Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The State of Higher Education, from a Global Perspective

Now and then, I'll try to include perspectives on higher education from around the world. As the push for educational reform begins to target higher education, there may be lessons for us in the stories of others.

Today's Guest Article is from Shirazi, of Pakistan:

Human beings - fortunate of all creatures- are unfortunately plagued with needs. We want material things and comforts of life besides our basic want like love and social recognition. Some time ago, in an effort to improve material well being, my outer adult joined an educational institution to study the behavioral sciences that are at work to shape the very complex society at the present time. This brought back the memories of student life: students’ culture, the fun of school days, aspirations I used to have when I was very young, prophecies of my teachers and the missed opportunities I (now) think I should have availed. My admission has also brought in focus the main stream educational system working in our country.

Earlier, I learnt most of what I have known throughout my life during early stages of life from my parents and in primary school. My teachers in a small village primary school taught me reading, writing, counting and other basic skills required to lead a successful life. I have never forgotten the efforts of junior Vernacular Teachers to instill some kind of discipline in me. They also taught me about giving, sharing, enjoying, commitment, helping, smiling, trying and caring in addition to the academics.

After 16 years of schooling, as a fresh graduate from a professional academy, I started looking for openings to join the race for a practical life. The field I landed in was very demanding. This was like boarding an express train. I had the chance to go places, meet people from different walks of life and experience a few of the fading cultures of our society.

Someone write this, I always think it must have been for me, “I learnt to take orders, give orders, solve equations, write a poem, program a computer, butcher a chicken, make a tasty meal, fight efficiently and listen to others. Specialization has never been a passion in my life. I used to think it is only for academia and the intelligentsia.” I always thought I knew enough how to live in the world of mortals. Obviously, I was wrong. Knowledge is cumulative and keeps changing. “The process of learning”, as they say, “is stretched from cradle to grave.”

During my career marathon, I have had an enlightening three years in the National University of Modern Languages (UIML) Islamabad - one of the finest institutes in the world. There I learnt the rich language of Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov, Fedor Mikhailovich, Dostoevsky and Maksim Gorky. Without physically going to Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (now Central Asian States), I got aquatinted with the closed Soviet society and the classic literature produced by Russian writers during eighteenth century.

In developed countries, almost every student has to take one foreign language of his choice as a compulsory subject. This chance has not been provided in our system of education. But I was lucky to get a chance to learn the language. It is during my three years at UIML that I learnt as to why largest circulation Soviet newspaper Pravda (meaning truth) failed to report the news of Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in 1979. I also became vaguely aware of some of the reasons that ultimately caused the death of the USSR - despite large natural resources and literate work force - at the age of 74.

Thus, as a student all my life I have experienced our rich and diverse educational heritage. But sadly, I am aware that we have no regular standard and perpetual educational policy. Even the curriculum is different in different institutions. In the last 52 years, eight education policies were given by different governments, and these policies died the moment those governments went out of power--which is why we find no uniform education standards in the country.

So as a student, who started from a village school, where in summers classes are still held under shady trees and who has now joined one of the best universities in the county, I would say to the government: accord education the priority it merits, not by giving yet another policy or plan, but by providing in perpetuity a conducive atmosphere where schools, colleges and universities can become centers of excellence and innovation.

Visionary initiatives should be taken to enable these centers of learning to create new knowledge. Then we will not need an additional test for admission into medical or other professional colleges and our degrees will have their value. Students, teachers, the private sector, publishers of books, and the government all have to play positive roles to change the existing educational culture before it is stagnated.

Albert Einstein, one of the exceptionally intelligent scientists of last century, who gave us the famous Theory of Relativity, in his book, ‘The World as I See It’ wrote, “Lecture rooms are numerous and large but the number of young people who genuinely thirst after truth and justice is small”.

The youth of my country, who are faring well despite all disparities and odds, have to disprove this thought. Provide them the opportunity, and they can do it.

Reprinted with permission,
(c) 2006, Light Within

1 comment:

Deb S. said...

Thank you for posting Shirazi's article. Both you and Shi demonstrate how our sense of community transcends boundaries.

Shirazi gives us a glimpse of his fascinating life and studies. As for you, Dan, your mere posting of this article gives your site a global favor.