By Zubeida Mustafa
A FEW weeks ago I wrote about the death of the social sciences. I didn’t realise that the social sciences still had such a devoted following in a country which has virtually murdered this branch of knowledge.
There were many who responded to my article — from both sides of the sciences. There were the champions of history, sociology and other similar disciplines who argued strongly in favour of the subject they had studied. Others said that we needed the physical sciences if we wanted the country to progress.
The most sensible point of view expressed came from a gynaecologist who has spent a lifetime in the profession and like all good gynaecologists has been involved in one way or another with family planning, infant mortality and neo-natal care. That has brought Dr Sadiqa Jafarey in touch with issues that basically fall in the domain of the social sciences.
She commented that when she was in medical college more than five decades ago medical students were taught the pure sciences and various disciplines pertaining to medicine and surgery. She now feels that medical students should be introduced to sociology and other branches of the social sciences to help them better understand many of the issues that affect patients.
The fact is that our higher education is rather stratified vertically. Even before a child leaves school she or he is required to make a choice between the science and general groups. I still fail to understand why students cannot be allowed to study physics as well as sociology. A combination of the social and physical sciences should be encouraged until one reaches the specialisation stage at post-graduation level.
Universities abroad follow this pattern. In fact someone studying for graduation is not asked to declare immediately on entry the subject that she or he wants to major in. How can one make a choice without knowing what is on offer? This is possible only when the student studies the basics of a subject. A multidisciplinary approach should be encouraged as that broadens one’s mental horizons.
The problem with our education system is that it creates educated people — experts in technology, business administration and some social sciences too — but fails to produce well-rounded personalities.
The thrust encouraged by the authorities is towards those areas of knowledge which make a person employable. The demand for those disciplines is the greatest which ensure that the student will easily land a good job with a lucrative salary. Since the physical sciences and administrative sciences are skill-oriented they are more in demand.
What is the result of adopting this approach? One is that we produce scientists who do not understand society and the thinking of the people.
Look at our nuclear scientists, who have fathered our bomb. They fail to understand the social, political and economic implications of their invention. They glorify the bomb without understanding the negative impact of this weapon on our economy, the environment and foreign policy. Social sciences develop the breadth of vision that a person needs to analyse critically his own actions.
Another problem with the excessive focus on making a person employable in her or his area of specialisation is that it detracts from research and teamwork. As a result, we are producing educated people but not social capital. In other words, education is not teaching people to work collectively. They cannot network. They fail to see themselves as a unit of a bigger whole. They function as competitive individuals and not as a team. With little knowledge of history we have not been able to connect with our past or take research forward by turning to the wealth of traditional knowledge we possess.
This applies equally to the physical sciences. There is little original research taking place in Pakistan. Most of the medical research produced here is survey-based and our indigenous medicine has been left unexplored. Modern science and new scientific tools that are available are not used to study our plants and minerals in the production of pharmaceuticals, but for a few exceptions.
This lopsided approach can be attributed to an extent to the lack of career counselling facilities in the country. The youth grope in the dark not knowing what subjects to study and what career to take up. Raza Abbas, a professional career practitioner, came up with a wealth of ideas when I asked him what careers social scientists could pursue.
He says, “Students of history, sociology and political science can opt for teaching in school and the academia, research, jobs in the development sector and in international organisations. They can consider going into social entrepreneurship or enter the media industry as well.”
Raza Abbas informs me that a study of Fortune 500 found that 40pc of the CEOs of the world’s top 10 companies had their Bachelor’s degree in something other than business management and many had a social science and arts background.
He also warns, “It is a fairytale that the physical sciences and management are fields that come with a ‘guarantee’ of a job at graduation. It is also a fairytale that there are fields that guarantee that you will not get a job. The truth is that every field teaches valuable career-related skills that employers want. It is also true that no matter what your field, you still need to gain career-related experience outside the classroom if you are going to be competitive in the job market after graduation.”