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February 15, 2017

Missing the relevance


February 15, 2017

Knowledge is intrinsically valuable as it satisfies our innate urge to know about ourselves and our surroundings. It has extrinsic worth too; it makes us smarter than other creatures and gives us the power to use natural forces to our advantage.

Wisdom, on the other hand, requires balancing ‘pure’ knowledge with ‘useful’ knowledge. Put differently, knowing for the sake of knowing without putting it to the service of humanity is no more than telling fairy tales and engaging in hair-splitting.

Business education in Pakistan suffers, in large part, from the malfeasance of irrelevance. Graduates of business schools know very little about the business milieu and the way organisations are managed in Pakistan. Since much of what they know comes from the Western world with no relevance to the local context, they rarely make any big difference to the organisations they work for. Theories and models developed in a different context hardly matter in addressing problems that have roots in local socio-economic realities.

The problem of relevance has to do with our inability to develop a knowledge repository in the form of indigenous research output and locally written books. A few years back I went to a book fair in Lahore. To my shock, every Pakistani bookstall was flooded with books on fiction and poetry but there was no worthwhile collection on medicine, business, and engineering. Every book in these disciplines carried the name of an Indian or some other foreign writer. LUMS and IBA have made some efforts to indigenise business education by writing some case studies on the local industry but they are not enough to capture the complexity of the overall environment.

Besides the dearth of local educational material, learning through English appears to be the cardinal problem in relating text to context. I have seen students constantly struggling with English to express their thoughts and emotions in class presentations and exams. When they have an amazing idea or experience to share with others, vocabulary and proper language structure fail them. Any language which one has acquired outside its cultural contours will always fall short of fully communicating a message given the fact that idioms, slangs, and phrases carry nuances that cand only be understood within a cultural milieu.

English, as a medium of instruction, official correspondence and competitive examination, seems to be the main source of our inability to think creatively and critically. Even modern robots will demonstrate more adaptability and responsiveness to changing conditions the graduates of our educational institutions – not because of poor intellect but due to trained incapacity.

With a few exceptions, executives in Pakistani business organisations largely follow traditions without question and expect others to conform to an established order even if things have radically changed outside. Organisational inertia is what reflects our understanding of the text, written in an alien language, and the context, which lies beyond our reach.

One solution to make the educational experience of business graduates relevant is to educate them using Urdu as the medium of instruction and examination. Initially, the government can set up an institution exclusively devoted to translating books written in English and other languages. Technical jargon, having no equivalent in Urdu, can be used as the Latin and Greek words are used in the physical sciences.

The NBEAC conference, held in Islamabad on February 7-8, has come up with some valuable recommendations which may be implemented to bridge the gap between theory and practice in business education in Pakistan.


The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.

Email: [email protected]


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