General education (schooling) provides the ability to think, to learn, to reason, to evaluate evidence, to argue logically, to differentiate truth from falsehood. In short, this education provides the foundation (critical thinking).
PEOPLE often insist that Pakistan’s lack of development requires investing in education. They should reconsider this relationship.
A) In countries we consider developed today, mass education followed development, not the other way around.
B) In Pakistan, there is much more education today than there was in 1947 without commensurate gains in development. By comparison, many countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia with similar education levels at the outset have greatly outpaced Pakistan.
Why the development gap then?
C) To appreciate this point we need clarity on what is meant by education and also differentiate between its two quite different functions.
c1) At the level of individuals, education confers the ability to realize their full potential. Just as the lack of adequate diet results in physical stunting, the lack of adequate education (during growth period) results in intellectual stunting.
c2 This education (schooling) provides very different kinds of tools — the ability to think, to learn, to reason, to evaluate evidence, to argue logically, to differentiate truth from falsehood. In short, this education provides the foundation (critical thinking) for leading a life based on reason.
D) On the contrary, what we commonly understand as education is much better described as training in particular skills like medicine, engineering and accounting.
We mistakenly believe that the earlier we start students on acquiring such skills the better off they would be — thus the existence of pre-professional streams in high school. This insistence on acquisition of skills comes at the expense of the general education that ought to be the mandate of schools.
It is no surprise that we have many highly skilled technicians who appear intellectually stunted. And, as the economy is not generating enough jobs, training a whole lot of professionals is not going to lead to development. That is why, we have seen huge numbers of Pakistani professionals migrating in search of jobs. They are moving to developing economies requiring specific types of skills.
E) Oversupply of labor relative to development has made degrees a filter for recruitment for even the most mundane jobs. This has transformed education into credentialing. As a result, many institutions have responded by becoming diploma mills, either churning out worthless degrees or selling them outright.
F) Therefore, more education is not going to provide an easy solution to Pakistan’s development problems. A good schooling would provide a platform while sensible economic and social policies would be needed to spur growth leading to appropriate skill acquisition.
Key observation: Sensible economic and social policies have been amiss, because ‘well-educated’ people have been ‘making very poor decisions’.
Bottom line is schooling (foundation for critical thinking) of individuals and credible ‘mass education’ policies dovetailing economic development.
Based on original article by Anjum Altaf with additional inputs.