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Voice of reason

Sep 20, 2009


D R Syed Jaffar Ahmad


D R Syed Jaffar Ahmad  is a man of letters in the truest sense. Teaching, reading, writing and re search are his passions in life and it is very difficult for him to decide which one should take precedence.

Serving as Director of the Pakistan Studies Centre at the University of Karachi at present, he started his career in 1979 after completing his Master’s in political science. Later, he proceeded to Cambridge for his PhD and stayed there for the next six years.

Asked about the political as well as working conditions when he joined the faculty, he answered: “I started tutoring during a military regime and it was probably the darkest era in the history of our country. As a former student activist, my first priority was to inculcate the importance of democracy and social enlightenment in the minds of my students. Both these values were under tremendous pressure in those tumultuous times.

“Teaching was very challenging as there were many threats on campus and the university administration was not willing to support any initiative which was in direct conflict with the authoritarian rule. However, we managed to do what we wanted to,” explains Dr Ahmad.

Coming to cataclysm in the present educational system, the educationist explained that the problem has its roots in on-the-blink and futile primary schooling.

“When I was in Cambridge, I observed their primary schooling very closely and can safely say that it is the basic education in England that turns their nation into good individuals.” He continued: “In order to ensure that primary education yields what it is supposed to yield, they try to appoint the best people of society as school teachers who are paid even more than the university teachers.” Coming to rationality, Dr Ahmad elaborates: “If I am asked what the essence of education would be and where the thrust of education should be, I would say that its prime objective is to mould students into good human beings, to improve and develop their social consciousness and create the spirit of enquiry in them.

“The creation of logic and its promotion is highly important for a culture such as ours. Unfortunately, our educational system, in its purest form, promoted the values of blind following and conformity rather than critical thinking and the exploration of new avenues.

“Our learning structure does not encourage scientific thinking and rational worldview. It is due to this reason alone that we don’t see many innovative ideas, new thought and innovative theories coming from our society. Rather we have become a nation of practitioners who run through other people’s ideas,” elucidated the professor with a tinge of melancholy in his voice.

“In a nutshell, we are consumers and take pride in utilising other people’s products as well as their theories and thoughts. Regrettably, our society rendered itself bereft of originality,” he added.

Dr Jaffar Ahmad is very critical of the falling standard of the public sector universities. He deliberates: “These institutions of higher learning attract students from the middleclass and the lower-middle class because the private sector universities cater to students, who can afford expensive education, from the affluent sections.

“The public sector universities depend on government grants which, in the past, have not been sufficient to build these institutions in a fitting manner. Moreover, the way they are being administered and the teachers that have been recruited and promoted on basis other than merit further added to their decline.

“The decay is so profound that when the funding started coming nearly seven or eight years ago, it was found that they lacked the ability to make prolific use of it. And the financial constraint has returned during the last two years landing us in a situation where we neither have funds nor much of a research capacity. Whatever ability had been developed remains ineffective in the absence of research projects,” he pointed out.

Lamenting the lack of an investigative culture in the public-sector universities, Dr Jaffar Ahmad said: “Our universities have effectively become teaching centres. There is very little original research going on in most of the departments of our universities. Research is an integral part of the institutions of higher learning. It helps make people modest.

“On the contrary, our universities have become degree-awarding centres and the real emphasis is on the degrees and not on the acquisition of knowledge. Learning has become a means to get a lucrative job, and on a broader scale, a mere status symbol to get recognition and respect in society.” Keeping in mind the current situation of the country in which intolerance, bigotry and fundamentalism has become the order of the day, one wanted to know from Dr Ahmad why Pakistan has drifted away from the ideals of its founding father. He replied: “The Quaid-i-Azam was a man of vision and he clearly wanted the sovereign state to be democratic, secular and enlightened — though the term ‘secular’ did not occur much in the political discourse of the freedom movement.” He further stated: “I have no doubt that he was a secular leader. His education, political stance, arguments — which he gave to secure affirmative action for the Muslim minority — even his belief in a nation’s right to self-determination was essentially a secular idea, representing a secular approach.

“Unfortunately, after the creation of the country, his successors, being weak and without sufficient political base, and in certain cases without a constituency of their own, began to rely on religious slogans to engineer an ideology and designated it as an Islamic ideology that had nothing to do with the rationale behind the creation of Pakistan or the socio-economic ground realities of the time,” he concluded matter-of-factly. ¦




at Sunday, September 20, 2009

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