The Slaver’s Bay: South Asia’s Educational Woes

by Ahmed Amin Malik

November 28, 2017

http://www.searchallindia.com

Perhaps nothing defines the spirit of humanity more than its right to liberty; freedom in all its dimensions: in thought, action, speech, and imagination. This freedom is not only sacred but is also quintessential to our spirit to survive, adapt and prosper. Unfortunately, this very essence has been taken a hostage in the third world countries of today, which has led some of the most promising nations to plunge into the slaver’s bay; with educational woes being the primary and most apparent cause.

A case in point is our subcontinent. The region ranks very highly if studied from a perspective of cultural heritage, the richness of history and wealth of tradition but the moment the parameter is switched to Human Development Index (ironically developed by a Pakistani), the region’s rankings nosedive. The drop is not just limited to this statistic; it stretches to imagination, thoughts, and attitude of the majority population of these nations which lacks freedom and therefore, is very limiting and conservative.

The predicament is not nascent; it’s congenital. This region has been ruled by an absolute monarchy for millenniums; right from Ashoka’s Mauraya Empire that was founded in 322 BC to the majestic Mughal Empire which finally met its demise in 1857. All this was then trailed by the reign of British royalty from 1857 to 1947. This means that even on paper, the subcontinent has tasted freedom for a little more than half a century. Liberty, the high state, is yet to find acclimatization, here.

The long centuries of imperial supremacy have probably etched a permanent mark of subjugation onto the minds of a vast majority of the local population; shackles that very few have been able to break despite awakening calls by prodigious sages like Allama Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. But as the latter said, the only cure for this disease was the development of an inspirational kind of educational system – one that could emancipate the future generations to real freedom.

Now, this cure stays a daydream to date, for most of the inhabitants of the subcontinent. Most, unfortunately, the educational woes of this region are fathomless. To begin with, this region boasts of the high out-of-school population which means that a significant number of the youth never make it beyond primary education as they are forced to drop out, by economic constraints, into early labor. This treachery enslaves them for life; with their fates being sealed right after they drop out.

For those who manage to go to schools, access to well-meaning text-books, teachers, and infrastructure remains a pipe-dream. Some schools have been constructed and staffed, but only the elite has had access to quality education with the have-nots having to settle for a second-rate education. This poor standard of education leads to an inherent suppression being embedded in the minds of young boys and girls. The disparity of standards also gives rise to a lack of confidence in young impressionable minds; which then stays rooted in their personalities for a very long period.

And then, out of the millions that begin their education sojourn as children, only a few thousand will eventually make it to universities. And then again, there is no Top 300 university in South Asia which means that only a select few will be able to access top-notch university education and those are the ones who can afford to study abroad; a privilege that is again restricted to a minority with deep pockets and ones who are already at top of the local food chain.

Besides education too, any other notion of freedom and intellectual creativity is silenced by the building of national narratives by the political elite with all lesser citizens merely expected to conform and adapt. The right to criticize, challenge and dispute stand largely amputated in today’s South Asian politics. This plight of humanity has been so aptly summed up by Noam Chomsky:

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion strictly, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum

Most of the contemporary regional political parties are based on dynastic reigns of a few elite families who rule their countries as modern yet almost absolute monarchs with the local population has grown habitual of the being governed. They will vote amongst the oligopoly of political parties with most of them standing for status-quo, and hence the deplorable state-of-affairs perpetuates itself, and the wilderness continues forever. The modern society breathes on social stratification, and this very fact preserves status quo.

All the above facts deprive the young generations of self-assurance, a sense of pride and esteem which in turn leads them to be more submissive than assertive and more passive than active. This ensures in a vicious cycle of generation after generation being raised in shadows of repression and captivity. The one chance of breaking out of this siege is ramping up of our educational standards as well as bringing out pride in our citizens: one that lets them roar, build fearless counter-narratives and be bold enough to stand for what they believe in. We owe this to change and prosperity!

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