By S.G. Jilanee
Education and learning are often regarded as synonymous. But this is a mistake. According to Concise Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, education requires formal instruction or supervised practice for “moral and intellectual training”. On the other hand learning is knowledge acquired by study. Thus, it may be said that whereas all education is learning, all learning is not education.
Also education needs books and ends up with degrees and diplomas that certify the stages of competence acquired in any discipline or skill.
Learning is free of all constraints. It encompasses the entire universe. Study and observation of various phenomena are its tools. Newton learnt about gravity by observing an apple falling to the ground instead of going upwards or sideways when it dropped from the tree. Illiterate people can carry on with the normal chores of their lives without paying attention to anything that is different or may boggle the mind.
However, education breaks an accumulated mass of knowledge into specific grooves and gives it polish. It also authenticates the knowledge acquired by other means.
An example is the recent rediscovery that self-indulgence is the enemy of happiness. Sages have from ancient times been unanimous in saying the same thing. But what they preached was the result of their personal experience, which needed concrete evidence in support.
Enter formal education. Two professors, one of Psychology the other of Business Administration have come out strongly supporting the same ancient postulate, in their New York Times article titled “Don’t indulge; be happy”. They have produced evidence through various surveys and studies, which even the ancient wise men could not do.
They have coined a new word, “underindulgence”, in contrast to the familiar “overindulgence,” by which they mean “indulging a little less than you usually do” and claim that this holds one key to getting more happiness for your money.
Yet the vital purpose of education is not just to provide knowledge, but “moral and intellectual training” as well, which may be parsed as building character. If it fails to do so then all the degrees and diplomas are of no avail. Poet Sa’di has a word to describe the holders of such honours: “Na mohaqqiq buwad na danishmand/ char paye baroo kitabey chund” (Neither does such a person become a scholar nor a sage but a four-footed animal with a few books on its back).
Science, Mathematics, Information Technology or Business Administration cannot contribute to “moral training” per se, by virtue of the very fact that such exercise is beyond their scope. The blocks needed to build that edifice are available in Humanities — History and Literature. History provides lessons from the character and exploits of famous figures. But Literature, both prose and poetry with its all-embracing compass offers real opportunity for moral training.
This is, however, not to belittle the importance of education in science and technology. The plea advanced here is for a balanced curriculum and a carefully selected syllabus that put special emphasis on Humanities at the school level which comprise the formative years of human life. Lessons learned and values imbibed at such age are the most enduring.
However, any discussion about education in Pakistan would be meaningless when the state seems indifferent to the subject.
Only a measly 1.8 per cent has been allocated for education in the federal budget for 2012-13. It is a question how a population of 180 million can be served with this percentage, but there is no one to answer that question.
Compare it with Bangladesh, which is only about 40 years old. It, too, has a low budget allocation on education in relation to its population. It was only 2.4 per cent of the GDP in 2008. Yet, the country has seen remarkable improvement in its education system. “Bangladesh has been successful in attaining gender parity at primary and secondary levels of education and an increase in enrolment rate,” says a report.
The curriculum was transformed from traditional to a competency-based mode with radical changes in both “pedagogy and learner-assessment system.” The reforms in the secondary curriculum included: (i) establishing equivalence of education (curriculum) standard to the international level; (ii) inculcating values into the curriculum; (iii) curriculum to be made need-based and job-oriented; and (iv), the curriculum to be designed in such a way that learners’ potential is exploited to the fullest extent.
We on the other hand remain high on rhetoric, repeating the emphasis the Prophet (SAW) laid on acquiring knowledge, yet low on following his advice to spread education among the people.
There also is a basic problem with education in Pakistan. The books teach hatred. They distort history and truth. The system needs a total overhaul which would require a much larger budget allocation.
Maybe in its 65th year the worm will turn. Realisation will dawn on the rulers and things will change for the better.
The writer is ex-editor SOUTHASIA magazine.