Education is nothing without a strong social fabric

By: DR.Noor ul Huda Shah


“Education is the kindling of flame and not filling of a vessel”-Socrates. The quote represents Socrates’s method of teaching and his philosophy. Although he never wrote any works of his own, he is still regarded as the most celebrated philosopher of all times. He was born in the same age as Sophists, the wise men, who came to Athens to teach in exchange for money. They believed firmly that man had little to do with unraveling the secrets of nature and more with seeking to discover what was already known. However, the Skepticism of Sophists was discouraged by Socrates. He preferred the inquiry method, asking questions from random people on the streets to stir their creativity and make them reflect upon how limited their existing knowledge was. His faith in the rationality of humans and their ability to distinguish right from wrong not through parameters of their surroundings  but by default moral compass within the self made him transform societies to come. 

If we compare the ideals of Socrates to Pakistani system of education that comprises solely on rote learning and parroting facts, we realize that we have confined education to the walls of a classroom. Like the Sophists, we have restricted the potential  of children to mere cramming of syllabus “knowing what is already known” and the role of a teacher to “teach the fish to fly and birds to swim”. In a sense, we have commercialized knowledge, we teach outdated syllabus with concepts that are now obsolete through methods that impair critical thinking and creativity of students. It is important to realize that schools can only provide the instrumentalities of mental growth ; real education comes from the understanding of real world and absorption of experiences. Since a civilized society breeds civilized men, a strong social fabric must first be cultivated to materialize such a concept.

When a society goes through generations of intellectual journey they become civilized to the core and their Culture becomes the moral guidepost embedded deep in the subconscious of its members. A society is considered civilized when education inculcates in people a civic sense, respect for municipal laws, awareness of social and political rights, tolerance and respect for other cultures in society. An educated individual must learn to coexist in a multi-faith society and maintain social order even without any supervision. Educated masses build a place where all genders are treated with fairness and social evils subside. These type of societies are not built overnight but are the product of an ongoing, consistent and active struggle towards inner enlightenment. It requires each individual to acknowledge their social responsibility and thus cultivate in themselves the intellectual capacities so desired.

Being in school is not the same as learning and therefore does not guarantee progress of a society. In Pakistan, the substandard quality of education is evident from a survey conducted by ASER in 2019 whose findings are as follows : 45pc of class 5 children are unable to read and/or write a story of class two standard in either urdu or their regional languages, 51pc class 5 children can not read or write simple sentences in English of class two standard and 50pc of children of class 5 could not solve two-digit sums. There are multiple mediums of instruction and different parallel systems of education (madrassa, public and private) that result in a clash of ideology and destination. In a country such as ours, this improved  literacy rate cannot be translated into social and economic progress. As is the case of Romania that has a 98.8pc literacy rate but 40pc of students are functionally illiterate which means they can read and write but cannot meaningfully apply those skills in real life hence Romania has the largest dropout rate in EU. Romania’s weak social fabric like few higher education opportunities, underdeveloped infrastructure, poor policy implementation, unjust rural-urban divide, deficit skill development and high poverty status shows that increase in literacy rate is not true/only investment in human capital.

Unfortunately, there are no parameters in the world to assess actual learning. Students are prepared with more than basic reading and writing skills and assigned grades on the basis of that. There is less focus on opinion formation, communication skills, interpretation of knowledge, creativity and critical thinking. Even IQ tests are now proved inadequate to measure mental capacity of a person as they only evaluate memory, logic and reasoning not creativity, resilience or emotional intelligence. Just like Socratic irony compelled a common man to investigate life, ethics, good and evil, pondering is the foundation of creating. In our society, instead of normalizing raising questions we put labels on the ones who dare interrogate their surroundings or challenge norms. Teaching re-formated history since 1960 to promote singular narrative is another example of ‘historical negationism’ and has stunted the growth of this nation. As a result the largest youth population of the world is groomed into Ethnophobic  generation that is numb to cultural erosion, detached from traditional values, mimics foreign lifestyle and regards patriotism as lunacy. This is not a resultant of ignorance but lack of purposive education that reflects in civil order.

Learning and cultural development are intertwined and traditional values can be incorporated in education system in multiple ways. For example, In Japan, children are taught to clean their schools before commencement of classes which is why Japan has a reputation for cleanliness and Tokyo, the largest metropolitan capital, is among the top five clean cities in the world. In Israel, for first six years of school, children are not taught anything. They are only expected to create something from scratch or recycle, solve puzzles and brain teasers.The benefits derived from such a system can be gauged from the fact that Israel has produced some of the best brains in the fields of medicine, science and nucleartechnology. Many countries including Russia, have a No-Zero policy to not grant students minimum grades/zero marks to eliminate anxiety levels in students who would otherwise have a low self-esteem following such score-based practices. UK and USA comprises of both public and private system of education that meets the minimum thresholds designed by policy makers. Turkey has hybridized system that facilitates modern as well as oriental set of values.

On the contrary, Pakistan is suffering from identity crisis as a nation and is unable to formulate a culturally reflective educational policy. The mismatch between expectations, qualification and opportunities leads to brain drain, radical discourses and agenda driven education system. To eliminate the setbacks there’s a need to erect a strong social fabric by incorporating values that are reflective of our very own historical evolution as a society and a state. Only then can an Education begin. And begin it must.

SUMBITTED BY: DR.Noor ul Huda Shah

I am a graduate of Bolan University of Health Sciences and an amateur writer. I have a  great passion for reading, traveling and social work. My areas of interest includes health management and policy, social issues and global politics. You can contact me

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