In my early days in university, I endeavoured to participate in the class discussion about US incursions into various countries and the ugly wars that it waged in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I touched upon Eqbal Ahmed, by saying that;
“Mam, Eqbal also wrote much about the United States’ war policies. He was a prominent intellectual figure at that time, and his famous incident of being involved in an alleged plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger, who was the then security advisor to President Nixon.”
Mam wasn’t aware of Eqbal Ahmad, to which she replied,
“Which Eqbal are you talking about?”
I replied: “Mam, it’s Eqbal with an E. Not Iqbal, a poet.”
I am not vandalising the credibility of my teacher here; not everyone knows everything. Our soil has produced many intellectuals. The world recognised and acknowledged them, and their works are still being taught and discussed in other countries – but unfortunately, for one, we neglected to even remember him. Eqbal Ahmed is considered one of the pioneer thinkers of South Asia, and if he were walking today on the road, no one would recognise him.
Pakistan’s education system is flawed, and it is not a new debate. We have been talking about this significant issue for years or probably decades. Unfortunately, neither we evolve nor our education system. Our educational institutions aren’t producing critical minds; if we find some critical minds in our country and ask about their journeys of critical thinking, they always thank themselves for reading philosophy or being entangled in profound discussions.
Teachers are still teaching obsolete books in schools and colleges. Our educational authorities didn’t see fit to issue newer books that feature discoveries and inventions worldwide.
Moreover, philosophy and humanities aren’t taught in schools and colleges, but one can opt for these subjects at the university. Philosophy plays a substantial role in the development of critical thinking. It doesn’t force humans on what to think but focuses on how to think. When an individual develops critical thinking, they become more analytical and reliable in the development of a community rather than a person who is an adherent of herd psychology – the latter can be controlled more easily.
One major reason we aren’t producing more brains like Eqbal Ahmed is the culture of our educational institutions. Students who are inquisitive, but committed neither to science nor mathematics, are still being coerced to decide on one, because no other major is being taught in schools and colleges at diverse levels in the same way as these subjects.
Pakistan Studies as a subject is being taught in schools, and we all know how poorly the curriculum has been written. K. K Aziz debunked the credibility of Pakistan Studies curricula in his book The Murder of History. When we teach this inconsequential proportion of Pakistan studies in schools, and no philosophy and humanities, students will never take to such subjects, and it will lead them to choose between science or mathematics, which they loathe. Still, everyone prefers these courses for better career prospects. They become the followers of herd psychology, and over time, the uncritically accepted beliefs that had been taught to them become more powerful. They don’t bother to read history and philosophy, making them irrational and unreasonable.
Our educational institutions are the deathbed of critical thinking. We produce irrational and ludicrously oriented minds in the millions every year, and only a few self-taught people prefer the other path. Those millions of minds are one of many reasons for unhealthy polarisation in the country, because they are readily manipulated, and they are the first who becomes the prey of propaganda.
The abundance of irrationality in our country is making our society more extremist due to a lack of discussion and debating culture, and derelict humanities courses in our educational institutions. It becomes arduous for university instructors to debunk such extremist beliefs by attempting to distinguish between culture and religion for fear of being lynched over an insignificant rational discussion. Their pupils have never been taught at schools that you may contradict someone and still not despise them, because your own position was not some well-established theory of natural science and mathematics, but at most a theory in the social sciences.
People seem to prefer mindless amusement in this country, preferring it to the kind of education and learning that is currently on offer. Our celebrity classes are vapid for the most part, and people follow them and make them their role models. After all, it is easy to get entertainment and levity, but reading and learning are hard things to do, and, indeed, are a painful process.
That is why they don’t remember people like Eqbal Ahmed, and in the unlikely event that they get introduced to a few ideas from such a figure, they disown them – much as we did to Abdus Salam over his religious beliefs. We were never taught that people exist in the world with distinct beliefs and cultures, and that we can address differences by debating to the point where we agree or disagree on something and still not hate. If we had learned to think rationally, we could have embraced Abdus Salam.
Today our country is going through a lot of calamities. There is social injustice, the lynching of minorities, violations of women’s rights, inequality, environmental crises, poverty, illiteracy, inflation, etc. We do not have the trained mind that are needed to reason their way through all of this.
The state has to revamp the structure and culture of our educational institutions – much like Eqbal Ahmed’s own dream of establishing a proposed Khaldunia University.
Investment in education will not show its results in merely two or three years, but it will take many years – and its fruits will be enjoyed for much longer.
Dear Author, You have pointed out the real causes of almost failed educational system of Pakistan.But do you think that our school courses must include Eqbal Ahmed and other Thinkers?