According to US News & World Report, the most educated countries in the world include Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and South Korea, among others. Many of these also happen to be the world’s most innovative countries. Allow me to explain. What if I ask you to add up all the numbers from 1 to 100, that is 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … + 98 + 99 + 100?
Take your time by all means! As the legend goes, this addition problem was given to a class of primary school children by a lazy teacher. Even though this was more than two hundred years ago when there were no calculators or computers, one of the students, a little boy, came up with the answer right away: 5050. This was Carl Friedrich Gauss who went on to become a famous mathematician. Instead of adding up all the numbers in the sequence, he paired the numbers in his mind realising that the two numbers in each pair (1 + 100, 2 + 99, 3 + 98, …) added up to the same number: 101.
Since there were 50 pairs, the answer was 101 times 50 equaling 5050. Of course, there are other ways to solve the same problem. The point is: we do not have to be a mathematician to devise creative solutions to tackling problems. All we need to do is promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills in our schools and colleges. Critical thinking is a method of logical inquiry and reasoning. It is predicated on unbiased conceptualisation, analysis, and evaluation of information with methodological and contextual considerations.
I will use one example from John Dewey (1910) to illustrate the point. Let’s say, you return home one day and find the rooms in your house ransacked with your belongings thrown about. You immediately think of ‘burglary’ especially if there have been recent burglaries in the neighborhood. Then, you consider mischievous children as an alternative explanation since it happened to your neighbours not too long ago. But what is it — a burglary or a mere chaos created by mischievous children? To reach a conclusion, you look to see whether valuables are missing, and you discover that they are.
Are you now convinced, beyond doubt, that your house was burglarised? Now, consider this conundrum: if I tell you that I always lie, am I telling you the truth? As you ponder this, I must tell you that this is a simplified version of the liar paradox. A two-sentence version of the paradox is as follows: The following statement is true. The preceding statement is false. I’m sure you can see the problem. If the first statement is true, then the second statement is also true which means that the first statement is false. Therefore, the first statement is both true and false.
But if the first statement is false, then the second statement is false meaning the first statement is true. Therefore, the first statement is both true and false. This brings me to an important point. An educated country is more than a country where people have academic degrees and diplomas hanging on walls. An educated society is a cerebral society that promotes arts and sciences, that nurtures human potential and creativity, where R&D thrives, where innovation is the key that unlocks doors to the future, where research-based universities dot the entire landscape, where museums and theatres draw large crowds, and where people respect the law.
Pakistan, quite regrettably, has one of the lowest-ranked educational systems in the world, as reported by Unesco, alongside Angola, Gambia, and Ethiopia. What can we do to turn the tide? An educated nation prides in secularism and liberalism. Contrary to popular opinion, secularism does not reject religion; it promotes inclusion and diversity. And liberalism is not a euphemism for immorality; it stands for liberty and equality irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or faith. Liberalism assures that people have equal protection under law; that they are guaranteed basic human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and equal access to healthcare and education.
An educated nation is more than just an electoral democracy; it’s a liberal democracy that respects the rights of all of its citizens. Let me give you a glaring example of our antediluvian mindset. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were invited by a Pakistani family to a lavish dinner. They wished to extend a marriage proposal on behalf of their son, a recent law school graduate, for our daughter, also a recent law school graduate. During the dinner, the boy’s father asked me about my sect. I never thought it would be a big deal.
After all, we were two Muslim families enjoying a ‘halal’ meal in a wonderful Islamic spirit, right? Wrong. My sect was a big deal. Now, if you check my name, it is as Shia as it can be. My father was a Sunni and I was brought up a Sunni. However, most of my relatives are Shia. I explained this fact, weaving my words as deftly as I could, to my generous yet bigoted host who, to his credit, kept a poker face for remainder of the evening.
Bertrand Russell, in an essay entitled, ‘An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish’, writes about the blasphemies of those who think themselves pious. He speaks of Catholic nuns who refuse to remove their bathrobe even when taking a bath. When asked why, since no man can see them, they coyly reply: “Oh, but you forget the good God!” Apparently, the good God can see through the bathroom walls, but not through their bathrobe. The Age of Enlightenment transformed Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was an age of reason.
An age of intellectual freedom and happiness. In Pakistan, a country we love so dearly, will our children, if not us, be able to embrace enlightenment in their lifetime? Let’s hope so. Hope is the thing with feathers — Emily Dickinson.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ