of private educational institutions, the goal of the holistic development of children has been undermined. The entire focus has been placed on profit maximisation. Therefore, the ultimate aim of education that has been inculcated in the minds of students is: to get a good job which pays a hefty salary.
At universities, a new trend is being observed across the world whereby most of the benefits and perks for faculty members are being aligned with research. One of the outcomes of this skewed approach is that students are not receiving quality teaching. The ‘publish or perish’ policy has put enormous pressure on the faculty of universities to produce a required number of research papers to secure promotions and obtained tenured positions. One of the buzzwords at universities is the ‘impact factor’ of research publications.
It is time that we create a vibrant liaison between universities and society by shifting the focus from ‘impact factor’ publications to the actual impact on society. Education is supposed to have a strong correlation with socioeconomic development of a country. According to a World bank report, the difference between developing and developed countries emanates from the knowledge gap between them. The true spirit of education is to bring a positive change at the individual and societal levels. As a result, a critical approach to education lays emphasis on bringing positive change by challenging the status quo and various taboos in society.
A major objective of education should be to improve living practices and standards. This is only possible when educational institutions are sensitive to the socioeconomic issues of society. Renowned critical educationist Paulo Freire offered a model of literacy that is critical. His seminal books, Pedagogy of the oppressed and Pedagogy of hope, demonstrate how education can be used to have an impact on human lives and society. This critical approach was a desperate reaction to the transmission model of education that promotes conformity.
A good critique of the conformity-based education can be seen in Ivan Illich’s book, Deschooling society. The book laments the production of monoculture robots in society who are unable to think differently and creatively. They are disconnected with what is going on in society. An important reason of this disconnect is the lack of critical thinking among our students and a detached stance of educational institutions regarding society.
Such education is also encouraged by the neoliberal model of education where profit maximisation is central and values are put on the backburner. This model of education encourages a myopic outlook that is self-centred and does not recognise the importance of an active liaison with society.
The critical approach to education hinges on a dynamic and vibrant view of education that aims to fuel change at both the individual and societal levels. There is a dire need that educational institutions develop an active rapport with society. This can be done in a number of ways. The educational institutions need to make society a part of their vision statement so that the ensuing action plans should take care of societal linkages.
The students should be moulded into discerning human beings and useful citizens of society who not only think about improving their own lives but also enhancing the lives of others around them. Fostering sensitivity toward others can be inculcated among students by encouraging them to get involved in community service in various capacities. The educational institutions can do this by making internships a part of different academic programmes. Such internship programmes would not only broaden the vision of students but would also sensitise them to the different segments of society.
Similarly, faculty members should also be encouraged to take part in community activities. This could prove to be more effective if community service is made an integral part of their annual assessment reports.
The research should be geared towards the relevant issues that plague society. Instead of insisting on a quantitative increase in research papers, a better option would be to focus on the quality of research that is relevant and internationally competitive. There are a number of social and economic issues that have a direct link with the quality of life. These issues must become a part of research in universities.
The educational institutions need to initiate and encourage projects that deal with the downtrodden communities in society. There are various marginalised segments in society that need to be recognised and supported. Education is supposed to close the socioeconomic gaps in society. There are a number of factors that are instrumental in the process of discrimination: social class, gender, urban/rural divide, age and ethnicity.
There is a need to launch projects for the marginalised segments of society. One such segment are children with disabilities. They need to be encouraged and empowered to become confident and useful citizens of the society. Similarly, there need to be practical courses and training programmes for women living in the far-flung areas of Pakistan. Such programmes should aim to provide them skills to ensure their economic independence.
Another important segment who are stigmatised and completely forgotten by society are the jail inmates. Educational institutions should devise suitable means for academic interventions. Like the marginalised segments of society, there are some marginalised areas of Pakistan that universities need to focus on. Special measures should be taken to encourage and support students from such marginalised areas. A close, active, and vibrant relationship between educational institutions and society would be helpful in realising the dream of bringing positive changes at the individual and societal levels through education.
The writer is an educationist.