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Opinion

September 20, 2018

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Holistic education

Education is the key to unlocking one’s full potential. Ideally, education stimulates one’s thinking and creates the urge to venture into new worlds. This makes life a fascinating and meaningful journey.

The life of scholars, scientists, and philosophers attests to this hidden worth of education. For them, education has a sublime purpose that can hardly be expressed in monetary terms. But in today’s world, education has a price tag attached to it owing to its commodification and commercialisation. As a matter of course, we can disregard the commercial value of education at the cost of joblessness and loss of social status.

The marketability of ideas and skills is what essentially drives modern education. Other vital aspects of education, such as developing citizenship behaviour, nurturing ethical conduct, and infusing spirituality, have either been altogether overlooked or have received cursory attention in the scheme of studies. Economic rationality lies at the heart of the question regarding which degree programmes to offer and which courses to include in the curricula.

Private universities, in particular, respond to the market demands. Students also take general courses lightly and often resent them as an unnecessary appendix to their profession without realising that, as professionals, they would be dealing with other people who

will affect and will be affected by their conduct.

Modern organisations, characterised by diversity and complexity, require employees who can get along with others in teams and other interactions besides possessingjob-oriented technical skills. A competent worker with poor interpersonal skills and the right attitude can hardly make any worthwhile contribution to an organisation or society as a whole.

What a person believes in and how he behaves in a given situation has had an important bearing on his achievements in life too. Self-awareness and social skills are, therefore, more important than technical skills. An education system, where general subjects – such as philosophy, literature, sociology, and psychology – are deemed redundant is bound to produce the best robots, but not individuals with empathy and civic virtues.

These subjects are crucial for producing people who are open-minded and are free from provincialism, dogmas, and preconceived notions about others. They are conscious of their opinions and are reflective of their actions on the social and natural worlds.

Another problem in our education system relates to the balance between theory and practice. Students generally learn about theories and conceptual models during the course of their studies, but they are not exposed to what is going on in the real world.

After graduation, students hardly know anything on the ground. Some universities have internship programmes and other forms of academia-industry linkages. However, they aren’t enough for students to acquire practical skills. Some vocational training should have been part of the curricula at every level of education so that anyone facing difficulties in finding a suitable job could start a small business utilising his/her skills. Even courses with a compulsory lab component are taught without doing any experiments/lab activities.

Those who are otherwise technically competent lack the ability to look at and locate a problem within a broader context. No problem, regardless of its nature and magnitude, can ever be understood in isolation. A smartphone, for example, is simply an electronic gadget. But in reality, it has its economic, social, and legal environment in which it exists.

To understand how it works and how it affects all of us requires not only an understanding of its technical features, but also its non-technical dimensions. It is here that learning in the 21st century has to be multidisciplinary. Realizing this, the world has started moving from fragmentation to the unity of knowledge. This paradigm shift will address the problems associated with the regimented model of the 20th century.

In the preface to the 2011 book ‘Out of Our Minds’, Sir Ken Robinson observes that “the more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges”. This is especially true in education and the workplace today. The meaning of work, success, and life has undergone a radical shift. But the education system has yet to adjust its goals and methods to be of value to our coming generations.

The writer teaches at SZABIST, Islamabad

Email: [email protected]

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