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December 13, 2019

Education and development

Opinion

December 13, 2019

“When I was ambivalent about choosing a career path on my very first day as a new entrant to high school, I remember one of my teachers saying that one ought to choose a career which is not strictly driven by economic factors.

“The teacher himself being new, had his days numbered at the school as if he had committed an unforgivable offence by challenging the commercial ethos of this expensive private school. With this moral statement of the teacher my ambivalence became even more entrenched and I wanted to explore the meaning of having career choices beyond the economic factor.

“But I could not find time and motivation to explore this question in my school days and I continued to be an obedient and practical student to focus on what was taught. In an environment of competition for excellence represented through higher grades, I chose the easier way to obtain maximum marks rather than being mired in a complex world of imagination and thinking.

“Wouldn’t it be prudent to think that choosing a profession is also a social obligation to live up to the expectations of parents? Part of it is certainly about fulfilling the dreams of parents and relatives who sacrificed their money and time to see me a successful person to support them when they need it the most. I distinctly remember that this was the first lesson I was taught on the day of orientation at the school and this was also communicated to my parents in their first sitting with school management.

“This lesson reveals that choosing a profession is not an independent matter but is linked with the larger familial and social life. Education for parents is both sentimental and material investment and they would like to see me as a successful person in all material senses. Being the eldest son, my parents expected me to help my younger siblings so as to relieve them from the burden. Hence, I must see a deep economics in this. The advice of one of my teachers – to think beyond the economic factor in making career choices – was noble one but I had this inherent fear of losing in the race for survival.

“The real world we live in today is shaped by the weight of your pocket more than sublime feelings, passion and some metaphysical sense of serving humanity. At school we were told that success lies in being practical, but strangely enough we were not discouraged to discuss brands, products and capricious commercial aids. This implied that we were all predestined to do things which make commercial sense rather than being trapped in subjective thinking that does not pay off much for those who have pinned hope on us.”

Amidst applause from other young professionals of the development sector, these words were uttered by a young bright professional who attended a workshop on the subject of ‘The role of civil society in social transformation’ this week. As facilitator of the workshop, I found his words rather convincing – reflecting the predicament of our pedagogical practices and education system at large. The ethical dimension of education has gone long and those who sell the dreams of prosperity have crippled inquisition and intellect.

Our expensive private education providers promote commercial greed and fragmented individualism as the primary goal of education. One young professional said that he was constantly reminded of a spectacular future full of material fantasies as the outcome of his expensive education. “My parents were made to believe that their son was going to be a rich man and the money they invested in educating him was going to bring fame and fortune and happiness.”

The mechanical private education does not have much space for critical reflection, artistic expression and self-actualization; it is rather framed in a fanciful world of prosperity to tame the human appetite to question. Albert Einstein was perhaps right when he asserted that education imparted through our schools corrupts young minds.

Our education system promotes imitation more than innovation and creativity. Interestingly, though, most great minds and successful people had not been good students and most of them became ardent critics of our modern commercialized education system later. For varying accomplishments in life, big minds like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein and successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – just to mention a few examples – were not the products of commercial education but some were dropouts rather.

Driven by market need, our private educational institutions can only produce good skilled workforce but not transformative leaders. The skilled workforce is trained in mechanical thinking to serve the interests of the system and to be rewarded for the inputs and obedience accordingly. Those who can think critically or have the capacity to innovate or transform are left out as the undesirable lot. Most of the world’s undesirable lot has produced the best knowledge and has pushed the frontiers of innovation and change beyond the market fundamentalism.

What is happening in the development sector is not an exception as the sector is swarmed by technical workforce trained by expensive private educational institutions. From this skilled workforce we will never be able to produce change leaders like Paulo Freire, Akhtar Hameed Khan and Fazle Hasan Abed. Our contemporary market-led and corporate type social development framework provides output-based solutions to the long-term socioeconomic and political challenges of social change.

For the most part, the change indicators of poverty alleviation programmes are designed on a set of assumptions rather than a roadmap for an incremental and transformative change. The so-called Logical Framework Analysis (LFA) and its variant approaches are frequently being used these days in designing poverty alleviation programmes and gauging the outcomes and impact of such programmes. This oversimplification of the theory of change has reduced the transformative processes to a numbers game which is established through a set of quasi-experimental methods.

Quasi-experimental methods are the most effective tools to correlate real-time changes with institutional attribution. They tend to reduce the larger phenomenon of social change ensued by socioeconomic and political factors to the attribution of a development programme. And development professionals produced by our private educational institutions are good at turning a development goal into a technical output, barring those few who have retained creative thinking despite getting all the wrong kind of education.

There are really few critics who believe that in our increasingly volatile world, the development discourse of poverty alleviation has become a numbers game which is non-assertive and transformation-neutral. Contractors and their clients have a business relationship to maximize their returns and those for whom development projects are designed become mere objects.

The poor and those in need of development support become one of the variables in determining the feasibility of a development project. Success and efficacy of a development project becomes contingent upon a number of assumptions rather than defining the pathways of transformation. Assertive and transformative development workers are frowned upon as ‘miscreants and political’ and hence they remain under-utilized, isolated and alienated within the organization. This is how the corporate world has shaped our development thinking today.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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