Degrees or receipts of educational expenses?

  • The young today lack mentors

Considering the overall decline in education, I suggest that in every degree there should be a column indicating the expenses incurred. During the college years of my children, I often teased them with the notion that parents should have the option of a fee refund in case of poor learning.

In our days education and health sectors were considered sacred with no concept of profit making. College and university fee was very low and affordable. The yearly fee bill for my engineering studies in Lahore amounted to Rs 425, out of which Rs 50 was a refundable security deposit, which was always kept as a well-guarded secret to be usurped. Then for my higher education abroad, I worked for a few years, gained experience and saved some money for my air ticket. Both for my MS and PhD. programs, I had research/teaching assistant ships which meant fee waivers and monthly stipends. So the entire professional education was almost free, my parents had to carry no burden though they were in a position to do so.

Learning used to be a mission. The teachers and the taught were both serious about enlightening young minds. As a businessman my father could not devote time to our studies for which a tutor was arranged. Our first mentor and guide was a BSc student by the name of Syed Moinuddin Zafar. There was no escape from him, he came looking for us if we were not present at the table when he arrived. Cricket match at Nasir Bagh, or Table Tennis and Badminton practice at YMCA, he had the authority, capacity and will to disrupt all extracurricular activities. Only our Field Spaniel dog called Daisy came to our help, but Zafar Sahib remained undeterred by her barks and occasional attacks that even tore his pants. He made sure that while he pursued his studies we did not fall behind either. He then left for higher education to the USA, and decades later I met him while offering Juma prayers in the Arizona Islamic Center where I was studying while he was employed by an insurance company. I kept in touch with my mentor who instilled the love and importance of academics in my life, and later I was told that he left for his heavenly abode in Phoenix, Arizona. His glorious journey that had started in Lahore ended there in the desert land of Arizona.

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Unfortunately very few institutions today are producing such leadership as can take humanity forward. While there is manifold increase in numbers and expenses, the quality of intellect continues to decline. This commercialization of education and monetization of knowledge is taking us backwards which needs to be addressed across the board. In the meantime the degree expenses should be displayed on the paper that is finally handed over to the graduates to face the world on their own merit, which in many cases is non-existent.

As an academician in the later part of my academic career, I see a serious disconnect. There are hardly any mentors or role models left in a population of over 220 million. The youth of today needs guidance to first acquire real knowledge and then build themselves and the nation together. Zafar Sahib was not alone, the society builders were all around. It was Dr Rafi Chaudhry who set up the first High Tension Physics Laboratory in Asia at Government College Lahore, from where the Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam graduated. He then taught two twin brothers called Riazuddin and Faizuddin. Dr Riazuddin designed the Atomic Device of Pakistan. It was because of Dr Salam’s efforts that Pakistan was the first country in Asia to enter space. The Rahber -1 rocket was launched by SUPARCO in the decade of the 1960s.

Bhutto and Salam teamed up with Engr Munir Ahmed Khan of the International Atomic Energy Commission, later Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, to convince Ayub Khan to seriously start building the A-Bomb but he remained unconvinced. After the fall of the dictator the mission was launched by the elected government in the decade of the 1970s. Engr Munir remains the unsung hero of our Nuclear Programme despite being at the helm for 18 long years. Today the country is a nuclear power which has ensured its sovereignty.

Private education is fine if not driven by profit making. In USA there are several world class private universities like Stanford and MIT, but they do not rely on student fees to survive or stretch to make money. The fee revenue of MIT is around 20 percent, which is one of the lowest in the world. Financial obligations are met either through endowments or sponsored research projects. The two main private educational institutions in Lahore ( FCC, LUMS ) have fee revenue close to 70 percent, while the rest rely on the fees charged to the students. In the land of the pure, education has become both big and lucrative business. The spirit that once existed has almost vanished. At the school level, perhaps the lowest fee charged by private schools fall in the category of missionary institutions, where education is still imparted with missionary zeal.

Knowledge must be applicable to be real, otherwise it remains a glamorous activity. What we see today is more of glamour and shine and less of academic pursuits. Appearances have become important while depth is missing. The rampant use of English language has not helped. Concepts have to be understood in native tongue. Learning English as a second language is fine but it should not be the primary means of communication. I remember the days when we were discouraged at home to speak the language of the colonizers it was called; ‘Zaban-e-Farangi‘ (foreign tongue). Thanks to my mother who instructed me to communicate with her in the national language during my study days abroad, it was through these letters that I remained in touch with Urdu. I started my journey of intellect by writing poetry in Urdu and Punjabi, the prose in English came much later.

This money driven education is not building intellect. Only knowledge-based societies advance, the rest perish. The grey matter needs to be nourished with light, not the darkness of ignorance. Aligarh University produced the ‘change managers’ who then played a key role in the creation and then running of the new land created for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent.

Unfortunately very few institutions today are producing such leadership as can take humanity forward. While there is manifold increase in numbers and expenses, the quality of intellect continues to decline. This commercialization of education and monetization of knowledge is taking us backwards which needs to be addressed across the board. In the meantime the degree expenses should be displayed on the paper that is finally handed over to the graduates to face the world on their own merit, which in many cases is non-existent. In the words of the great scholar Ashfaq Ahmed Khan, “Learning must be applicable, otherwise degrees are just receipts of educational expenses “.

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Dr Farid A Malikhttp://
The writer is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at: fmaliks@hotmail.com.
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