Education, Development, and Change
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Education for Development

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Dawn, Monday, 08 Nov, 2010

EDUCATION is considered by many to have a close relationship with development. Usually the concept of development is confined to economic development i.e. education for better jobs or educated citizens for national economic development.

This relationship does not fully describe the potential of education, or, for that matter, of development.

A more holistic view of development would include the aspect of social development as well. This view suggests that large dams, long railway tracks, metallic roads, skyscrapers and big shopping plazas denote just one aspect of development. A more holistic notion of development, however, would include some other important aspects of human development, e.g., education, the environment, healthcare, food and other standards of living.

This view of development has been highlighted by some leading economists including Amartya Sen of India and Mahbub ul Haq of Pakistan. Sen’s famous work, Development as Freedom, considers freedoms of choice and expression as important indicators of development.

A fuller view of development which is sustainable in nature does not confine itself to the study of only sciences but encompasses a much broader range of subjects including the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. It is this broad spectrum of knowledge construction that helps us understand the notion of development and sustain it.

When we talk of development we usually refer to development that is sustainable. We have seen development in the recent past, during Gen Musharraf’s era, which was artificial in nature as money was flowing in as a result of the post 9/11 situation. Our reserves were inflated and the economic statistics looked so very impressive. This situation changed drastically after a few years as the inflow of money was suddenly reduced. A simple definition of sustainable development that is cited by Unesco suggests that sustainable development seeks “to meet the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations”. The concept of sustainable development, thus, is incomplete without education and a literate society.

It is through education that one learns useful skills, ideas, values and thoughts to become a thinking citizen of society. It is education that can turn an ordinary society into a learning-oriented society that could explore innovative solutions to the challenges we face today.

A pertinent question, however, is whether or not it is the higher literacy rate that enhances the chances of development. The answer to this question is in the negative as it is not just the literacy rate but also the quality of education which plays a vital part in sustainable socio-economic development.

If we were to examine the quality of education, in most mainstream schools, we would realise that the process of education resembles closely what Brazilian educator Paulo Freire refers to as the “banking concept of knowledge” where students sit back, teachers transmit information and students reproduce this information in the examination paper and score good marks.

This process of teaching and learning is defective in essence and produces robots who cannot think on their own. A holistic concept of education should tap the learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes. One of the major goals of education that paves the way for sustainable development, but which is missing in most mainstream schools in Pakistan, is enabling students to think independently and creatively. Education should empower students to apply knowledge in new situations while remaining sensitive to the requirements of the context. Education should also develop critical thinking skills among learners so that they do not merely fit into the slots of society but also show the courage to challenge some of the taboos imposed by society.

How can such a qualitative change in education be made possible? There could be a number of factors that come together to improve the quality of education that in turn enhances the chances of sustainable development. Some of these factors include funds, infrastructure, physical facilities, curriculum, textbooks and assessment systems. All these factors are important and contribute their own bit to the qualitative improvement of education. There is, however, one factor, i.e., the teacher, who occupies a central position in terms of interaction with the other factors. To make the teacher community more effective there is an urgent need to empower it in terms of financial benefits, social recognition and professional development.One of the major sources of professional development of teachers is teacher education. Unfortunately, most teacher education institutes and departments in Pakistan are offering a stereotypical version of teacher education which is devoid of critical thinking and reflective practices. There is an obvious disconnect between theory and practice and the whole emphasis is laid on the method of teaching.

There is an urgent need to revamp teacher education in Pakistan in order to make it relevant and effective by incorporating the components of reflection and critical thinking and by establishing a vibrant linkage between theory and practice. There is also a need to bring in insights from various disciplines of learning by employing an interdisciplinary approach. Teachers should be made to realise that there is a need to extend pedagogy by using ways and means of non-formal and informal education as well. It is only through effective teacher education that we can empower teachers professionally and it is through these empowered teachers one can hope for such education that ensures a holistic and sustainable development.

The writer is a professor and the director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.
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