Friday, June 6, 2008

371)From the Pamir Times Blog: Critical minds alone can take us forward says world-renowned scientist Dr Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy

Critical minds alone can take us forward: Dr Hoodbhoy

June 4, 2008

ISLAMABAD, June 3: Pakistan needs an education system that develops humanism, enlightenment and critical thinking in its children and not jingoism, according to physicist and peace activist Dr Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy.

Education is not about getting degrees or jobs but about creating a tolerant, caring, progressive and forward-looking society, he said in a lecture on “Education and emerging challenges” at the Pakistan Academy of Letters organised by the Gojal Educational and Cultural Association (GECA).

“The education our children are acquiring today breeds hatred and violence,” he said, citing last week’s ethnic clashes on the campus of Quaid-i-Azam University. Such irrationality was not unexpected when children are taught about differences between Hindus and Muslims and the wars fought between India and Pakistan from very young age.

Dr Hoodbhoy said the foremost objective of education was to produce a good human being, who appreciates others’ rights and values and takes a scientific approach to decide about right and wrong. But the trend in Pakistan had been on the reverse.

“Students were more enlightened and liberal 30 years ago. Today 60 per cent of the girl students in Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) come in burqa and another 10 per cent in hijab,” said Dr Hoodbhoy who is Professor of Nuclear Physics and Chairman of the Physics Department, Quaid-i-Azam University. He has been a faculty member at the QAU since 1973.

The author of `Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality’ which has been translated into five languages, Dr Hoodbhoy said: “We should think about it, and find out the causes as the situation is getting worse in NWFP where girls can’t dare to go out bare faced and their schools are being bombed and closed”.

He called for giving priority to primary education and criticised the low education budget - two per cent of GDP. “If we want to improve the situation we should cut the defence and non-development budget and devise a secular education system,” he said.

“Secularism does not mean abandoning religion,” he stressed. “In Europe there exist many religions but their followers live as equal citizens. There is no other way to take a nation forward than path of secularism and scientific thinking.”

While the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has been given big money, it was being spent on “producing degree holders in bulk and not scientific minds”.

About plagiarism, Dr Hoodbhoy said that plagiarism has exploded for the first time thanks to the internet. He cited many cases of plagiarism which is rampant in public universities. Some cases were detected recently which he described sheer dishonesty. A substantial amount is lost on ghost schools. Some 8,000 such schools had been discovered in Punjab alone.

“While the modern concept treats education as a problem-solving tool, our system encourages only cramming without comprehension or application of mind. Knowledge is a living thing which increases with the passage of time. We seek Tehsil-i-Ilm (acquisition of knowledge) and not Takhleeq-i-Ilm (creation of knowledge),” he observed.

Examinations just test the memory of a student and not his comprehension.

The lecture generated a lively question-answer session.

In response to the questions Dr Hoodbhoy said people need to know their natural resources and how to exploit them. For that education should be need-based. Technical and vocational schools should be set up to impart skills and training to the local people according to the geographical condition of the area.

In the context of Gilgit-Baltistan it would mean learning how to harness the region’s abundant water resources to produce electricity and set up industries.

He congratulated the Gojal Educational and Cultural Association team for organising the programme and the association that, he hoped, would provide a platform to the people of Hunza-Gojal to discuss various issues. He assured the GECA of his help in promoting education and cultural harmony in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Earlier in his introductory remarks senior journalist from Gilgit-Baltstan Farman Ali highlighted the problems and challenges being faced by the students and youth from Hunza-Gojal during their studies in urban centres of the country. They stream down the plains from North due to non-availability of educational facilities in their areas and face a host of psychological, social and economic problems.

He said our educational priorities have totally changed due to the media onslaught and globalisation agenda that have reduced education to a market commodity, to produce career-oriented individualistic apolitical, obedient workers for the multinational corporations and NGOs rather than serving social purposes or creating thinkers, intellectuals.

According to him the divide between private and public education systems has reinforced class differences between the rich and the poor disturbing the social harmony.

The government has failed to fulfil its responsibilities and created space for sellers of education. Knowledge today has been made a commodity which can be bought and sold and possessed and as such produced individualism and selfishness.

He recalled the relationship between Dr Eqbal Ahmed, one of the greatest scholars and thinkers of the 20th century, and Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and how they met first at MIT, and became friends. Dr Eqbal Ahmed, who died in 1999, wanted to establish a university in Islamabad after the name of Ibne Khaldun, one of the greatest scholars and liberal thinkers of the Muslim world. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy has taken upon himself the gigantic task and vows to continue Dr Eqbla’s mission.

Mr Farman Ali paid tribute to Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy for his unflinching commitment to the cause of promotion of education, science, peace and against extremism and prejudices in Pakistan. For which he received the prestigious Faiz Ahmed Faiz Award in 1990. In recognition of his contribution towards the cause of popularising science in Pakistan, he got UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize. His TV serials and film The Bell Tolls for Planet Earth won honourable mention at the Paris Film Festival.

Dr Hoodbhoy, who got his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering and PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, is a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, the University of Maryland, and Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre. He also occasionally lectures at various American and European research institutions. He received the Baker Award for Electronics in 1968 and the Abdus Salam Prize for Mathematics in 1984. He has authored over 18 scientific research papers in international journals.

Prof Hoodbhoy is also a prominent environmental and social activist and regularly writes and speaks on wide range of issues from social, cultural, environment, science to education and nuclear disarmament in international and national newspapers including Dawn.

Mr Farman also thanked Iftikhar Arif, renowned poet and Chairman of the Pakistan Academy of Letters for allowing the GECA to hold the lecture programme in the premises of PAL.

Prominent among those who attended the lecture were Mohammad Darjat, Gul Baig, Baig Ali, Mohammad Jabbar, Yasmin Ali, Fazal Amin Baig, Ghulam Shah, Sher Karim, Ayub Malik and many others.

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