Education is one of the most potent forces in any society that can change it for the better; it is also instrumental in enabling members of a society to form an independent worldview. True education has no bounds; it is free of the limitations of time and of biases and prejudices. But it is very much debatable whether true education is being imparted anywhere in the world. Societies, to a great extent, depend upon propaganda, i.e., the doctoring of facts, to maintain a social ‘order’. This propaganda is mainly enveloped in educational texts and is euphemistically called education.
The passing on of knowledge is the best form of education; information on its own is meaningless. Only information that leads to accumulation of knowledge is true education. Information, whose various layers are laden with propaganda, is anything but education. This has largely been the case with the curricula in Pakistan. Such ‘education’ is of no intellectual or even professional use to the individual or society. Knowledge must be the final product of education. According to Plato, true knowledge not only engages the mind but also the soul. In this way, it regulates human conduct and builds an individual’s character.
Whatever social good that was achieved as a result of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment was largely lost in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution when everything became commercialised. The libertarian philosophy, which was the outcome of the Reformation, believed in the infallible nature of the individual; it emphasised the use of education to improve the individual’s faculties so as to attain the ideal of infallibility, which it thought was the source of the greatest good for mankind. But education in the post-Industrial Revolution era reversed that scheme. Vested interests then conceived of using educational institutions for the exploitation of the same individual. Libertarian philosophy was distorted in such a way so as to make it compatible with the selfish goals of capitalists.
The menace of nationalism that emerged in early 19th century, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, further impeded the pursuit of true education. For instance, several restrictions were imposed on the freedom of expression of intellectuals, the very force behind the caravan of education. They were made to think subjectively, in terms of their own nation alone. It was made incumbent by the powers that be that intellectuals had to think, write and educate in terms of national policies. Only a handful of intellectuals could brave these restrictions. This trend has continued to date; rather, it has exacerbated, particularly in countries like Pakistan.
The rise in commercialisation in the late 19th and early 20th century Europe and America, struck at the very roots of education. It no more remained a tool to improve the intellectual faculties of students, but rather to inculcate in their minds the importance of protecting the commercial interests of a few.
Despite experiencing the grand movements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, in Europe the provision of education remained almost completely the monopoly of the Church until the 19th century. Therefore, the creeping in of false papal dogmas, prejudices and propaganda into educational institutions was natural. The hold of the Church over education made reasoning faculties of the individual, quadriplegic. Only such lessons were imparted that reinforced the beliefs of papal infallibility and upheld the undue privileges of the clergy. In a similar vein, in the subcontinent, Islamic seminaries that have had doctrinaire orientation were established. The doors of modern disciplines were shut on students. Over time, these madrassas have served as totalilatarian institutions resulting in the brainwashing of individuals through imparting them nothing but propaganda.
Oscar Wilde once said: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that there is nothing that is worth knowing that can be taught.” Therefore, it is up to every individual to sift out real education from propaganda. Study that nourishes the intellect is the panacea. The multifarious issues we are facing in Pakistan today have much to do with the state and society putting numerous barriers to the pursuit of knowledge and true education.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2015.