According to the report, 49.2 per cent of children from low-income background are out of school as opposed to 17.5 per cent who are from the richest quintile. PHOTO: AFP

We need to teach our children ‘how’ to think rather than ‘what’ to think

In the rat race for grades, internships and MUN invitations, students have lost out on the meaning of education.

Taimur Arbab June 11, 2017
Education, much like everything else in the field of human knowledge, is rooted to philosophy. The curriculum texts, teaching pedagogies and school structures all reflect a particular philosophical premise.

Be it the idealist school or the existentialist one, the pragmatist theorists or those who seek to use education for social change in the critical paradigm, education is about ‘wide-awakeness’. Today in education, a crucial issue facing us is the need to find ways of educating young persons to sensitivity, potency, social consciousness and a healthy citizenship ethos.

In my journey so far as a teacher, I have been particularly impressed with three schools of philosophy: the idealist, pragmatist, and critical schools of education.

The idealist school believes that reality already exists in the way that it is experienced. Education is important not only for personal advantage, but it should be pursued for benefitting the whole of humanity. It is the teachers who become the models of truth in this perspective. Here learning is, in the last analysis, the realisation of good and truth. For idealists, the human spirit is the link between physical reality and the idealist design. Education, therefore, must ‘convert original nature into spiritual nature’.

Idealists posit that the knowledge acquired through creativity and analysis is more important than sensory knowledge. Therefore, education should lead to a harmony being established between the self and the universal self.

Here, I would like to cite the school established by Rabindranath Tagore, one of my favourite Indian authors, in Bengal. Tagore worked endlessly to evoke among his students a sense of complete harmony with the universe, where education was both a source of moral elevation and freedom of spirit.

Pakistani students need this exposure to education more than ever today. In the rat race for grades, internship opportunities and Model United Nations invitations, they have lost out on the meaning of education, its intrinsic goodness and the ability to morally uplift a person.

The second school that made an impact on me was the pragmatist school, since idealism is always to be conditioned by a pinch of pragmatism. Pragmatist educators are moderators of learning. Here, as John Dewey, the architect behind America’s educational reforms emphasised,
“Knowledge is neither certain, nor is it immutable.”

Rather, pragmatists base their teachings on their surroundings, and wish to teach children ‘how’ to think rather than ‘what’ to think.

The pragmatist school is centred on students and encourages them to embark on discovery journeys of their own. Consequently, scientific inquiry becomes important and is prized for the ends it can achieve. For pragmatists, education has an end and nothing is important for its own sake.

Many schools in Pakistan are living examples of this philosophy. Tests in these schools are designed to measure thinking and application of ideas. They have field trips as a vital part of student co-curricular activities and these are taken to be adding valuable exposure to a student’s experience of the world.

Towards the very last, I would like to talk about the critical school.

The philosophical work of Paulo Freire put me in a very different plain of thought where I began to take my teaching profession and holistic education in a completely different light. Since critical theorists engage in deconstruction, I started to engage in the deconstruction of my whole educational experience so far, both as a teacher and a student.

This reflection then formed the basis of an educational design, where the social context of oppression comes to play a defining role. History becomes fused with the present and the two combine to paint a picture of the totality of future, where every act of oppression and the counter act to fight it lead to a dialectical unfolding of events.

Now I believe that teachers can then never be insulated from political activism. Rather, they should be made responsible for sowing the seeds of discontent in the hearts and minds of their students against the oppression that society unleashes on the marginalised and the insignificant.

Schools of the global South, the global marginalised, the global oppressed need this type of education to transform the society. They require teachers and students of courage who have the audacity to pine for a different future and hope for a far more equal world than the one we are in possession of at the moment.

Paulo Freire sums it up succinctly,
“It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice.”

Do we have the power to transform our weakness into a potent force capable of demanding justice?
Taimur Arbab A former sub-editor at The Express Tribune, college teacher of Sociology and English Language and a graduate student at Aga Khan Institute for Educational Development, who leans toward the left side of the political spectrum and looks for ideas for his short stories and poems in the everyday happenings of life.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Fizza Malik | 6 years ago | Reply Grade oriented phenomena should be omitted from our society.
Fizza Malik | 6 years ago | Reply Islam signifies on thinking but so called illiterate molvis do not want us to think and question because it threatens their credibility, their status. They are the reason ISLAM is criticized and misjudged. Islam motivates education and pondering about our surroundings.
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