Of Aristotle, termites, and innovation

To improve innovative thinking, educational reform must change perception of education as means of making living.

Mubariz Ahmed Siddiqui October 26, 2013
The writer works at Orr, Dignam & Co and teaches undergraduate law students pursuing their LLB from the University of London (External Programme)

Mick Pearce is a Zimbabwean architect with a keen interest in ecology. In 1991, he embarked upon an ambitious project to construct the country’s largest shopping centre and office block in central Harare: The Eastgate Centre. While serving the purpose of a conventional office and shopping complex, The Eastgate Centre is an architectural marvel. Given the lack of funds for conventional air-conditioning or heating system, the building was modelled on the self-cooling mounds of termites that maintain a particular temperature within themselves in order to farm a fungus which is their primary food source. Similarly, by replicating the sophisticated ventilation system of the termite mounds, the building manages to regulate its temperature throughout the year.

Due to its innovative design, The Eastgate Centre costs substantially less and uses a considerably lower amount of energy than a comparable air-conditioned building. In the first five years alone, the building saved its owner $3.5 million in energy costs. Mick Pearce’s novel architectural design sheds light on the process of innovation and its undeniable economic benefits.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan ranked 77 in a recent survey measuring the innovative performance of 82 countries. If necessity really was the mother of invention, Pakistan would have been amongst the world leaders in pioneering cost-effective methods of producing energy and its efficient consumption. While most of the political parties appear to be obsessed with declaring an ‘education emergency’, one can’t help but wonder if Pakistan’s education system — and the policies proposed by various political manifestos — even contemplate measures to improve the process of innovation, despite its pivotal role in economic growth.

In his book, On the Parts of Animals, Aristotle drew a distinction between two kinds of educational proficiencies: ‘scientific knowledge’ of a subject or an ‘educational acquaintance’ with it. The former entails the specialist knowledge of any given field, while the latter involves being educated in the method of the subject, not its details or specialist findings. In essence, ‘educational acquaintance’ is the ability to tell the difference between sense and nonsense in a particular subject.

Leaving government policy aside, education in Pakistan is usually viewed as a means of making a living only. While the motivation for the said objective cannot be questioned, it is also important to consider its consequences. The pursuit of scientific knowledge or expertise in a particular field only, inevitably leads to a disregard for educational acquaintance with even the core areas of knowledge.

While one can appreciate the recent surge in education budgets, it is important to acknowledge that a lack of infrastructure, albeit a huge one, is not the only problem with education in Pakistan. In order to improve innovative thinking, it is crucial for any meaningful educational reform to change the perception of education as not just a means of making a living.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2013.

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Parvez | 8 years ago | Reply

@x: Thank you for the response. This mind set will change slowly and it does not pertain to only girls. An example of change is that a small 16 year old girl stood up and asked to be educated, nothing more........and look what happened. When my son was studying all his friends went into the usual finance, doctor, lawyer thing except one who was laid back and long story short, became a photographer.....and yes he's doing very, very well for himself ( and doing what he loves ).

Mubariz Ahmed Siddiqui | 8 years ago | Reply

@Fasi: The title of the article is not an adaptation of any publication.

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