Of Aristotle, termites, and innovation

Published: October 27, 2013
Email
The writer works at Orr, Dignam & Co and teaches undergraduate law students pursuing their LLB from the University of London (External Programme)

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.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (9)

  • Parvez
    Oct 27, 2013 - 1:11AM

    Absolutely spot on. One of the biggest disservices we did in the years past was to remove the emphasis on the arts in our education system, simply because a few closed minds thought that a degree in these discipline would not lead to gainful employment.

    Recommend

  • x
    Oct 27, 2013 - 5:39AM

    Excellent! Hit the nail on the head. I have a degree which I do not use to make a living but I consider myself using my education to think, read up more and constantly strive to learn. I love learning for the sake of it and opted to become a teacher only to impart this love and striving to my students.

    Recommend

  • Ashraf
    Oct 27, 2013 - 10:27AM

    Agreed. I do hope people in power and our corporate heads do get read this.

    Recommend

  • Badar
    Oct 27, 2013 - 4:46PM

    Agreed Sir.. But i think that keeping in view the poverty situation is Pakistan, there are many students who cant really afford to get the education to that level and the emphasis surely remains in getting a suitable earning for life. And probably those who get a chance to get into it, they are hired by foreign research and evaluation organisations abroad working for them. So, the primary aim right at this point of time, remains to be working out suitable polices and re-organizing our educational system so that students are given a chance to come to innovative ideas and come out of the copy paste dilemma.

    Recommend

  • Fasi
    Oct 27, 2013 - 7:45PM

    Hi Sir, A question: Is this title “Of Aristotle, termites, and innovation” an adaptation of some book title, phrase or saying? If so, kindly tell the original one of which yours is an adaptation, here in comments. Waiting. Thanks.

    Recommend

  • x
    Oct 27, 2013 - 8:55PM

    @Parvez:
    So true. Even in this day and age – and I belong to a relatively affluent family, my cousin was not allowed to pursue arts (although she was really good at it) and go for studying medicine intead and was not even allowed to take art (fine arts i mean) in her alevels. This is only because arts are a perceived as waste of the mind and not ‘lucrative’ or ‘socially acceptable’ careers. Doctor larki will also revceive better proposals and nt be perceived as a good for nothing. Makes me furious!

    Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Oct 27, 2013 - 11:50PM

    @Parvez:

    There are several sets of eductaion models in our times and these can be adopted depending upon the needs of the people in your country. This will require Educational Reforms before any change in the colonial system.

    Rex Minor

    Recommend

  • Mubariz Ahmed Siddiqui
    Oct 28, 2013 - 1:11AM

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

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Oct 28, 2013 - 1:39PM

    @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 ).

    Recommend

More in Opinion