In the modern world, progress is measured predominantly through economic might, which brings with it powerful reward systems of global influence that often mask human rights violations or tyrannical regimes. It is an undisputed fact that every society, regardless of its current stage of development, requires its doctors, engineers and businessmen to progress.
In Pakistan, few young people today choose to enrol in the social sciences given the associated instability and uncertainty in the job market. Compounding this problem is the society’s unwavering emphasis on pursuing lucrative careers in finance or business as opposed to attaining ‘softer academic degrees.’ Few would choose to orient themselves towards a degree in political science or agricultural planning; fields that remain critical and increasingly relevant to Pakistan’s development.
Pakistan’s academic curriculum tends to belittle creativity and hamper intellectual growth thus producing students who are unable to think beyond conventional means and unmotivated to take initiative. Those who do, become the exception rather than the norm. The social sciences impart critical analytical skills and encourage rigorous research; skills that are essential for nation-building.
The problem with Pakistan is two-fold. The first is production. Ranking 113 out of 120 in the Global Literacy Rate, Pakistan’s youth literacy rate stands at 70.7 per cent, which also includes those who can solely sign their name. The country fails to produce young people (in significant numbers) who are motivated to enter non-traditional fields and build careers in media, technology, development, foreign service and politics, amongst others. Exacerbating this particular problem is the lack of independence, stability and respect associated with such fields. Pakistan needs, for example, more security analysts, tech-entrepreneurs, responsible and trained journalists, creative thinkers, agricultural experts but none of this will be possible unless the state allocates a level of responsibility and independence, the collective mindset encourages pursuing such disciplines and most importantly, if education is given its due importance.
The second problem is that of retention. As a country, Pakistan is unable to retain, accommodate and value those who hold unconventional degrees in human rights law, women’s studies, international development, political science or agricultural planning (amongst others) because expertise in such areas essentially threatens the status quo that in effect threatens the moulded seats of old power. Those who return with the much-needed expertise are promptly disenchanted by the system, betrayed by the bureaucracy and wary of their futures. Those who graduate with such degrees from Pakistan are cognisant of the absence of merit-based professional growth and choose to pursue careers outside the country. A strong argument can be made that in a country where parliamentarians can hold office with fake degrees why should the potential student bother earning a degree in political science when more profitable industries such as banking or medicine can provide both stability and respect. Though the trend is slowly reversing, even now in renowned Pakistani universities, business schools tend to show higher student enrolment than social sciences departments.
Few would choose to pursue a career in development and aspire to become the next Parveen Rehman, focus on global health and strive to end the polio crisis, or choose to work in the media with a desire to inject professionalism and responsibility … and manage to succeed.
It is then not the collective failure of aspiring individuals but rather the characterisation of a system that rigidly holds on to the status quo, regardless of how archaic, immoral and harmful it may be. Few with such expertise (that remain lacking in and critical for Pakistan) would choose to build careers in a country that fails to acknowledge the crisis it is currently entangled in and where bureaucratic shortcuts are the norm. Pakistan can no longer afford to ignore its ‘intellectual deficit’ problem, which itself will take years to balance unless it desires a future with more number crunchers and less social scientists.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2013.