Bertrand Russell had said that the best time to educate a child is at least 100 years before the child is born. This remark is extremely easy to decipher, because it is not a cipher or in any manner is its meaning encrypted. The emphasis on the need to plan on how the child will be educated is the essence of the message ... a 100 years before the birth of a child the society must have in place the standards of education that would then be in vogue or in the minimum it must meet the demand of those times. To do this and achieve success, requires a basic ability to foresee and develop a vision; the faculty to foresee, of what and how the future will unfold, is its cornerstone.
The leadership of today must have in themselves the necessary intellectual capability to predict with near yo accuracy, on how the social, economic and political conditions will look like in the next twenty to thirty years. Nations aren't built overnight. The foundation of thought to gather solidity has to remain in the test tube of time for many decades; only thereafter that clarity in vision can be achieved. The People's Republic of China is an interesting case in point. It is regrettable and most unfortunate that we as a nation have been struggling for the last 76 years, to frame a cohesive, comprehensive and forward looking education policy. Just as the constitution framing took the longest of time, we live in and believe that the same delays can be applied to the making of other critical policies, like education, exploring natural resources, trade development capacities, etc . Nay, the luxury of time, if indeed it was available earlier, is not an option today.
The nationalisation of educational institutions over a period of time has come to haunt us badly. This disastrous move, with its ill-effects, continues to hang over the horizon of the future, with its full fury. The general decline in the quality of teachers and teaching methodology is appalling. This malaise afflicts all levels of education, starting from primary to university, and from adult education to continued education. Even faculty that sports appellations and appendages of various types have much to improve. Teachers have ceased to be mentors. My Mathematics teacher at school taught me the Holy Book, for no compensation. It wasn't part of his obligation or responsibility, in terms of his employment, but he did a service beyond the call of duty. The grant of doctorate to the undeserving is a serious issue. This is an outcome despite the stringent rules and regulations that appear on paper, and which are applied and dispensed at the whims and fancies of the officials who have responsibility to govern the described code of evaluation.
The focus that is required for developing primary education is almost absent. Since independence, the nation remains confused on what type of education should be made available. A lot of precious time has been lost in debating and discussing endlessly, a single national curriculum; there is still confusion about its current state of implementation. The 18th amendment has wrecked quite a few settled issues, including the education sector; it is not clear if all the provinces have embraced the idea of a single national curriculum.
Whilst we are gripped with nascent thoughts on the why, how, and what type of education to impart, the world is galloping away, with improvements in its approach to education. Initially it was STEM, now the focus is on STEAM, that is, Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Arts has been included as a necessity, for it embraces human behaviour and responses, and it ranges from visual arts, language, physical activity, music and more... STEAM is meant to provoke and spark imagination and creativity through the medium of arts, hence facilitating the emphasis on an education priority that is based on STEM philosophy.
If primary education is in the throes of confusion, the state of higher education is even worse. The proliferation of private universities, without availability of adequately trained and qualified lecturers and professors, is a serious matter of concern. The curriculum of Bachelors and Masters programmes, regardless of the body of the subject or discipline, is grossly outdated. The need for infusion of new ideas, thought and concepts stare at us starkly. In conversation with a professor, I was shocked, nay amused, that the presentation, a multi- media one, was being used now, to impart education, which was originally prepared in the year 2016. The time (clock) has frozen. The inertia that besets our thought process is a serious social ailment that would go towards hurting our future generations.
I often ask, at various forums and to the academia, what quality of a twenty year old would this nation need, when God-willing, it will celebrate 100 years of its founding in the year 2047? ... will this child, who is to be born, four years from now, have the necessary wherewithal and required education, to cope with the variety of the fast developing world, that would present itself then. So Russel wasn't being facetious or flippant in his remarks, about making and keeping a developed and sound futuristic education policy.
Education is meant to provide for intellectual growth, while it also focuses significantly on developing skills in extra curricular activities, like sports, theatre, arts and crafts, drama, music, etc. An individual who has both achievements under the belt, but of good scholastic performance and of valuable interest in arts and literature, will necessarily be a person, with a remarkable sense of responsibility towards the society and the country.
Education is also a victim of inflation. The tuition fees have skyrocketed. Parents are being ripped off by the ultra misleading low quality universities, through inducing advertisements. The poor parents end up paying a very heavy fee for an extremely low value addition to the personality of their off- springs. There is no government check on this unalloyed highway robbery. I believe no, parents would have any difficulty or remorse to pay, as much as they can, if assured of good quality education through highly qualified professionals.
Imparting knowledge must yield improvement and enhancement in skills, abilities and talent. We have the youth bulge, which is a great advantage, because this resource has the potential to be converted into an economic asset of long term value, only if it is given the right education and right direction. Those nations who sport 100 percent literacy rate have lowest levels of poverty, crimes and the highest levels of gender diversity and economic emancipation of women. Human resources of such countries exemplify in their behaviour, high maintenance of respect for law and order, not to mention, a high degree of tolerance, to diversity in thought and action (recently, and truly sadly, the Scandinavian countries have become an odd exception to this view.)
The quality of the educational institute, its faculty and its academic strength will most likely usher, individuals who would demonstrate highest standards of morality and integrity, in all its forms and manifestations. The best way to learn is to start to teach, what one may know; it is said that men must learn more by teaching. When goodness is spread, it is its inherent quality to spread far and wide. In our context, the groves of academe, on a wholesome basis, need to be educated, firstly, in this land of the pure.
Education polishes good natures and corrects bad ones; even the ablest child needs to be tutored. Every skill requires training. Regrettably our education policy and standards have come to reflect an astonishing accumulation of ignorance, that is equally supported by inert facts. Societies recognise that education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity. Isn't it a colossal tragedy that over 25 million children of our country do not go to any school. We talk about the youth ... These 25 million are going to be the youth in 2030-40.
Education globally is undergoing a metamorphosis of change, today there is greater realisation that STEAM based education must be complimented significantly with dosages of literature. This thought is best pronounced in the remark of Atkinson Brook, the writer, where he says, "It takes most men five years to recover from a college education and to learn that poetry is as vital to thinking as knowledge". In the presence of AI and chatGPT, this acquires prominence and attention. The fundamental aim of any education policy, and the related emergence, of developing an educated society must be to pull out people from their isolated domains into one humanity.
Universities aren't meant to manufacture robotic humans, they are meant to invigorate the mind with tools of thought, that would yield a socialised knowledgeable society. The devilish haste with which the dying parliament, without reading and debating the bill, passed the resolution sanctioning the setting up of 22 universities; this attitude indicates the value and importance that is given to such a serious, critical, fundamental and significant aspect of nation building. The outcry of some quarters was dampened by the loudness of the unanimity, to let the bill pass.
Education is one never ending process; it is essentially advancement in thought and significantly the platform for heralding virtue and virtuosity. Education must render values and not merely knowledge. Fran Lebourtz, wrote, "if you are truly serious about preparing your child for the future, don't teach him to subtract-- teach him to deduct". There is an American proverb (as shocking as it may sound that they have proverbs too), "never let your education interfere with your intelligence". The blessed intellectual capacity should be enhanced by relevant education.
I have been witness to painful episodes, where during the course of an interview, discovery is made, that the candidate doesn't even know, what scholastic achievements are mentioned on his CV; some didn't even know what subjects they had taken for the Bachelors program --- it is not about grades, it is about ignorance of the subject, in which the honours of graduation has been taken.
It is time we took stock of our educational policy and then address the challenges we face, for a better populace of tomorrow.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist