Children are not broilers
(Nation (Pakistan) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Last week, I wrote about the unfinished story of women’s emancipation in the West and certainly in Pakistan. A young Pakistani friend told me that he thought that women are likely to be in majority in jobs, including in decision-making jobs, in the course of a generation or so, or by 2050, as he said. He hoped that women would treat men better than men have treated women for millions of years.
And he thought that nobody really knows how the future will be with the other gender’s changed role in a new world for all of us. Technology and many other things will influence how the future will be, but also our own values and the education system we make for our children.
Kashif is a very smart Pakistani man; he is an engineer and manager with two Masters’ degrees. Now he is working in the Middle East in a Chinese telecommunications company. His wife-to-be is a medical doctor. They belong to the future of Pakistani families; modern and thinking, asking questions and comparing Pakistani ways with those of other countries, and not feeling subordinate to any.
“We never had a house help in my home in Lahore,” Kashif told me. “All of us: adults and children: had to do the chores. None of us grew fat and idle luckily,” he added. “I and my brothers and sisters had to take school seriously. Not only school, by the way, but we also learnt to develop an interest in literature and the world around us. I am always having a novel that I keep reading in my spare time. I am a computer engineer in my day job. But life is much more,” he emphasised when I met him just a few weeks ago, as he spent a couple of weeks at home in Pakistan.
Anyway, the role of women has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and their roles, and men’s roles, will change even more in the next 50 years. Kashif and his future wife belong to the “transitional generation” (when men still have most of the say), and they are the ones who will bring up the children of tomorrow, those who will begin taking over the world in the second-half of our century.
Girls are already being shaped for work outside the home, especially for posts of accuracy, patience and responsibility, more so than posts of creativity, alternatives, risks and, yes, power, which traditionally have been more visible in men. The school system is doing the job of training the next generation with the “right” skills and values, which are more becoming female than male.
The school, and socialisation outside school, is always an instrument for the society it is a part of. Today, the school is in many ways more suitable for girls than for boys. No wonder then that girls do so well at exams. They belong to the gender that the capitalist, technological world demands. There is no longer as much need for muscles, physical strength and skills for heavy industry; the future needs more workers with skills in computer engineering, health sciences and nursing.
Since people will live longer also in the developing countries, we too will need more professional care for the elderly. In the West, that process has started a good while ago, and it is becoming a heavy burden on the countries’ budgets. The same is likely to happen in Pakistan and other developing countries.
In addition, the West will sometimes want care to be provided by personnel in or from these countries, either because it is cheaper or because it is better. This is just an example of the need for more womanly skills.
In any education system, the students have to learn things that neither they nor teachers see as important. It is the exams that guide the system more than policy statements and broad aims and goals. In our time, memorising all kinds of data and information has become essential. Basic facts and understanding of core curricula have become less clear. This means that the school has become more technocratic. We fill children with knowledge, or rather information, the way we fill real broilers with food to grow fast. We drill students to learn fast and gulp up the right answers by the push of a button.
The school does not give heed to education, knowledge and understanding, but it rewards information and technological skills learnt by heart. Girls are in particular good at conforming to learning all this and pass exams with flying colours. Boys often have difficulties, partly because they are less subordinate.
This is the major reason why I say that the school is more suitable for girls than boys. And I am saying that we are on the wrong track. It is not in the interest of pupils and society in the long run. We don’t need candidates, boys and girls, who know all the right answers to standardised questions.
We need candidates, who can ask questions to solve problems. Some of the problems are not even known to us when we go to school. My kind of school is different from today’s school. Yes, values that we see as womanly will be central, along with many other peaceful and creative values in men and women.
In one way, what I am saying is obvious; in another way, not at all. I remember when I as a young student in educational philosophy and politics first was confronted with these issues, I disagreed. I had always thought that education would make students think, question existing truths and search for alternatives. But then, we were told that most of what we learn is just to make us conform and become good workers in the capitalist world. Yes, we were not very different from the broilers.
Take, for example, that many schools use school belles, arrange classroom desks in systematic rows, get children to stand up when answering questions, and organise learning as memorising exercises where students’ own opinions are quite unimportant.
A broiler must eat and grow heavy fast. A student is to learn and pass exams and get into society as an obedient, good worker. He or she should not rug the boat, but steer it through smooth and rough waters, according to the wishes of bosses and leaders.
The values we learn are those of the leaders in the (upper) middle-classes. My university teachers used theories and examples from old and modern thinkers and writers, from capitalist societies and from the Soviet Union, yes, from established, technologically advanced societies and from developing and emerging economies.
True, all of us must accept our society’s rules and regulations to a major degree in order to live happily and be useful citizens. We may work for gradual change and improvement, but not for abrupt and dramatic revolution.
In Pakistan today, and in any country at any given time, we need to educate and train our children to become thinking and creative human beings, to analyse issues and find solutions that are in everyone’s interest. We should also know that it is not only Pakistan that has pressing economic and social problems. When the World Economic Forum opens in Davos, Switzerland, next week, the global recession and inequality within and between countries will be discussed.
Finally, the forum will question the capitalist model the world has cherished for all. It will be realised that development is not just technology, logistics, sale, consumption: and passing exams. Education is not just being trained to serve the capitalist masters whose aim is profit more than development.
True, we also need technological expertise; and we need educated and trained candidates with values that we often see in clever school girls. But we also need men and women who work for peaceful change and development. Some of the right values and skills can be learnt at school, but most must be learnt in the home, community and through work. Kashif and his future wife represent these values.
They have gone through Pakistan’s incomplete education system, but they have still succeeded, not just in passing exams but in asking questions and being creative, yes, in spite of the school system, and probably thanks to a mother (and father), who knew how to teach the right values. This gives me hope for the future. In a way, human beings are better than the systems we make, in this case the education system.
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