May 5, 2012

Our fake values

By Amin Jan Naim Social values in our country are undergoing a change from the traditional patterns. Such changes are causing major alterations and cleavages in our social fabric. In human history, changes in social values have often led to considerable upheavals and turmoil. Sometimes they have resulted in social stagnation; at other times to an intellectual and cultural flowering. For example, the Hellenistic period and the European Renaissance had led to an upsurge of the human spirit and attainments. In contrast, medievalism in Europe during the Dark Ages had led to dogmatism and stagnation. In transitional periods of history there is often a mixing and a blending of cultures. Sometimes this is accompanied by a big upsurge in intellectual activity. Such encounters between cultures have at times led to progress and development. At other times, traditional value systems have collapsed under the influence of alien influences, with negative consequences for society. Despite a confused amalgamation of cultures emanating from the commercial and technological advancement of the West, the world today, including the West itself, lacks a salutary authentic spirit. Although modern technology has spanned the globe, the world is largely chaotic. Large swathes of people still cling to the certainties of tribe, religion and ethnicity. Technology has essentially impinged on only the surface of many lives. According to the late Czech playwright and communist-era dissident (later president) Vaclav Havel, the abyss between the rational and the spiritual, the external and the internal, the technical and the moral, and the universal and the unique, constantly grows deeper. In Pakistan, we need to generate thought processes which are conducive to progress and to inculcate ethics and aesthetics. Our real challenge is a sociological one. It is a challenge on the plane of social institutions and social ethics. We are faced with cultural perversion resulting from an ignoble and malignant milieu. A sense of crisis and polarisation is the dominant feature in our national life. In our country, a false sense of values and hypocrisy are common. The individual is conditioned from childhood to look for approval from constituted authority. People are expected to live up to the traditional autocratic social code, rather than to fulfil internal, personal standards. There is no premium on excellence or performance of a job done well for its own sake. Compromises are the norm in matters of personal behaviour, quality of work and sense of moral responsibility. Another unpleasant trait in our national character is the tendency to express opinions which are intended to please rather than the expression of an honest viewpoint. What type of society are we heading for? One in which beggars make more money than a responsible citizen; in which young children are kidnapped, then maimed and made to beg in order to fill the coffers of ruthless elements; in which the new generation is physically mauled, through malnutrition and first-cousin marriages-thus lowering the mental and physical standards of health and fitness; in which hypocrisy, vulgarity, the rat-race and brutality are at a premium; in which pollution of air and water make life far from being worthwhile. The utterly abhorrent acid attacks on women are bringing us shame around the world. So are the many widespread practices here of the subjugation of women. If this is the type of society in existence at present in our country, what kind of future lies ahead for our new generation. It is clear that urgent attention needs to be paid to these issues so that a decrepit and unhealthy generation does not grow up in misery and squalor. The ancient Greeks considered happiness, or eudaimonia, to be an activity of reason or activity in accordance with reason. Thus, the truly happy life is the ideal life of activity and thought in accordance with virtue. If we are to take our rightful place in the comity of nations, we need to imbibe this Hellenic spirit.

Spare the teacher

By Lubna Jerar Naqvi We often hear of students being brutally beaten up by teachers in Pakistan and we condemn the corporal punishment that has always been a part of our education system. But with reports of teachers’ beatings at the hands of their students coming up, the adage “spare the rod, spoil the child” needs to be rephrased to “spare the rod, spoil the child – and save the teacher.” Though here we are talking of the “child” who has outgrown childhood. Recently at least two incidents have been reported in the media, in which students or their family members have turned on teachers and caused serious injury. Recently, a government teacher of Government High School at Mattod Bhaike near Gujranwala was beaten up by a class nine student and three of his accomplices. They left the teacher in such a state that he had to be hospitalised. The teacher’s crime: he had reprimanded the student for bunking class. In another incident, news appeared last month of a former MPA, Aslam Madhyana, father of present PPP MPA Awais Madhyana, being arrested for torturing an elderly schoolteacher and breaking both his legs in Sargodha. was According to reports, the former MPA told the media that PML-N leaders ‘Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were trying to take “political revenge”’. Both cases are being dealt with by the law. Many cultures, including ours, revere the teacher and give a status higher to the “spiritual parent” than one’s own parents. It needs to be investigated why teachers are now being dealt with such brutally by their students. A look back into our recent past – the last three decades or so – will reveal that the use of force against a teacher is not today’s phenomenon in Pakistan. We have seen teachers threatened and terrorised by their students (in the 70s, 80s and 90s). Politicised “students” have been known to terrorise and threaten teachers, after bunking, or disrupting classes for political reasons. Stories of knife- or gun-wielding students blatantly cheating in exams filtered out of educational institutes in Karachi and many other parts of Sindh, while the helpless teaching staff looked on. Anyone brave enough to try and stop this was roughed up. This dealt a serious blow to the quality of education imparted in this part of the country, especially Karachi – which was once known for its educational institutions and attracted a large number of foreign students. Sadly, as students became powerful through political connections, and probably proved beneficial to their “mother political parties,” they proved to be detrimental to the quality of “professionals” comprising the workforce. The quality of work produced by these political students was zilch. They proved even more useless in the professional field for they were only good for “politics” – i.e., shutting down work, protesting, taking out rallies, etc. Once “graduating” with a degree, these “educated” professionals proved to be “useful” in different professional sectors but not in terms of quality or skill. This triggered the massive brain drain from the country, with those who were able to afford foreign education leaving the country, with the less fortunate left to wade the educational muck. This soon proved to be detrimental in many ways, as more and more degree-holders came into the professional field armed with nothing more than a paper declaring that they had “mastered” in something. It didn’t seem to matter to most Pakistanis that schools, colleges and universities were spitting out a large number of uneducated people, many with fake degrees since these people were useful to become foot soldiers of political leaders to do what they had received “education and training” in what goes for “politics” in Pakistan.

Higher education in India

By Dr Atta-ur-Rahman Over the next five years India will establish 200 new universities and 40 new high-level institutes. Nine additional IITs will also be established, bringing the total number of IITs to 16. This was stated by Indian human resource development minister Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha recently. A sum of Rs800 billion, the biggest-ever allocation, is being set aside in the 12th five-year-plan of India (2012-2017) to propel it into a strong knowledge-based economy. India has presently 17 percent of its youth between the ages of 17 of 23 enrolled in the higher education sector (as opposed to Pakistan’s 7.6 percent). It plans to increase this enrolment to 30 percent of the same age group by the year 2030 (Chetan Chauhan, The Hindustan Times, April 25). India decided to replace its University Grants Commission with a stronger federally funded organisation, National Commission of Higher Education and Research. This was approved by the Indian Cabinet in December 2011. The recent steps taken by India are the result of a detailed presentation made to the Indian prime minister in July 2006 by Prof C N R Rao about the threat posed by the remarkable transformation underway in higher education in Pakistan. In an article entitled “Pak threat to Indian science,” Neha Mehta wrote: “Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.” (The Hindustan Times on July 23, 2006.) This presentation to the Indian prime minister set in motion a whole set of reforms in the higher education sector in India with a sharp increase in the salary structures of academics and a manifold increase in the budget for higher education. India had been giving the highest priority to higher education, science and technology for decades. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had already laid the foundations of modern India in the 1950s and 1960s. The prime minister of India himself headed what he considered to be the most important ministry in India – science and technology. The progress made by the higher education sector in Pakistan in the last decade is reflected from the increase in enrolment from 276,000 students in 2003 to 803,000 in 2011, increase in number of universities and degree-awarding institutes from 59 in the year 2000 to 137 by 2011, and an increase in international research publications from only 636 in 2000 to 6,200 in 2011. The PhD output too underwent an explosive growth. During the 55-year period from 1947 to 2002, only 3,281 PhDs had been granted by all our universities (a shocking average of about 3-4 PhDs per university per year)! During the subsequent eight-year period from 2003 to 2010, this number was exceeded and 3,658 PhDs were granted. There was maximum emphasis on quality, as all PhD theses were evaluated by at least two top experts in technologically advanced countries before approval. The silent revolution that occurred in the higher education sector in Pakistan was lauded by neutral international experts and agencies and numerous reports published on it. In a book published by the Royal Society (London) entitled A New Golden Age the example of Pakistan was cited as the best model to be followed by other developing countries. Nature, the world’s leading science journal, published four editorials and several articles on the transformation that was occurring in Pakistan and advised the new government in 2008 not to go back to the “stone age” that existed prior to the reforms introduced after 2002 in higher education. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education announced it as “Pakistan’s golden period in higher education” and called for my reappointment after I had resigned in protest against the suspension of scholarships of HEC scholars sent abroad. I was conferred a high civil award by the Austrian government and the TWAS (Italy) Prize for institution building for leading these changes. After the remarkable progress achieved in Pakistan in the higher education during 2003-2008, we have been systematically trying to destroy the one sector that had raised a gleam of hope among the masses. First, the development budget of the higher education sector was slashed by about 50 percent in 2009. Then, the scholarships of the several thousand Pakistani students studying in foreign universities were withheld, forcing them to go literally begging for funds on the streets of countries where they had gone to brighten their future. This was followed by the status of the executive director of the HEC of a federal secretary being withdrawn, thereby preventing the HEC from holding Departmental Development Working Party (DDWP) meetings and approving projects for Pakistani universities. The projects to establish foreign engineering universities in major cities of Pakistan were closed down. This would have saved Rs50 billion annually and provided Pakistani students with the opportunity of getting quality education with foreign degrees without going abroad. The HEC had found that 51 of our “honourable” parliamentarians had forged degrees and those of another 250 parliamentarians were suspect. In any other country such persons would have had to go to jail for cheating and forgery. However the Election Commission, instead of declaring their elections null and void, became a party to the game, in clear defiance of the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Why the Supreme Court has chosen to look the other way in this matter of enormous national importance is beyond understanding. A group of these “honourable” parliamentarians with forged degrees plotted to shred the HEC into pieces, and under their pressure a government notification was issued on 30th November 2010 shredding the HEC into pieces. On my appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan this was overturned and the Supreme Court declared the move as unconstitutional. The greedy and evil designs continue. Another Bill moved in parliament recently is directed to take away the Rs44 billion budget of the HEC from the 17-member commission and give the funds to a secretary in the federal government to distribute. This will open the doors to corruption. At present the powers to allocate funds are vested with a 17-member commission that included four provincial secretaries, two federal secretaries, vice chancellors and eminent citizens. So, while India progresses in leaps and bounds to strengthen its higher education, science and technology sectors, Pakistan sinks deeper into a quagmire created by incompetent and crooked parliamentarians. Following the spectacular successes of the HEC in Pakistan, India is in the process of closing down its UGC, to establish the National Commission of Higher Education and Research on the pattern of the HEC. Pakistan is however systematically destroying its HEC. Clearly it is not India that is our enemy – we ourselves are!