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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Education and our myopic ideologues

In an article titled ‘Westward bound’ http://archives.dawn.com/archives/66981 published in a Pakistani newspaper, the author laments the news of top American universities opening campuses and the establishment of an ‘Educational city’ in Islamabad, which “is fetching new hopes for the elite class here. Their children would obviously be able to bag the top jobs while also saving the parents millions of rupees being spent in sending them abroad for further studies". This, the author argues, is akin to running away from ‘our identity’ and hence an unfortunate thing. How? One does not know. How, for instance, is it unfortunate if our ‘elites’ educate their children inside Pakistan and save ‘millions of rupees’ rather than keep, as they do now, sending them abroad and spend those millions there in foreign countries? Why is it bad to construct an ‘Educational city’ in Islamabad?

Let us first consider some of the benefits of local branches of foreign universities in Pakistan. First, the cost of a degree from a foreign university through its local branch would be enormously reduced (in terms of travel cost, and living cost in a foreign country) and students from those strata of our society who cannot pursue education in those foreign countries would be able to get the same or similar level of education at a much lower (less than half on a rough estimate) cost in their own country. Investment by foreign universities in the form of establishing local branches in Pakistan would enhance cooperation in the field of education between our local universities and academia and those foreign universities. By establishing these local campuses not only our middle classes and lower middle classes would have access to education of international standard but also it will create enormous opportunities for jobs in the local educational market for our people. These foreign university campuses would bring in competition for the local educational institutions and universities who would strive for excellence in order to compete with these rivals.

Politically speaking it is an irony that we are happy when these foreign/western nations sell us their weapons and fighter jets and tanks and missiles at exorbitant prices but we are not ready to accommodate their educational institutions as those are a 'danger to our identity and ideology' as the writer in this case associates the establishment of "foreign schools and university campuses” with "running away from our identity"! "Foreign or western institutions, no matter how high in stature they might be, would promote western values while failing to make provision for Islamic aspects in their way of teaching", argues the author. It is difficult though to know the logic behind any such assumption in the absence of any credible research on the issue. For instance what are those harmful ‘Western’ values and what kind of ‘Islamic aspects’ are in danger of withering away? The author says, “Subject to law and public morality, we in Pakistan encourage the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

Not allowing the Muslims to have a public education system of their own, which protects their religion and culture, poses a danger for the ideology of Pakistan.” Again who is not allowing Muslims to have a public education system of their own and thus causing a danger to the “ideology of Pakistan”? There are a number of unsubstantiated assumptions there. Isn't our existing education system and our curriculum almost entirely based on 'Western' educational philosophies both in the fields of natural and social sciences? What presently is so 'Eastern' or 'Islamic' about it that will be endangered by the establishment of a few 'Western' university campuses in Islamabad? What is so rational about wrapping iron curtains around ourselves, our people and our country? Why is our 'identity' so fragile that it cannot stand the weight of a few foreign university campuses?

The real eye-opener is the paragraph where the author says, “Turning back the pages of history… It would be a matter of interest for many to note that Aligarh University initially came into being as a conspiracy against the Muslims in order to produce a pro-western educated lot. It was a tool in the hands of British imperialists and their handful of sympathisers, who wanted to destroy the religion, culture, traditions and values of the people of this region.” If that is true, what then the author thinks of the ‘original founder’ of the ‘Two Nation Theory’, the very basis for the creation of Pakistan and the founder of the Aligarh movement: Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan? Was that great Muslim thinker and one of the original founders of the Pakistan ideology a ‘conspirator’ against Muslims and their identity then? This is immediately followed by contradictory reasoning: “Today, no one can deny that Aligarh University is a well-reputed institution. However, it has very little to do with the struggle for Pakistan. In the same regard, although, certain leaders from the university became active members of the Pakistan movement, they had different ideologies as compared to the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Allama Mohammad Iqbal”.

Rejecting the project for foreign universities’ campuses in Pakistan, the author gives examples of a number of universities, from which campuses should be included in the ‘Education City’, including ‘Khyber University’. One wonders if there is any university in Pakistan by that name. Finally the author comes up with her ultimate piece of wisdom: allowing foreign universities to establish campuses in the "heart" of Pakistan (Islamabad), is akin to nullifying the very creation of Pakistan! In the meantime she forgets herself writing in ENGLISH, a ‘Western’ language in an English language newspaper which somehow promotes this ‘foreign’ ‘Western’ language? Isn’t that a conspiracy against our ‘identity’ as well?

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