According to Abdus Salam, the world can be divided into two parts: one part is churning out scientific discoveries, the other is not. This means that if the economy is science-based, the change in society will evolve through a scientific ladder, ie research, policy and implementation.
Such societies should then be built upon three universal pillars: education, governance and the economy. It may be hypothesised that if these pillars act in consonance, the country will grow and prosper.
What are the challenges of the 21st century for Pakistan? The country’s economy is mainly based on agriculture and manufacturing, and its principal contradiction is that while it produces for the market, the relations under which production takes place are still pre-capitalist in nature. How and when Pakistan will be driven towards a process of industrialisation that leads to modernity is an open question. This process depends on the provision of material resources, and competent and qualified manpower, both in terms of management and labour.
The essential manpower requirement critically depends on the type of curricula being offered at schools, colleges and universities. If we analyse the current syllabi and mode of application, we begin to realise that we need to design a new curricula that matches the requirements of environmentally-friendly industrialisation and the challenges of the 21st century.
It has often been said that a country is rich because its universities are churning out scientific discoveries. The Germans were the first to develop the concept of research laboratory-based education to provide holistic training programmes that suited society’s needs. They were the first to differentiate between education (Bildung) and training (Ausbildung). In short, education supported by training keeps up with the spiralling social evolution.
A typical university should consist of a multi-faculty infrastructure of natural, social and human sciences. The research part of the university curricula in each domain should only be founded upon a solid foundation of broad-based undergraduate studies. This should provide the necessary tools to grasp problems that require research to be resolved. The manner in which the research is conceptualised shapes the environment necessary to release the creative energies of students.
This may lead to a BA/BSc or thesis work at the BRes level. Research at the BRes level would give mentors an opportunity to observe and select students with the talent and passion to pursue research. Any research institution consists of qualified and competent faculty members who act as mentors; research laboratories and fields; and studious students who are selected on merit. Mentors should function as role models in establishing and sustaining the generation cycle of an institution by unfolding the spirit of free inquiry and critical thinking to set the foundations of intellectual honesty.
Indeed, universities should function as arbitrators between the republic and the welfare of people on the basis of equity. As a result, the faculty of arts is as essential as the faculty of sciences to ensure the growth of a holistic individual. A ‘holistic’ individual is groomed through the enabling environment to not only become a competent researcher but also act as a courteous, civil and compassionate citizen. Therefore, a nation should form a neutral state that is committed to public service.
The past decades provide growing evidence that studies and research in science and the arts have been divided and artificially compartmentalised. Since these are two sides of the same coin, the curricula offered should have integrated courses of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.
Now, we must consider how to develop a new curriculum that can facilitate the creation of a new ‘holistic’ human being. Universities could take a lead in synthesising the study of the arts and science. Perhaps a double bachelors integrated with a doctorate (BABS, BRes or PhD) programme in mathematics or theoretical physics, combined with components from the visual and performing arts might be the way to go.
The study of mathematics along with the liberal arts would not only be a cost-effective programme, but would also provide effective and creative manpower that could serve as mentors for school and colleges. This would mean that a loop between graduate and undergraduate studies would become meaningfully functional. It has been observed that quality undergraduate programmes critically depend on how well graduate programmes are tuned with research mentorship.
If this trend picks up, universities would enable the nation to think and reason mathematically. Following from the experience of this mode of learning, universities can branch out with many BABS, BRes and PhD programmes in many areas of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. This might enable students to choose their individual fields of study in an enabling environment offered by universities. Education will then become more meaningful and universal. Good research-based education gives people cerebral freedom and the ability to fulfil the responsibility for public service.
The question that now arises is: how can such a model be effective in initiating the process of industrialisation? One way is to follow a top-down approach from higher education to primary schooling. The other alternative is a bottom-up approach from primary education to higher education.
If we look at the history of the development of a nation/society as a function of time, we observes that, in most cases, the bottom-up approach had been the gateway to economic, political and social development by effectively shedding off the curse of illiteracy. If this is true, this would mean that the political will to initiate industrialisation requires the opening of two permanently-locked doors in this country: quality universal primary education for all children at the age of five, and genuine land reforms.
This will trigger a domino effect in strengthening education, governance and the economy. This will change the lifestyle of every Pakistani and fuel considerable homogenous economic activity across the country. So, we may conclude that Pakistan may become rich through its rich universities, producing thinkers and philosophers as the ‘guardian stars’ of the nation.
The financial and manpower resources required for this project would be huge, which our indebted country cannot mobilise or can only mobilise by carrying out drastic land reforms so as to open the doors to speedy industrialisation. But now, it is obvious that our peasants cannot force this measure upon the ruling class. The present feudal-army-clergy alliance, driven by the dole and dogma trap, is too powerful for them.
So, we can only wait for the emergence of a genuine bourgeois class to guide the workers’ movement to grow strong enough to ally itself with peasants, workers and students, and carry them strategically towards victory. Only this can release us from the cold grip of class rule. New associates would then be able to carry to an ecologically-friendly birth of ‘industrialisation’.
This implies that when peasants and workers will have achieved their freedom, the demand for education for their children would become their right. The transformation would lay the real foundation for rapid industrialisation. The process will enhance the demand and supply of skilled manpower through both education and meritocracy. Industrialisation will, in turn, open the gateways for a genuine democracy for all, irrespective of religion, caste, creed and colour. Every child will have an equal opportunity to access an enabling environment that can help unfold her/his creative energy to live and grow under the umbrella of pluralism and the diversity of an open society.
This column is dedicated to Karl Marx’s 200th birth anniversary that fell this year.
The writer is a professor of physiology at SIUT and AKU.