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October 07, 2018


The 1,200 plus acres of the arid campus of the University of Karachi magically turn lush green after the rains; hidden seeds become beautiful flowering plants, dragonflies mysteriously appear and puddles teem with tadpoles. Teaching art feels pretty much like that — a little watering and amazing talents emerge.

Training in the creative arts by its nature must focus on self-actualisation and expression of the inner voice. According to psychologist, A.I. Krupnov, self-realisation — one of the aims of all education — is best achieved by persistence. While creative education assumes the student’s self-regulated persistence, many academic programmes are standardised, prescribed and inculcate passivity. If, as George Bernard Shaw says, “intelligence forces us to learn”, this lack of engagement can only stem from the methodology of teaching or perceiving the content as irrelevant to the student’s future life.

Many seek higher education, including PhDs, not as an opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding, but as a key to a coveted post, or a better salary package. Education was designed for an ‘extreme elite’, but is now a mass market. There are 18,000 higher education institutions in the world, dominated by the model of Anglo-American universities, aiming to become ‘world class’ universities, an ambition Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission also subscribes to.

There is a general global rumble of discontent about higher education. ‘An Avalanche is Coming’ by Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi, is a 2013 report prepared for the Institute for Public Policy Research, the UK’s leading progressive think tank. It specifically highlights the theory-practice gap. How can universities ensure education for employability? Should that be the aim of a university? Or should universities aim to create an academic elite engaged in meaningful research? Do we need more universities, or a higher quality of university? Should we be looking at alternatives to universities?

In reality, in Pakistan, only 46 percent are enrolled in formal education and only 7.89 percent are matriculate, with much lower statistics in rural areas.

When one looks at the 2013-14 education statistics of Pakistan, only 3.6 percent of the population enrol in higher education as compared to an average of 40 percent in countries that developed the concept of the ‘world class’ university. From 1947 to 2014, Pakistan’s higher education institutes have only produced 11,988 PhDs. Yet, from pre-school enrolment onwards, there is an unspoken assumption that the education journey is in preparation for a PhD.

In reality, in Pakistan, only 46 percent are enrolled in formal education and only 7.89 percent are matriculate, with much lower statistics in rural areas. Most are working in farming, manufacturing, construction and retail. A large percentage of the workforce is self-employed. By linking progress to higher education, are we not leaving out majority of the population? Clearly, we do need to raise standards of the workforce, but is academics the only route for education?

Education, teaching and learning are three distinct concepts. While education is a formal structured academic system, teaching can take place on the job with a mentor, much like the ustad-shagird relationship, from family elders, peers or the circumstances a person may find themselves in. Learning is a conscious self-directed effort to acquire knowledge or technical skills, by seeking experience, books, experts or joining groups.

In a country where 22.6 million children are out of school, and 46 percent of public sector primary schools (124,284 primary schools) are without electricity, do we abandon the enterprise of education altogether? Or do we develop alternative enabling systems?

As far back as 1972, Edgar Faure ,in his excellent Unesco report,‘Learning to Be’ finds 70 percent of knowledge derives from informal learning, and only lifelong learning can produce the complete fulfilled human being. The conditions for lifelong learning need to be created. Some have already emerged in the form of television, Youtube, websites and free online access to top university courses and lectures.

Nuissi and Przybylska in their study ‘Lifelong learning’ write, “We need to make the acquisition of knowledge and competence real, easy to perform and capable of bringing tangible benefits.”

Informal education, “the wise, respectful and spontaneous process of cultivating learning”, works through conversation and experience, helping people to learn. Conversations can take place anywhere. Socrates did not confine himself to a school but taught whenever an opportunity presented itself — at the gymnasium, banquets and casual meetings in the street.

Conversations with those who are recognised as wise are called Guest Lectures in universities, but can equally take place in a tea shop, over dinner or engaging with professionals.

Specialist informal educators are engaged to facilitate groups in the work place or community. Community education in Scotland, social pedagogy in Germany, animation in France, popular educators in South America and the Baithak culture in Pakistan, are examples of organised informal learning opportunities.

The education theorist Michael Sadler suggests educational practices cannot be separated from cultural contexts, geography, economy and religion. At the same time, there is a need to synchronise with “the forward movement of time.”

We would be wise to build upon existing practices. If there is a tradition of apprenticing children to learn a trade, can it be managed with access to quality training? Instead of separate vocational institutions, can skill-based subjects become part of the matriculation curriculum?

Durriya Kazi is a Karachi-based artist and heads the department of visual studies at the University of Karachi

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 7th, 2018