by whom, for whom and, most of all, for what?

: By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Our ‘education’ — going to school, coming out of home, learning to be with ‘others’, making and losing friends — might well be the most significant as well as broadest range of social interaction for an individual in his lifetime. It prepares and defines the person for non-familial contact and the process of continuous learning that accompanies life. In that sense education is essentially non-finite.

Of course we need to consider it ‘collectively’ and pragmatically in terms of the community; the curriculum; purpose and goals. But preoccupation with these very real issues sometimes obscures the fact that the system(s) we need and wish to reform devolve first and foremost on just two persons: the student and the teacher. In terms of subjects for a student, we have to consider several teachers; and several students and groupings that a teacher faces in the classroom. But the impact and interaction experienced by each of them is singular and unique for  each. Imagine the demand on a teacher as he/she strains to grasp and respond to the need of each one of their students separately. Imagine a student floundering within the gaps of his/her understanding of what the teacher is expounding, or being impatiently inattentive as he/she outpaces the rest. Whatever the calibre of the teacher and the student, the challenge is one of connection—bridging the gap in intercommunication. Which is why language is vital: first the spoken word—the medium of instruction—and then the way it is delivered—what we could call body language: A teacher can appear terrifying; a student contemptuous.

The label of a coveted education brand can be peeled off or shed more easily than many others. To adhere it needs the right base: What is the cultural milieu in which the student and the teacher is bred? If that background is dissonant and conflicted; fragmented and decaying, made-to-order customized narratives for appropriate contemporarily functional mindsets are an exercise in smug fatuous self-deception. But our educationists are disinclined to initiate public debate, while experts opine and intra-consult within ivory towers and silos for the common and uncommon masses they scarcely bother to know or question about their problems and aspirations. Where the State itself is averse to identifying and allowing articulation of cultural and historic truths and simply wishes to create and provide its preferred version(s), systems will continue to disappoint no matter how well-meaning the efforts at reformism and awesome the credentials of reformists: Our information and knowledge remain shackled by the goal and quest for and retention of political empowerment and preference. And it is this impediment we need to tackle as a prerequisite to improvement within any and every chosen reformatory domain.

Alas there are confusingly varied and sometimes distorting visionary prisms, old ones linger while new ones are tested. In such a paradoxically didactic as well as inchoate cultural context, the primary foundational need is for tolerance and mutual consideration and respect rather than the super-imposition poster-pasting of the corrective image or lens. We do not need blinkers while purportedly seeking wider educational horizons. But we refuse to admit some truths we can perceive, nor are we ready to listen to the truths of others: Culturally we reject objectivity.

The ubiquitous political desire to crush dissent and control thought put the lid on original thinking and genuine scholarship and opened wide the doors to dogma and establishment-sycophancy. The politician or political party of ‘my’ non-choice is not to be allowed space. We have long been tutored to think and react in extremes, be it to personalities or concepts: thus, Bhutto is either heroic or Faustian. Secularism is irreligious. Differing ethnicities and mores are either offensive weapons or targeted victims. The State oversees exclusive if well-meaningly prescriptive doctoring. Nor does the multiplicity of media houses provide a disinterested open public platform. Often they are commercialized extensors of intellectual dictators and political manipulators: Liberalism is fashion-deep; while effervescing trends on social media determine, and consumerist interests characterize, audience taste. The suffusion of overseas family, the comparatively affluent visiting expat with the untraveled local, affects traditional modes and personal relationships. The social atmosphere for young and old is one of flux within conflicting currents.

These are but some of the elements in the unpredictably complex, mysteriously compounded clay each student and teacher comes from– and may retain even while working at re-moulding that very human material through education, whatever the system. We need to tell each other about ourselves with a view to understanding not excluding in any educational process– and that is what we have yet to recognize, let alone permit and foster, despite all our oft-instituted historically varied as well as repetitively circular taskforces and commissions. Breadth of outlook has to exist outside the schoolroom before education can begin to take healthier root within it.