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Opinion

June 21, 2016

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Critical minds

Critical minds

Culture is the software of the mind. Many of us think we are thinking when we are not. We simply follow certain accepted beliefs, values, and norms. Doing this certainly makes life easier and most often rewarding but takes away one’s individuality as a rational being.

For want of power or courage, one may not change the environment one is born in but it is always possible to develop a critical attitude. Challenging ‘tradition’ does not mean it must be rejected or altered without reason.

Education has a critical role in developing a critical mind. Such a lofty ideal requires reorientation of education institutions and developing curricula in line with emerging challenges. In Pakistan, unfortunately, education at every level has become suffocating and almost obsolete. The only purpose education institutions in Pakistan serve so well is to provide employment to thousands of people.

Teachers in government schools, in particular, are generally believed to be producing students in their own image. With some exceptions, when all other options have been thoroughly exhausted, many individuals end up in schools as teachers. I do not blame the profession; teaching is a noble profession.

The problem is our culture which has reduced teaching to the least preferred profession. Unlike other countries, teaching in Pakistan is unrewarding and unrecognised. A teacher can hardly provide his /her own children a decent life. Even after serving for about three decades, teachers cannot afford to buy even a small house. Socially, they stand below a police constable in status. The culture we live in puts a higher price on the logic of power than the power of logic.

In late 1998, I had an opportunity to visit interior Sindh. I spent 40 days interacting with people from all shades of life and observing the forces that shaped their lives. For me, it was a unique experience. The message I brought home was that some radical cultural change was necessary to redeem people from an entrenched class of feudals that has stopped all socio-economic progress in Pakistan.

In one area, the plight of the people was miserable in all respects. The landlord there had virtually created his own state. He owned a vast tract of agriculture land where the poor peasants had to work from dawn to dusk on either subsistence wages or a meagre share in the harvest.

The difference in their standard and style of living reminded me of stories about despot kings who ruled people with an iron fist without accountability. The landlord had occupied all power structures; one of his brothers was a senator, another one an MNA, and his close relatives were serving in the civil bureaucracy.

I saw people coming to his farmhouse to get their grievances redressed. Nobody in the area had the courage to talk aloud let alone participate in any social or political activities against the will of the landlord. The schools and healthcare centres in the area were either in a dilapidated condition or converted into garages.

Everyone there thought the prevailing socio-political order as preordained and natural. This mindset happens to be the greatest barrier to any meaningful and desirable change in Pakistan.

Our media, both conventional and social, has done a lot to open up our eyes to what people in authority do and why they do it but true cultural change will come through education. Education alone empowers individuals, builds nations, and kills ignorance.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.

Email: [email protected] edu.pk

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