Events

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Education for Development

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Dawn, Monday, 08 Nov, 2010

EDUCATION is considered by many to have a close relationship with development. Usually the concept of development is confined to economic development i.e. education for better jobs or educated citizens for national economic development.

This relationship does not fully describe the potential of education, or, for that matter, of development.

A more holistic view of development would include the aspect of social development as well. This view suggests that large dams, long railway tracks, metallic roads, skyscrapers and big shopping plazas denote just one aspect of development. A more holistic notion of development, however, would include some other important aspects of human development, e.g., education, the environment, healthcare, food and other standards of living.

This view of development has been highlighted by some leading economists including Amartya Sen of India and Mahbub ul Haq of Pakistan. Sen’s famous work, Development as Freedom, considers freedoms of choice and expression as important indicators of development.

A fuller view of development which is sustainable in nature does not confine itself to the study of only sciences but encompasses a much broader range of subjects including the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. It is this broad spectrum of knowledge construction that helps us understand the notion of development and sustain it.

When we talk of development we usually refer to development that is sustainable. We have seen development in the recent past, during Gen Musharraf’s era, which was artificial in nature as money was flowing in as a result of the post 9/11 situation. Our reserves were inflated and the economic statistics looked so very impressive. This situation changed drastically after a few years as the inflow of money was suddenly reduced. A simple definition of sustainable development that is cited by Unesco suggests that sustainable development seeks “to meet the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations”. The concept of sustainable development, thus, is incomplete without education and a literate society.

It is through education that one learns useful skills, ideas, values and thoughts to become a thinking citizen of society. It is education that can turn an ordinary society into a learning-oriented society that could explore innovative solutions to the challenges we face today.

A pertinent question, however, is whether or not it is the higher literacy rate that enhances the chances of development. The answer to this question is in the negative as it is not just the literacy rate but also the quality of education which plays a vital part in sustainable socio-economic development.

If we were to examine the quality of education, in most mainstream schools, we would realise that the process of education resembles closely what Brazilian educator Paulo Freire refers to as the “banking concept of knowledge” where students sit back, teachers transmit information and students reproduce this information in the examination paper and score good marks.

This process of teaching and learning is defective in essence and produces robots who cannot think on their own. A holistic concept of education should tap the learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes. One of the major goals of education that paves the way for sustainable development, but which is missing in most mainstream schools in Pakistan, is enabling students to think independently and creatively. Education should empower students to apply knowledge in new situations while remaining sensitive to the requirements of the context. Education should also develop critical thinking skills among learners so that they do not merely fit into the slots of society but also show the courage to challenge some of the taboos imposed by society.

How can such a qualitative change in education be made possible? There could be a number of factors that come together to improve the quality of education that in turn enhances the chances of sustainable development. Some of these factors include funds, infrastructure, physical facilities, curriculum, textbooks and assessment systems. All these factors are important and contribute their own bit to the qualitative improvement of education. There is, however, one factor, i.e., the teacher, who occupies a central position in terms of interaction with the other factors. To make the teacher community more effective there is an urgent need to empower it in terms of financial benefits, social recognition and professional development.One of the major sources of professional development of teachers is teacher education. Unfortunately, most teacher education institutes and departments in Pakistan are offering a stereotypical version of teacher education which is devoid of critical thinking and reflective practices. There is an obvious disconnect between theory and practice and the whole emphasis is laid on the method of teaching.

There is an urgent need to revamp teacher education in Pakistan in order to make it relevant and effective by incorporating the components of reflection and critical thinking and by establishing a vibrant linkage between theory and practice. There is also a need to bring in insights from various disciplines of learning by employing an interdisciplinary approach. Teachers should be made to realise that there is a need to extend pedagogy by using ways and means of non-formal and informal education as well. It is only through effective teacher education that we can empower teachers professionally and it is through these empowered teachers one can hope for such education that ensures a holistic and sustainable development.

The writer is a professor and the director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.
Blog: http://shahidksiddiqui.blogspot.com 
E-mail: shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com

Education and Social Justice

by Dr. Shahid Siddiqui
South Asia Magazine,October, 2010
The notion of social justice has multiple interpretations. An oversimplification of the term is the execution of justice at societal level. A more radical interpretation would be a just society where people have equal opportunities to exercise their freedoms and where there is no discrimination in the provision of justice on the count of social class, gender, disability, ethnicity, color, and religion. The role of education in realizing the objective of social justice is vital. It is education that empowers human beings to achieve the goals of socio-economic development, emancipation, and social justice. Unfortunately education, instead of minimizing the socio-economic disparities, is further widening the disparities. According to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu education is instrumental in perpetuating the social structures ridden with inequalities.
One of the important objectives of education is to reduce the economic differences in a society. This can be realized through appropriate provision of resources to diffident strata of life. The social justice approach recommends that disadvantaged groups should be provided with more resources to compensate for their past deprivations. If we look at the situation in South Asia we see a staggering number of stratifications in the domain of education. Realizing the potent linkage between education and life chances the dominant groups in society always tried to deprive the marginalized groups of education. Historically education as a right was denied to the groups on the pretexts of race, gender, class and religion. For a very long time, for instance, Blacks were not entitled to get education. This deprivation from education led to their economic poverty and impacted negatively their image in the society. It is important to note that the impact of education is not just confined to the individual's job, but it affects one's recognition, status, respect, and ultimately influence in a society. Thus less economic resources may lead to educational marginalization which in turn leads to less life chances.

Educational marginalization is not just confined to cast and color. We see a clear educational apartheid on gender basis. This can be understood from our South Asian experience where women were not supposed to go to schools only a few decades before. Their role, as was confined to home keeping. The early initiatives in women education paved the way for primary education for women. For a long time it was considered appropriate that women should not go beyond primary education. Now that we have come a long way in terms of expansion in women education we still find that women, even after getting higher education, cannot make use of education for personal and societal development in terms of economy. A large number of women in Pakistan still cannot take up or sustain their jobs under the pressure of their husbands or in laws.

Another factor that becomes the basis of educational inequality is the social class. The elite class has their own schools whose fees and related expenses are phenomenal and poor people cannot even think of sending their children to such schools. The stratification is much varied and broad. There are posh elite English medium schools, public schools, forces schools, cadet colleges, madrassahs etc. The difference is not just in nomenclature but they are segregated in many important ways, e.g., infrastructure, curriculum, textbooks, faculty, physical facilities, etc. The buildings of posh rich schools are purpose built and well maintained, there are appropriate arrangements of cooling and heating in summer and winter, the faculty members are well qualified, the curriculum is very competitive, the textbooks are well written and printed in an attractive layout with quality paper. These schools select students after detailed interviews of students and parents. Thus students who get into such schools are already advantaged as they come from a strong socio-economic background. The other extreme is the mainstream public schools where physical facilities are lacking, curricula are outdated, textbooks are boring and are printed in an unattractive manner on poor quality paper. The faculty members are underpaid and thus demotivated. The classes are overcrowded. Most of the students who come to public schools come from modest socio-economic backgrounds. One can find a huge difference in the quality of education between public schools and elite schools. Thus our schools are engaged in not only preserving the socio-political power structures, based on inequalities, but they are further widening the chasm between the haves and have nots.SpecialReport3-2

We see a lot of discussion about quality in education but generally quality has been confined to ivory towers of elite schools where only a selected few can send their children. If education is a basic human right each individual should be entitled to get quality education. According to World Bank report, "By equity we mean that individuals should have equal opportunities to pursue a life of their choosing and be spared from extreme deprivation in outcomes. "

The notion of social justice is ironically synchronized with the terms efficiency, productivity, globalization, monitoring and accountability. Since these terms come from powerful organization, they are considered as undeniable truths and education system, in order to achieve the corporate version of social justice, is producing mono-culture minds through its offering of certain subjects, mechanical pedagogy, insensitive assessment practices and highly quantitative evaluation system. Let me briefly explain these points. At national level it is considered that showing enhanced literacy numbers is the panacea for all educational ills. The decision makers tend to forget that their notion of literacy is based on purely functional aspects of literacy where reflection and critical thinking have no space to exist.

Such education can produce efficient and productive workers but not thinking human beings. Consequently our schools, instead of reducing the gaps of economic disparity and social injustice are further widening the gaps. Education which should be a precursor to emancipation, freedom, and social justice is engaged in further stratification of society. The rich/poor divide is becoming sharper and more obvious in terms of access. The ‘quality education' seems to be out of the reach of the poor. The state seems to have given up and has passed the buck to the private sector. The contemporary education imparted in mainstream schools is perpetuating the existing power structures and the dream of social justice is becoming more distant. This dream, however, could be realized through an educational system which is live, vibrant, and relevant, prepares its students, not merely as efficient and productive technicians, but as thinking and responsible citizens of the society. Such educational system is based on equal opportunities, mutual respect, and recognition of each individual.

In the current educational scenario where the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer it is important that we should be focusing on the question of equality. There is a need to work for reducing the physical and academic differences between the elite schools and mainstream public schools. Enhanced funding, more physical facilities, better management, and effective accountability are some areas that need attention of public schools. Since education, like health, is the responsibility of state, our education policy, which is due this month, should be addressing the issue of the provision of equal educational opportunities. This also means giving extra help, facilities, and encouragement to the down trodden to enhance their life chances. It is only through quality education that the have nots can get recognition, respect, and power to influence decision making. SA

The writer is Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics 
E-mail: shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com