Education Policy - a Critical Review - Ideology

Education Policy - a Critical Review

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

The Education Policy

Quote- “The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don't know how to be submissive, and so on.. because they're dysfunctional to the institutions” (Noam Chomsky)

This essay takes Pakistani education system as its case study but can be useful in understanding the rotting of the school system as a very real global phenomenon.

What is an Education System?

What the individual wants to get from education is different from what a nation as a whole would want from it. The individual strives for literacy, first-hand knowledge and a better means of living; it is a matter for the parents to choose what is best affordable from the choices that surround them and a matter of the strife that the individual can go through to climb the ladder of structured success.

The nation as a whole, with the aid of its ministries and boards of learned men, has to take education in a totally different perspective. For it, it is not a choice between given things but it is the framework of choices that it has to make open and possible for its people. For the government, setting an education policy, is not failing or passing given text but failing or passing to deliver a text that would ensure the well-being, progress, security, morality, integrity and happiness of the people generation after generation.

Noteworthy is that unless and until the end products, we want to achieve out of our education system are clearly defined, we are actually never going to achieve anything; unless you definitely know that you need to construct a washing-machine or a toaster, you will be unable to draw the design, make the factory, employ the right people or get any product. And once we have defined our goals, and released the product, we are immediately faced with measuring rods in the hands of all critical thinkers in the society, examining how the machine has failed in delivering its purpose.

Education Policy through History

Historically we find that from Plato and Aristotle to the modern day John Dewey and William James, hundreds of thinkers have tried to define and redefine what the ultimate purpose of education must be and by what method it will be achieved best. Plato (347bc), who, to this day, attracts the attention of the western thought, suggested that all children should be given in the ward of the state, kept away from the influence of their parents, differentiated according to aptitudes as they grow and selected for leadership on the bases of their devotion for knowledge. Avicenna (1037ad) specified the methods and curriculum to be taught as the child progresses through his age, he also explained that group-study (schooling) is better than individual tutoring.

Generalizing through history, it can be understood that different thinkers laid emphasis upon one or more of the following purposes of education:

  • Growing a nation of virtuous citizens
  • Cultivating the faculty of thinking and reasoning
  • Strict adherence to religious dogma
  • Cultivating morality as part of thought
  • Culturing desired habits or developing the human nature
  • Making a workforce, trained to comfortably adjust to available faculties and fields of work

It is easy to realize that all these traits are desirable once we have put them together, but the irony is that humanity has experienced them in bits, as related theories kept evolving in time. It would not be wrong to say that many a time, nations have put their emphasis on any one of these traits, neglecting the necessity of the others. Therefore we find examples such as of the early church putting all stakes in religious dogma; the European renaissance relying totally on reasoning; the Nazi Germany upholding the ideal of virtuous nationals while neglecting all other virtues; the traditional Madrassas schools depending on orthodox dogma and discipline; the modern American outcome-based education bent at culturing desired habits and a specific nature adapt to ‘change’; and finally the third world school system struggling to extract a trained workforce from the human-resource.

Evolving School Systems

Since the last one century the English-style school-system has become the prevalent means of imparting education to the maximum number of people round the world and has gradually conquered all other systems.

In the subcontinent, before the British Raj was imposed, the Hindu children went to the Gurukuls and the Muslim children went to the Madrassas, which were typically the teacher's house or a monastery. These academies, though less systemized and more prone to individual prerogative, proved their worth many times by producing marvelous graduates that have made their marks on history by their ingenious. No doubt numerous personalities like Iqbal, SirSyed, M.A.Johar where products of such Madrassas and the names of their teachers are written in their biographies with pride. These Madrassas were graduated according to the level of the learning of their teachers; their good-name; and their devotion toward the achievements of their pupil; thus displacing any hierarchy of a complex system by bringing the producer and the consumer at each other’s door and directly associating the pride of performance to the pride of deliverance.

But the British rulers came with their own pride, an air that they were perhaps the most learned race of the time and that it was their duty towards humanity to deliver it from the ignorance it was drenched in and to enshroud it in the light of the English system that had been successful in making decent and literate the savage masses of the West. In fact they systematically degraded the existing system by accepting only their own certificates for all levels of government services, this act did not totally erase the Madrassa system but it certainly effaced the association of the nobility with it.

They had to do this! Because the Madrassa system with all its wealth of literature, sciences, history and arithmetic was also over-possessed by religion; religion was fundamental to this system and the other faculties were variable. The other problem was that this system was not in English, so the rulers had problems in communication and a feeling of strangeness was to prevail between them and the subjects. So it was feasible to have the English system - it would have a Christian color to it and a class would be produced that would become a manageable link for control.


Education Policy and Pakistan

When Pakistan came into being, both the traditional Madrassa schools and the English schools were present in the country. The technological revolution had taken place and the world was swiftly turning into a global village, with growing means of communication and transport. In such scenario it was only plausible for any progressive minded population to adhere to a language and a system of education that would help them adapt with global competitiveness.

But, at the same time when it seemed to be holding much merit, like all man-made systems the English education system was too, bound to have drawbacks. However let us suppose that we have adopted this system by choice and let us try to make an analysis with the bias that we want to find its merits only, if we can. As we proceed, we will try to analyze ‘what we want’ out of this system of schools/colleges and ‘what we are getting’ out of it and whether there can be remedies to its faults.

What We Want

As elaborated above, the first step to identify the education policy of a country is to determine what goals it means to achieve from it. Generalizing on the aspirations of the majority of the people of this nation and keeping in mind the goals enlisted in the existing education policy of the country, we will suffice to consider the following goals as required from our education system:

To make a people who will

  • Understand and adhere to the basics of Islam 
  • Believe in the integrity of Pakistan
  • Stand at a higher moral ground (social development)
  • Ensure the well-being and security of the whole
  • Be advanced in all faculties of knowledge
  • Ensure a strong and progressive economy
  • Become an active workforce penetrating all sectors of society


How We Have Failed

Now let us find out how our systems are not producing these goals:

The school education system of Pakistan can be divided into four major sections. Firstly the Madrassa-system, that has been after the success of the English-system, confined only to religious education. A child is usually enrolled into the Madrassa when the parents want at least one of their children to go on Allah’s way, sacrificing worldly success for that purpose. These Madrassas hold less than 1% of the total enrolled children of the country. Secondly the Public Schools, which enroll about 65% of the total; thirdly the Private Schools that enroll about 34% of the total enrolled; and lastly the Elite English Schools which take up a negligible percentage of the private schools (Source). For ease, here onwards, we will talk more of schools, as they are more basic and generalize our conclusions for the colleges, as we go on.

Let us make a critical analysis of the government run public schools, as they hold about 65% of the total children enrolled in the country. It should be kept in mind that although these schools generally use Urdu as the medium of instruction but they follow the model of the British School System.

 Given the poor conditions of these schools, the untrained and lowly qualified teachers, the cursorily structured text and the superfluous method of assessing the ability of the child, it has seemingly become a dysfunctional machine of producing lots of confused and misfit individuals, who if graduated through any degree, be it a matriculation, an intermediate or a bachelors, would be found looking for jobs in the government and private services sectors, or else they would rather not work at all. Let us observe if this system fulfills any of the goals mentioned above:

a)     Understand and adhere to the basics of Islam 

Has this school system provided us with individuals that adhere to the very basic principles of Islam, for instance: that they will not worship anything /anyone except Allah; that they will take the Prophet’s life as the prime model; that they will commit to the five times daily prayer; that they will be Zakat payers; that they will not give-in to usury; that they will show the strength of truth, piety, chastity and the high morals found in the Prophet’s person. Or does the school give a zero guarantee of such inculcations in the character of its pupil.

b)    Believe in the integrity of Pakistan

Has this system provided us with a people who strongly believe in the integrity of the country and the psychological, ideological and territorial safeguard of the nation. A people who are able to secure themselves from the external surges and internal insurgencies, committed physically, culturally, overtly or covertly. A people who recognize their national and religious identity so clearly, that they will be alarmed at the slightest interference in their structure.

 c)     Ensure the well-being and security of the whole

Has the school system provided with a flux of people, who will assuredly not act in any ways that may harm the well-being and security of the whole. Will they know when they are hurting the whole and will they be cultured to the extent that they would definitely sacrifice their personal or group benefits for the benefit and security of the whole.

 d)    Stand at a higher moral ground (social development)

When we talk about social development, one should bear in mind that for the Pakistani people it does not equal to the dictates of the world-wide, feminist-based humanitarian organizations, as those may be coming in clash with our ideals of religion and nationhood; we have to decide for one of them and negate the other, for, two opposing worldviews cannot become part of one education policy.

So social development for us goes back to the social virtues knit in the ideal Islamic society; it is an awareness of ‘rights’ but also of the ‘duties’ one has to serve to the community; it is equality of all humans but not the equality of the physical nature of man and woman; it is freedom to progress but not freedom to digress; it is the right to knowledge but not the right to vulgarity and porn. Social development will be measured by cleanliness of the individual and the environment; decency in clothing; tolerance in sharing not tolerance of the vice; adaptation to positive change not to ‘any type of change’ offered by the vogue. So which of these standards does our school ensure in its pupil.

e)     Be advanced in all faculties of knowledge

To be advanced in all faculties of knowledge, there are a few prerequisites to be kept in mind, like:

1-    the maximum number of concepts from all fields of knowledge be introduced in the earlier years;

2-    all skills and methods be dealt with dignity so that the pupil have no negative bias for any faculty or any level of its advancement;

3-    the habit of reasoning, critical thinking and subjective evaluation need to be inculcated in the pupil so that with time s/he is able to choose and decide;

4-    the realization of the acquisition of knowledge has to be assured by igniting the imagination of the mind.

So are our public schools possibly able to deliver such levels with their very limited text, not compiled in a self-explanatory way; making reliance on route learning inevitable to graduate through a class; barring the need of understanding concepts that could lead to some level of reasoning and criticism; shutting down any straying of the imagination that would make for the possibility of any future aspirations and a positive bias of a very small number of faculties that caters more for social status rather than any urge for their knowledge.

f)      Ensure a strong and progressive economy

g)     Become an active workforce penetrating all sectors of society

 And finally for the economic wellbeing and progress of the people which will be assured if the workforce prepared by the institutions is ready to penetrate in all sectors of any possible economic growth but especially in those sectors which make the backbone of the economy of the country. For Pakistan these are the agriculture and the livestock sectors; these are the small industries, businesses and services that can be launched as entrepreneurships.

But does the school/college ensure that its pupil once out of the school will be ready to go back to the field and the cattle, with better ways to plant the seed and safer ways for their cattle, or start a new venture on his/her own. That would only be possible if the pupil could associates pridefully with the soil and only if they have been given the confidence to survive and succeed in unforeseen situations.

 But our schools and colleges have achieved just the opposite, the higher the degree one holds the more limited his workability is and the more he is reserved to set mind-frames. So that in the end, the country is faced with increasing squatter populace and unemployed youths, as at the end of their route-sessions they are left with hopes that some organization might incorporate them, but not with any vision or real skill that would enable them to dig out their own living from the resources lying dormant around them.  

                            Quote - “We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation -rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Let us now consider the low-fee private schools, which cater ~33% of the total enrollments and facilitate the children of the lower and the middle class; these schools are generally mom and pop owned and lack qualified, trained teachers as well as the vision espoused by the education policy. They may be different from the government schools in their selection of the text, in having an English syllabus and in their strict attitude towards scoring grades, as they have to fight a competitive market for enrollments but the methods are again reliance on route learning and shutting down the mind form any reasoning or ideas.

                           Quote - “Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important or worth finishing; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.” - John Taylor Gatto

Have the elite private schools then, which take less than 1% of the enrollments, been able to fill the vacancy of a believing, open minded, courageous, morally virtuous, integrated, innovative lot of nationals. To our misdoings these schools, which represent the riches of the country, are not run by great visionaries who understand the deeper meanings of religion, nationhood and real progress, but are merely systems bought in by some rich, influential elites of the country from the generous funding of foreign English education systems backed by the think-tanks leading the liberal-secular-feminist ideology, who intend to spread their agenda globally through this charity.

Therefore, although these elite-school-systems may be: backed by a lot of research; having qualified and trained staff; employing methods that enhance reasoning and imagination; and imparting varied concepts in earlier years, yet they have proven to be void of inculcating the aspired morals in their pupil; failed in binding the pupil with religion; and unable to vitalize small scale entrepreneurships in the country. These schools have also failed to deliver in their pupil, any sense of integration with the common man of the country, rather they have played their part in keeping these children of the rich aloof of nationhood giving them the dream of settling abroad, as their hearts incline towards imitating the western way of living.


Boundaries of the Education System:

Why has our education system utterly failed to implement and realize the policies it put forth? Why do we live in a double standard of saying one thing and doing the other? Have we over-estimated the functionality of an education system or have we made an unrealistic, utopian policy?

Perhaps the truth is that we have, as a nation, been negligent in the matter of the education system on two accounts, firstly we have never been able to make a truly consistent policy, kept changing it and not treating it in the magnanimous perspective it actually holds. Secondly, we have failed to measure the true jurisdiction of the education system if it is to succeed in bring true its goals. 

If the nation-state has entrusted upon a body of organized people to dress the coming generations into decency, uprightness, rightfulness and strength, it will have to submit that the territory of this organization cannot be limited to the schools/colleges only; it cannot be expected that character be induced into a people via one tempered medium when several other strong media prevail in the environment that is attended day and night by the same pupil. How can single lines, written in the text like: ‘one should say the truth’, penetrate in the child’s personality when the whole air of information is filled with mimics, lies, treasons and double-game. Thus if the body compiling the education policy is true to its purpose it will inevitably have to point out and stand strongly against all sources spread in society, that hinder or jeopardize the purpose it was set to achieve. In fact it should have to use all possible media of information and entertainment to its purpose and it should be incumbent upon all media to comply and assist to the national purpose.

Though our education ministry has to work in its limitations, but like all systems of a body, it is not only dependent on but also affecting all other systems. The value of this ministry can be realized by the fact that while all other systems of the government will strive to sustain and improve material resources and services in the country, the education ministry has the job to nurture the subjective and ideological conscience of the nation and whatever it sows now is definitely to be reaped in the generations to come. Therefore any aspect left undone or attended grossly by the education ministry will prove to generate multiplied effects in the collective conscience and the general approach towards matters of concern in the generations to come. It must be realized that after faltering with the first 10 to 16 years of the human minds which is the natural time of absorption and familiarization of the world around them, all efforts attempted to induce ideology and perspective from alternate sources in the later years will prove futile. 

The education system has its jurisdiction, but the education ministry cannot shy out at the worsening state of affairs present in the country. It must be aware that it holds the keys to the future, therefore whatever is prevailing; the ministry has to take a stand upon what is to be fed to memory, through text and through all other media.                  


Is the Answer in Islam?

Why does religion have to come in this debate, is religion not one of the faculties to be covered in by the education system – how then does one talk of religion as dictating the policy at all.

So does Islam, being the religion cherish by the democratic majority of the country have any simple answers, for a country-wide structure, that is rotted to its roots; for an education ministry that is disconnect to purpose and people; for a government bound in diplomacy to such extents that it has to give allowance to all that goes against the very spirit of the education policy for petty survival. Is there remedy for generations that have already come out of this system close-minded and compliant to status-co. Could there be a magic spell that would straighten this 4D mesh of broken, split and wasted lines with one abra ka dabra. 

Mankind has been created in variety, not only in culture and language but also in the levels of interpretation and possibilities of meaning for each one in the kind. We are various in social, economic and political terms; we have among us a man who is unversed and a man who has rehearsed volumes - they cannot relate to concepts in the same way. Yet, in the example of Islam, we see that to educate and model such a teeming lot, religion does not so much depend upon infrastructure that takes decades to build; text that is heavy, expensive and un-dispatch-able; and moreover upon indecisive research and un-trainable staff. Rather Islam has shown us the possibility to educate with a one-book syllabus for all; men, women, child, elderly. Of course the education system of the country cannot be squeezed into one book; what has been integrated into one book by the miracle of the Absolute Knower, has to be disintegrated and spread into syllabi encompassing several years of the pupils learning. But what a One-Book gives is not a detailed syllabus, what it gives is the ideological basis – one that is reliable, unchanging and can be trusted to carry on through generations unlike all other man-made ideologies, which are subject to change.

Again what is the so-urgent need for an ideological basis, when we are already imparting to so much vital math, physics, chemistry, history and art? If we lay another view on the list of things we wanted to from our education system in the first place, we would see that they are more in need of a subjective layout than an objective one. Like adherence to the basics of Islam, believing in the integrity and security of the country, a higher moral ground are all related to not only understanding these values but also believing in them. Moreover, the true act of learning a faculty relies on the pupil’s perceptiveness, her/his involvement in the subject, her/his initiative to progress in it – all things that depend more on the subjective person rather than objective one. Once you are subjectively sound, in mind and spirit, you are ready to face the challenge of practical life in the truly human way, which is the way of a control with concept and empathy.

                                     Quote - “Of course, there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a wise man… But they can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns, and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Though the millennia of its existence the human genus has shown that in addition to tools of survival, discovery and innovation, what it has always required in parallel is a Worldview. A Worldview is a set of thought that serve to bind a person with society; that helps the person to define good and bad; and that helps him/her to answer some subjective question regarding their existence, answering which fall essentially outside the bounds of sensory knowledge.

With this Worldview, and without having these basic urges answered, man tends to be unstable and indecisive, and his clarity between right and wrong is rendered vague. And once there is no subjective right and wrong, the direction and therefore the possibility of progress is obliterated. But once we have taken religion merely to be a subject of interest among other interests, we are diverted to our mere sensory knowledge as a guide to good and bad. But sensory knowledge, however scientifically we apt to use it, is not only prone to change but also proven inadequate to answering all vital questions faced by the genus ‘homo’ for its progressive survival – hence the construction of a Worldview has to be essentially subjective and based on belief.

                     Quote – “Most people say that is it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” - Albert Einstein              

Let us suffice by taking the modern day Feminist ideal, from which many of the modern day trends and beliefs directly or indirectly derived, as an example that could guide humanity in deciding between good and bad, at least over its most favorite issue – defining woman sexuality.

As it happens, over the decades of the Feminist Revolution, led by several prominent women, who declare their-selves to be the true representatives of their kind, not one definition or categorization of what female sexuality is grounded in and what its pros and cons are, has been agreed upon. Instead, the Feminist views on sexuality have a very wide range of variety over gender, gender equality and gender performativity, as it cultures innumerable strains between Radical-Feminist, Sex-positive Feminists and Celibate Feminist. Each variant having different views on matters such as pornography, prostitution, degrees of sexual exploitation, violence, harassment and objectification, degrees of censorship, stripping, BDSM  and sadomasochism, lesbianism, bisexuality, heterosexuality and so on… so much so that any type of possible behavior pattern would fit one or another school of thought among the Feminists.

So in several decades of scientifically aided self-discovery, is there a conclusive ideal on what the place, role, activity, respect or sexuality of the female gender in society is? Or has the Movement drenched the western women in evermore oppression as the different sex-industries flourish in the west, leaving the women, the family and the child in extreme vulnerability – adding instability, indecisiveness, identity-crisis and the fatigues that come with these, in Western societies in this decades-long human struggle. This brings us back to the need of a Worldview that can answer vital questions within our lifetimes - with clarity, decisiveness and surety that we can put our belief in. 

Believing in the right things takes us on the constructive path, whereas believing in the wrong takes us on the destructive one. So the right beliefs matter vitally to an education system. Loopholes, confusion and double-standards will drive away the sense of a greater ideal to be pursued, and the pupil will face a divided society that is impossible to be reconciled, thus the fatigue that ensues will drain the pupil’s positive-energy.

For an atheist, who has no God to answer for his doings, there is not set moral standard to adhere to, nor are his fellow-beings sacred for him/her in the predator-driven race for survival. So national integrity, defined higher morals, well-being of fellow-human and the sense of progress that come with them follow from a well-defined belief-system as opposed to a system of agnostic non-belief.

It must be understood that all objective knowledge, comprising of all sciences, all arts and all crafts are meant for creating means of livelihoods in such a manner that economies and products are developed in a fashion of increasing supplies and enhancing comfort levels. This will supposedly eventuate in the contention and happiness of the individual and the society as a whole. This means that all objective knowledge and action are in turn, eventually, serving the purpose of the subjective inner person; therefore whether our education system is making a technician, a nurse, an engineer or a PHD, the aim is to move the individual from a state of discontent to a state of content where s/he can realize positive change in objective terms, which will in return ensure her/his subjective happiness; the reason for this reliance on the object, when actually it is the subject that is to be served is the fact that the object is measureable and the subject is not.

The mistake in formulating the structure of education, its policy and its curriculum, is often owed to the fact that in doing so we are often tempted to base our evaluation fully upon objective data, as it is easier to comprehend and matter-of-fact, and in connecting all dots in the objective realm, we forget that the ‘subject’, which has moved us to this whole act in the first place and the ‘subject’, which is the ultimate judge of whether we have succeeded in satisfying it or not, may have totally been neglected and our very act may have served to frustrate it. Perhaps it is understandable now that an education system and curriculum designed to attain only objective goals, is bound to fail us in regards to nation-building, social-balance and peace.

Whereas in reality, our Education Policy, in all its evolution has been utterly gross; failing to define in any complete way, what its subjective goals may be. And if at all it does, there is no matrix that would even vaguely identify how the subjective ideal will be translated into objective good. This attitude pushes us all, into the guilt of collective crime, as a nation; a nation so indifferent to its basic right and duty.

One must realize that after all the high-tech development of the 20th century and the upheaval of the earth’s resources in billions of barrels and millions of tons, more than half of humanity is still living below the poverty line; in our own country out of 61 million children to the age of 14 only 37million are enrolled in primary school, only 2.8million in secondary school and a 1.3 million are in college right now. This gives us a picture that even though we are a 58% literate nation, the quality of literacy is not much high and most of this 58% might be using their literacy as tool for simple operations but not as a means of philosophizing their subjective requirements. Therefore it becomes a dire question as to how the education ministry is to ensure the ideological upbringing of a nation that has little to do with pen and paper.

The answer in Islam and the Quran is simple - belief. If the education ministry put its complete belief in the dictates of the Quran, all subjective requirements are fulfilled and a worldview is established. Hence forth the task of culturing an active, entrepreneur and adaptive work-force becomes easier. Once the self-centered material goals that are entirely different for the pupil, the tutors, the parents and the employers that will later employ them, are changed by wholesome goodness that is inclusive and subjectively rewarding – the age old stigmatic image of the stick-holding tutor forcing the fatigued pupil to route-learn, will also change into a subject-loving teacher, ready and patient to take knowledge as a journey s/he will mile with the adventure-loving pupil. This may seem fantasy, but any less-fantasy solution will not go long in the march to progress. And the love of the subject make seed-sowing and tilling as much interesting sciences as history, math, astronomy or physics can be.

                              Quote – “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” - Albert Einstein