Education: The Perennial Questions

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By

Mavesh Khan[*]

Abstract

(Research that focuses the impact of education on the economy, reaches myriads of conflicting conclusions. What seems quite clear is that adequate education alone is insufficient to improve the economic conditions of a country. There have to be other political, economic and legal institutions in place already to facilitate the impact of education. The Pakistan government had, until 2005, inadequate data on education. Now that it has the data, it does not know how to use it. Therefore, a major question that arises is how exactly is the government running the education system? On what basis is it creating its policies? How is it evaluating the effects of these policies? It appears that Pakistan lacks both self-direction, the information necessary to direct itself or the scholarship required to understand and analyze its education system and its place within the society. The vacuum is filled by external actors such as UNESCO and the USA. Author).

Introduction                                                                                           

During the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution took place in Britain. As a Great Power, Britain was outstripping both Europe and America. France, Germany and the USA identified mass education as the one method to close the gap. The technological orientation of education in Great Britain, France, Germany and the USA stems from this competition between the Great Powers of the 18th century.

In 1792, the Marquis de Condorcet, a scientist, philosopher and politician, proposed a plan for a free, compulsory, state-run system of education. This was rejected at the time by the French Legislative Assembly. In the United States, a similar plan introduced by Thomas Jefferson to the Virginia Legislature was rejected in 1779.

Yet the seeds of a powerful idea had been sown. By the early 19th century, Condorcet’s ideas were put into practice. Governments in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries organized national systems of public education.

The formal system of mass education thus created is now seen as the key to progress. The idea, implemented first in the West, has become universal as most countries attempt to provide their citizens mass public education in one form or the other. On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26 of this declaration states:

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” (1)

On 16 November 1945, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded. The preamble to UNESCO’s Constitution states: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” It further declares that the Member States party to the Constitution believe in “full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge.” (2)

Ancient Ideas of Education

It is said that “All philosophy is a footnote to Plato.” Plato, a Greek philosopher who lived in the 3rd Century BCE, wrote a number of philosophical works. The most famous of these is “The Republic.” In this work, Plato outlined most of his foundational philosophy, including the Theory of Ideas. This theory held that there exists an eternal, unchanging world of forms or ideas to which this real world is an imperfect counterpart. Wisdom lay in understanding these eternal forms and bringing imperfect matter into conformity with them. This was the task of the Philosopher.

In the world of forms there also existed an ideal state. “The Republic” is concerned with discovering this ideal state and how it should be created on earth. In his theory of how the inhabitants of the ideal state should be instructed, Plato outlines a theory of education.

For Plato, the state is literally an individual writ large. Indeed, the study of the state begins in an attempt to study the virtues of man: the state represents the human soul writ large. Just as the soul has a lower and higher impulses or beings, so does the state. Therefore, the individual is completely subordinated to the state.

In Plato’s state, individuals are divided into slaves, artisans and rulers. It is possible that a child born into a lower class may have the capabilities of a higher one. Therefore, Plato builds in a system of selection for each class. This is the education system. He outlines in careful detail what children will be taught. The idea of Beauty guides him: an individual who grows up in Beauty – a concept that includes the real and the true – will instantly recognize the false when he comes across it. Therefore, children are to be taught music to learn harmony, poetry to learn the virtues, dialectic to think clearly, gymnasium or physical exercise to train the body.

Plato is aiming at the perfect individual in the perfect state – he is concerned with the “soul” of each – there exists an ideal to be attained. This justifies, for example, what would today be known as censorship. Plato objects to poets who show the gods behaving in a “low” manner. He argues that it is not possible for higher beings to behave in an ignoble manner and therefore the poets are relating false tales that set bad examples. Before their poetry is allowed into his Ideal State, it has to be expurgated of the offending passages. This will ensure their conformance with Beauty.

Children who go through this education system are weeded out through a rigorous system of examinations. Only the best of them are trained in philosophy which imparts wisdom to the soul. It is this class of children who will become the guardians or the rulers of the state. Due to their philosophical training, the guardians will understand the ideal forms and will be able to implement them in this world of matter.

Still the question arises, “who will guard the guardians?”  Plato outlines a radical theory of communal life only for the guardians. The guardians will own no property, they will live in a communal barracks and they will have no family. This way, they will have no temptations. Yet the guardians must breed in order to propagate the best of the race. Their mates must be worthy of them.

It is here that Plato’s theory of education demonstrates his radicalism. Having shown that women had the same characteristics as men albeit to a lesser extent, he argues that they should be educated similarly. The best of these, selected once again through the education system, will be the guardians’ communal wives.

Plato’s theory of education sounds remarkably modern: free, state-sponsored, merit-based. It even has elements of gender equality. What is missing is universal. For Plato, human beings were Greek. All non-Greeks were barbarians, an inferior stock, fit only to be slaves. The slaves, of-course, need not be educated.

Plato’s outline of the Ideal State was a radical departure from his teacher’s ideas. He was one of the young men of Athens who gathered around Socrates. Most of what is known about the latter is from Plato’s writings. Socrates often appears in Plato’s books which are set out in the form of “Dialogues,” the question and answer sessions apparently favoured by Socrates.

Socrates, however, claimed that he was the wisest man in Greece because he knew that he knew nothing. His method of “teaching” was to ask questions of his “students” about their own beliefs until they reached a point where they realized that the source of their beliefs was unreasonable. Socrates was an informal teacher, who would stand in a public square and talk to all comers. Some theorize that he was a freed slave. However and whatever he taught, he eventually became influential enough for the State to execute him. Socrates’ death had a lasting influence on Plato and possibly turned him against the Democratic form of the state. Athens, going through turbulent times, had executed Socrates when it was set up as a Democracy. Plato’s  Ideal State is highly influenced by the organization of the military State of Sparta, which had taken predominance from Athens at the time.

Later in life, Plato established an Academy in Athens. This was a formal teaching institution. One of his students was Aristotle, a great philosopher in his own right.

Aristotle, of a more practical bent of mind, disagreed with Plato over creating the world in the image of the Ideal Forms. His preferred methodology was to examine real world examples of the subject he was studying and choose the best option out of them. In studying the constitution of states, for example, he examined the pros and cons of the different types of States before choosing the best one. Similarly, in the study of the natural world, he focused on gathering and classifying information about each object of study.  Aristotle does not discuss education exhaustively, the way Plato does. However, from his writings it emerges that the purpose of education is to create the good citizen. Therefore, education should be state-run, standard and available to all citizens. This, of-course, excluded non-Greeks, slaves and women. Aristotle, nevertheless believed that women must be provided some sort of education though he never clearly specified what this was to be.

Both Aristotle and Plato favoured formal education limited to a certain class: the class of citizens. During the following centuries, western Education was, in-fact, limited to a certain section of society: upper and middle class men. During this time, Greece gave way to the Roman Empire. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century BCE, began the Middle Ages of Europe, a turbulent time during which the knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome had been lost and new knowledge not yet created.

The History of the Modern Educational System

It was around the eleventh century that a recovery of classical learning began.  A knowledge of Roman Law had never completely disappeared. It had been known through extant works of Justinian known as “The Institutes.” Political events in Italy led to the rediscovery of the entire Code of Justinian, a treatise on Roman Law. By the 12th century, Italian schools of law were using this as a text-book.

Similarly, in the 10th century, Salerno was famed for its skilled physicians. Possible explanations of this are the survival of some works of Hippocrates and Galen and/or Arab influence. By the 12th century, Salerno’s medical school was being described as ancient.

Arab influence in Spain and the Near East was instrumental in both the recovery and the creation of knowledge. While Europe regressed in the Middle Ages, the Islamic Empire made great strides. The Classical Learning forgotten in Europe was collected, preserved and built upon in the Islamic world. The Arabs absorbed Graeco-Roman Culture from their conquests of Syria and Egypt, where the Nestorian form of Christianity was prevalent. Nestorian Christianity was based on Greek philosophy and this was assimilated by the Muslims.

Later on, knowledge was assimilated from both China and India. The Muslim capital city of Baghdad remained a great center for trade and learning for centuries. The “House of Wisdom” was established in Baghdad in 830 AD and more universities arose throughout the Islamic Empire. These taught both scientific and religious knowledge. Pioneering works were carried out in maths, physics and chemistry. Avicenna’s (Abu Rushd’s) “Canon of Medicine” was an outstanding work of its time. Al Khwarizmi’s development of Mathematics is still reflected in the name of one of its branches: Algebra is a corruption of the name Al Khwarizmi. Historical and geographical knowledge was also greatly developed in the Islamic Empire. The spirit that permeated scholarship was scientific and empirical. Scholarship required experimentation and verification.

In Spain, Cordova under Islamic rule became a great center for education, especially for scientific education. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the caliphate of Cordova was the most advanced in both science and philosophy. By this time, however, the great rationalization of religion had already been countered by a ban on criticism relating to the Qur’an.

It was this synthesis of science and philosophy in the Islamic Empire that led to the Renaissance of Europe. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Arab and Greek works were translated into Latin. By 1128, the complete Logic of Aristotle had been translated. By 1158, Ptolemy’s astronomical system was translated from the Greek manuscript, Almagest, obtained from Constantinople. By the 12th century, the Greek medicine of Hippocrates and Galen and the theological work of Burgundio, the Pisan, had been translated. Translations from the Arabic included the works of Euclid, Al Khwarizmi and Aristotle.

By the thirteenth century, there were three important universities in medieval Europe. These were the University of Salerno for Medicine, that of Bologna for Law and that of Paris for theology. The Universities of Oxford, Naples and Rome were considered minor ones. Universities were focused on scholarship. They had formal lectures and debates and conducted strict examinations before providing a degree. Physical amenities were few. Often, the only library in existence was the teacher’s personal book collection.

The balance of power between teachers and students varied from university to university. In-fact, the Oxford University was set up by students of the Paris University who favored a more democratic form of organization than was offered. Medical universities were organized as a guild association.

The new learning obtained from the Islamic civilization had its impact in the universities of Western Europe. The universities’ MA degrees incorporated the first six books of Euclid, Arithmatic and algorism was taught either in parallel to the Boethian system or as a replacement. Yet scientific subjects were still viewed as minor courses. Universities continued to emphasise theology, law and formal logic. A scientific revival within the universities did not take place until the fifteenth century. This was most marked in German universities, especially the University of Vienna and the University of Prague.

During the thirteenth century, a major synthesis of knowledge was taking place. Christian scholars especially were attempting to synthesize Greek and Christian theology. This synthesis created the Scholastic movement. The Scholastic classification of education divided it, in ascending order, into Analytical Science, Philosophy and Theology. Theology was considered the Queen of the Sciences. Philosophy was considered to be a stepping stone to theology. This had its effect on university education. For example, in the Mid-13th century, although the University of Paris was teaching science subjects, it was not teaching an objective attitude to science. The most important subjects were still considered to be the seven Liberal Arts of Dialectic, Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmatic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music. The first three of these Arts made up the Trivium. The remaining four were the Quadrivium. Most schools focused on only the Trivium, which was considered fundamental to education. Very few schools actually taught the Quadrivium.

Even so, Philosophy was believed to unite knowledge by providing the context or viewpoint for it. Physics, Mathematics and Metaphysics were considered to be theoretical subjects with no practical end. Logic, ethics and aesthetics were considered to be practical knowledge. Theology was the most superior form of knowledge and required the highest qualifications.

Civil and Canon Law were taught in autonomous universities while medicine was still a semi-science.

A major influence on Scholastic Education was Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas, a loyal Churchman, placed faith above science. He believed education should be a process that led to God. Every person had the gift of reason and the instructor’s job was to develop this innate capacity of reason. The teacher was a mediator between man and God.

The main educational institutes leading up to the universities were Cathedral schools and Collegiate Schools, both run by the Church. The Collegiate Schools trained students for the Priesthood. Song Schools and Charity Schools were set up for poor students. The charity schools were usually endowed by the aristocracy. A Chapel and a Priest were paid for. All of these schools provided instruction in Latin.

On the secular side, Merchant and Craft Guild schools were run by associations or guilds of the same. By the end of the Middle Ages, a rising middle class of merchants and artisans, or burghers, began demanding a greater knowledge of the vernacular language and arithmetic. By the early 14th century, the middle class was rising in numbers and gaining access to increasingly greater wealth. Greater leisure time gave impetus to the production of books. The educational focus was on the cultivation and refinement of the person and on intellectual development.

These changes first occurred in Italy. Italian trade with the orient resulted in the new wealth of the Middle Class during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In North Europe, new modes of warfare resulted in the deterioration of the kingly power, much to the advantage of the nobleman.

Italian learning was introduced to the Netherlands and to German universities in the fifteenth century. Schools run by a religious community called the “Brethren of Common Life,” were especially amenable to this rediscovered classical learning. A careful grading of school work and the introduction of Greek for higher classes were two major developments of this period.

A substantial re-organisation of the European education system took place in the sixteenth century. This was forced by the Protestant Reform and by individual educators. France, for example, had been warring with Italy over the city of Naples. Italian influence rapidly penetrated the French Court and cities. Greek and Hebrew were soon incorporated as languages of learning in order to better understand the scriptures. A Royal Press was established. The first Latin lexicon was authored by Robert Estienne.

Although the University of Paris opposed this move towards Humanism, the French King, Francis 1, forced its acceptance by setting up a College de France. This College was to lead France into a notable period of scholarship.

In England, scholars returning from Italy brought back humanistic ideas with them. Thomas More, Erasmus, Henry VII and Cardinal Wolsey were some of the ardent supporters of classical education. Dean John Colet reorganized grammar schools in 1512. The stated aims and objectives of this reorganization was to increase knowledge, worship and Christian practices. Censorship was an important tool for attaining this aim. The objectives of secondary schools were similar but these schools had a tighter relationship with universities and the subjects taught in them had a different academic range.

The organization of elementary, secondary and university studies varied across Europe and within each country. In France and Germany, for example, schools taught university subjects. This was not true of England. France and Germany later took all undergraduate work away from universities, to be taught by schools instead.

The best schools of the 17th century were run by the religious order of the Jesuits.

An exact grading system grew up over Europe. Boys entering secondary schools had to know their letters and be able to read in both Latin and English. The course was distributed over classes. There was one instructor per class. In the Jesuit system, the same instructor taught the same class until it graduated.

The education system remained mainly religious. The Reformation resulted in a focus on Doctrinal Instruction. The Scriptures and Divine Services were emphasized. Character development remained an important aim and historical and literary passages were used to provide moral lessons. Latin authors were often censored in order to expurgate undesirable ideas.

Sixteenth century education was limited to the Classics. Modern Science and Vernacular Literature had not yet been developed. The aim of secondary education was to provide an access to Greek and Latin Literature and fluency in written and spoken Latin. Latin was the international language of the times. Greek was a secondary language, used to better understand the scriptures. The necessity of learning two foreign languages made the study of grammar all pervasive in the schools. Scholastic education became concerned with correctness of form rather than content. An ability to actually access the content of ancient literature was not achieved. This was a criticism soon raised by scholars such as Erasmus, Montaigne, Elyot and Milton.

By this time, however, French was already replacing Latin as the international language and vernacular literature was becoming available in Italy, Spain, France and England. New learning in Political Science, Natural Sciences and Art had been created. The nobility had been replaced by the Middle Class which was now inheriting both wealth and titles. A new educational concern was the skills required of a gentleman. This had to include skill in small arms, physical exercise, music, dancing, and a Classical Education. This was not necessarily achieved by schooling. Indeed, Montaigne believed education had an adverse effect on the creation of a gentleman.

In England, Sir Humphrey Gilbert described the sort of education necessary for English nobility. The type of institutions he outlined were established in 1589-99.

The social conditions that caused the development of universities also pushed the development of schools. Local schools were set up for university candidates and for clientele demanding reading and writing ability for business. The Grammar School, focused on teaching Latin grammar, met these demands. These schools did not initially teach writing or math. They would often charge extra for tuition in these subjects.

Grammar Schools became increasingly important in the 15th century. Most schooling had previously been carried out as charitable work by monasteries. Philanthropic donations went to fund Chantries, Collegiate Churches and Collegiate Schools. Chantries and Collegiate Schools provided free instruction while Collegiate Churches always had schools attached to them. Guild schools were often taught by the guild’s priest. The loss of popular esteem caused a decline in monasteries, thus resulting in a decline in associated educational institutions.

Secular authorities furthered the decline in monastic influence. Conflicts arose, first in the Low Countries then spreading to the Rhine, over the organization of the education system. The compromise reached in this conflict resulted in the importance of Grammar Schools.

Simultaneously, however, the Brethren of Common Life, a new order of Catholicism, began founding new schools.

Vernacular schools began growing in numbers. By 1320 BCE, the Town Council of Brussels had established 45 boys’ schools and 4 girls’ schools in the Vernacular. By 1500 BCE, all German cities had vernacular schools. Both authorized and unauthorized schools existed.

The demand for commercial Accounting led to the establishment of guild schools for “Reckoning and Writing.” These were official recognized and retained exclusive rights to teach writing, book-keeping and commercial arithmetic until the 18th century.

This change in education, from church domination to secular domination occurred in concordance with, and influenced by, the political events that were taking place during the time. In the Later Middle Ages, the central political problem was the distribution of sovereignty between the Universal Church and the Nation State. In the 13th century, the Pope’s suzerainty was acknowledged everywhere. By the 14th Century, popes were resident at Avignon, under the control of French Kings. Throughout the period 1378-1417, two rival popes existed. There was even a third claimant temporarily. It was the Council of Constance (1378-1417) that finally decided on an undisputed succession.

By the 15th century, the popes had become insignificant. They were basically the temporal sovereigns of Middle Italy, embroiled in Italian politics and the rivalries of France, Spain and Rome. National Kings were asserting their power over local churches. England asserted its right to tax church property, control church appointments and ended the right of English courts’ to appeal to Rome. In 1438, France declared the general Church Council superior to popes, forbade the taxation of the French diocese by the Pope and gave civil authorities control over church appointments as well as the ecclesiastical administration. The Holy Roman Emperors, Spanish and Portuguese Kings made similar assertions.

By the 16th century, the papal theory of Universal Supremacy had been severely limited. Furthermore, a great doctrinal schism had come into being.

From the 12th Century onwards, dissatisfaction existed within the church itself. Objections existed to the worship of saints and relics, miracles of mass, fasting, penance and other religious activities. The special authorities and powers of clergy and the immorality demonstrated by church personnel were also criticized. Reform movements mainly focused on returning to the simpler doctrines and administration of the New Testament.

By the 16th century, the invention of the printing press had made the Bible available to a more numerous reading public. It also made the projection of reformers’ views much easier. The Reformation Controversy was largely carried out as a pamphlet war. The issues and arguments, presented to a wide reading public, caused religious matters to become an everyday concern. The Reformation succeeded due to the support of the newly influential and educated middle classes.

Initially, the reformers combined classical learning and a deep faith. The first conspicuous criticism of the church was a demonstration that the “Donation of Constantine,” the  document on which the Pope’s power rested, was a forgery. The Vulgate Bible was also criticized as being an inaccurate translation. As classical learning increased the historical imagination, the criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church became bolder.

In 1517 AD, an Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther nailed a set of 95 theses to the castle door at Wittenberg. This was the accepted manner for laying out a challenge for a debate.  This debate led Martin Luther to a complete rupture with the Church.

Luther’s revolt gave the 300 independent and separate German Sovereignties the opportunity to break free of the Church. They provided Luther the necessary support and in 1555 Luther’s revolt was recognized, the princes of the German Sovereignties were given the right to choose between the church and Luther’s religion and keep any church properties confiscated before 1552.

Thus, North Europe came under Protestant domination and the Protestants brought with them an emphasis on private Bible reading as worship. This required that the lay masses be educated to an appropriate level of reading skills. The impact of these changes on education has been outlined above.

During the Early Middle Ages the purpose of education was to advance spiritual well-being, Church/State-sponsored occupations and socially proper forms of knowledge. Colonial expansion changed these aims to inculcating values for citizenship and nation-building, providing practical and secular knowledge and advancing technology and private enterprise. The latter school of thought has dominated since the 18th century.

Throughout the Middle Ages, including the Renaissance and Reformation, most technological innovations occurred on individual craft basis. Significant technological advances occurred outside of universities. These did not stimulate a reconsideration of the human purpose.

The growth of the market economy was the most significant factor in the Industrial Revolution. This growth was tied to the growth of secular institutions e.g., government bureaucracies, trade etc. Europeans began placing a new value on industrialization. Further, their growing knowledge of distant cultures changed their world-view of themselves and their relationship to the physical world and other cultures.

All these factors contributed to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. It also led to an increasing emphasis on technological education.

The contemporary understanding of science and technology is based on the views of the enlightenment, best illustrated by the writings of Antione Nicholas de Condorcet and John Dewey.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the expansion of European colonial powers resulted in a re-evaluation of the role of technology and education. Ecole Polytechnique, the first broadly based engineering university, was established in France in 1794.

In mid-18th century France, education was reserved for the elite. It was dominated by the Church. The major disciplines taught in universities were law, medicine and theology. The powers of the Catholic Church and the French monarchy were declining while Great Britain was becoming a formidable power.

It was in this context that Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Antoine-Nicholas de Condorcet focused on the reformation of education.  The impacts of Condorcet’s deliberations have already been mentioned at the beginning of this article. It was the deliberations of these thinkers that brought the world to a point where nations agreed upon Article 26 of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

Philosophy of Modern Education

This impact of Educational Philosophers on practical education makes it appropriate to take a brief stock of the various philosophical schools of thoughts and the influential thinkers that formed them. M.L.Dhawan divides the schools of educational philosophy into six types.

Essentialism:

The term essentialism was originally popularized in 1930s. It is a traditional approach to education. The object is to instill students with the essentials of academic knowledge and character development. This has been the dominant approach to education in the USA from its inception. In the early 20th century, it was being criticized for its rigidity. The launch of the Russian rocket, Sputnik in 1957 revived interest in essentialism.

American essentialism is grounded in conservative philosophy accepting the social, political and economic structure of the USA. The function of schools is to transmit traditional moral values and intellectual knowledge, create model citizens and instill traditional virtues.

The foundational academic subjects for essentialism are mathematics, natural sciences, history, foreign language and literature. Programs are academically rigorous. Classrooms are teacher oriented. The teacher serves as the intellectual and moral role model. Content is determined by teachers and administrators and achievement test scores are used to evaluate student progress.

Perennialism:

The Perrenial School advocates teaching those ideas that have lasted over centuries and are still relevant today. These should be the focus of education. It is the study of profound and enduring ideas that will make students true intellectuals. They will appreciate learning for its own sake.

Perennialism is influenced by the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas. There are two Perennialist approaches to education. One is the religious approach to education of Aquinas. The other advocates the secular approach to education formulated in 20th century USA.

Perrelianism believes in the rigorous development of every student’s intellectual and moral qualities. Classrooms are teacher centered. A traditional teaching methodology is used and the curriculum is inflexible.

The study of philosophy is critical for Perrenialists. A one-sided emphasis on empiricism is considered detrimental to the reasoning capacity.

Perrenialism focuses on teaching about the processes used to discover scientific truths. It emphasizes the volatile nature of information. At the secondary level, teachers and students participate in mutual inquiry to learn.

Progressivism:

Progressivism is characterized by respect for individuality, a high regard for science and receptivity to change. The success of this movement is attributed to John Dewey. In 1896, while he was a professor at the University of Chicago, Dewey founded a Laboratory School to test his educational ideas. This project and his writings created the Progressive Education Movement which began in 1920.

Under the Progressive movement, schools broadened their curricula. The influence of this movement waned in the 1950s, when US educational philosophy shifted towards essentialism. In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, Dewey’s ideas underwent a renewal but this declined again in the ‘80s.

Dewey intended schools to change society. The purpose was to create a more democratic nation of free thinking, intelligent citizens. He believed that learning takes place through engaging in meaningful activities. Book learning is not an adequate substitute for this. Knowledge is acquired and expanded by applying previous experience to new, meaningful problems. Education is the simply the opportunity to do this.

Problems were solved using 5-steps.Step one was becoming aware of the problem. This was followed by defining the problem, hypothesizing a solution, testing the hypotheses and then further testing the most likely solution.

In the Progressive methodology, the curriculum is centered around the experiences, interests and abilities of students. Lessons must arouse curiosity, pushing students to higher levels of knowledge. Students learn by doing. They go on field-trips to interact with nature and society. They play thought-provoking games.

Students are encouraged to interact with each other in order to develop social virtues such as co-operation, tolerance etc. Subject specific lessons are not taught. Lessons can combine different subjects.

Progressivism emphasizes natural and social sciences. Students are exposed to new scientific, technological and social developments. A democratic curriculum acknowledges the achievements of disadvantaged groups of society. Students are expected to become flexible problem solvers by practically solving problems in the classroom.

Progressive Education is defined as the perpetual enrichment of ongoing growth. In the ideal, it blends the home, workplace and schoolhouse for learning. It is a continuous learning experience. Progressivism attempts to end the traditional, dreary classroom style of teaching.

Existentialism:

Educational existentialism arose from a complete rejection of the traditional, essentialist approaches to education. For Existentialism there is no source of objective, authoritative truth about metaphysics, epistemology or ethics.  Individual prejudices determine the true/false, right/wrong and beautiful/ugly.

Students are helped to understand and appreciate themselves as unique individuals. They should take complete responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and actions. The teacher should help students to define their own essence by exposing them to various paths of life and creating an environment where they can freely choose their path. The whole person has to be educated since choice is based on both feeling and thought. The curriculum offers great latitude in the choice of subject matter.

Humanities are emphasized.  These provide students vicarious experiences, focusing on the actions of historical individuals.

Vocational education is also emphasized as a means of teaching students about themselves and their potential. Art nurtures creativity and imagination. Learning is self-paced and self-directed. It requires high teacher-student interaction.

Existentialism was more widely accepted in private schools and alternative public schools founded in ‘60s and ‘70s.

Reconstruction:

The Reconstruction movement is based on Progressivism. It also has some existentialist influences. The basic belief is that everything in the world is relative. Human beings learn in order to understand and change the world. Therefore, the purpose of education is to analyze and change the existing culture. The purpose of schools is to provide the tools to do this.

Communicative Pedagogy:

Numerous educators believe the educational relationship should be equal and symmetrical. Otherwise, the child’s humanity is ignored.

In Communicative Pedagogy, education is treated as dialogue. Educators develop and practice some form of communicative pedagogy. There are various pedagogies to choose from. These basically differ in their view of when the child is to be treated as a true partner in education and, consequently, how and when the methods of communicative pedagogy should be applied.

The Effects of Education:

The outline history and philosophy of education given above shows that, over the centuries, very high expectations have been held of educational outcomes. Are these justified? Unfortunately, this author could not find an analysis of the impact of education on society in any of the historical/philosophical books/articles studied. References to the impact abound, for example, the effect of an increasing ability to read and understand the Bible on the Reformation or the provision of missing social skills demonstrated in the “Reading and Reckoning Schools” of the 15th Century. Even the association of 19th century education with the competition between the Great Powers is suggestive.

The absence of an analysis focused on the impact of education may be a result of the absence of both appropriate data and analytical techniques. A survey of Policy Research on Education carried out for the World Bank shows what a vexed question this is.

Different findings about the impact of education can be found in the many different research papers submitted to the World Bank. These are uniformly economic studies and use economic concepts such as investment, capital, rates of returns etc. Accordingly, the impact of education as discussed by these policy research papers is discussed in similar terms in the following.

Education enhances economic growth through an economic variable known as “Human Capital” This basically means the knowledge and skills a human being brings to economic production. Because “Human Capital” can last up-to fifty years, it has significant contributions to economic growth. Also, the rates of return to education are higher for lower levels of education.  They are highest for primary education, less for secondary and lowest for higher education.(3)

Primary education exhibits the highest social profitability in all world regions. The returns to higher education have increased overall, the returns to female education are higher than those for males. Returns to the academic/general secondary school track are higher than the vocational track. Private returns to education are considerably higher than social returns because of the public subsidization of education. The degree of public subsidy usually increases with the level of education considered. The highest returns to education are recorded for low and middle-income countries. (4)

Whereas at the individual (micro) level, it is established that there are measurable returns to investment in education, such evidence is not as consistent at the aggregate (macro) level. (4)

Evidence from many countries shows that education complements physical capital. This is because it helps workers to obtain the necessary skills to work with physical capital. (3)

While many studies have found that additional years of education per person in the labor force increase real output or growth rates, a few studies found that human capital accumulation had a significant negative or an insignificant impact on economic or productivity growth. (5)

Estimates of the impact of growth in educational capital on growth of per worker GDP are consistently small and negative. This estimate is negative even when enrollment rates are positive and significant.(6)

History has demonstrated that sustained economic development has never been achieved without substantial investment in human capital. However, education by itself does not guarantee successful development. Factors affecting the impact of education on economic growth include the economic policy environment as well who receives the education. Economic policies that suppress market forces dramatically reduce the impact of human capital on economic growth. The effect of average education appears insignificant or even negative until the distribution of education is taken into account. Once this is done, the effects are positive and significant.

An increase in human capital increases the growth rate, especially under free market conditions and an outwardly-oriented economic structure. In a closed and highly regulated economy, the effect of average education on growth is zero. Increasing physical capital without increasing human capital results in a negative growth rate in both types of economies, even if the levels of output increase. A balanced expansion of both human and physical capital increases the rate of economic growth if the economy is a liberal one.

Cross national data shows that the estimated returns to schooling correspond to higher growth in manufactured exports. Studies in the agricultural sector show that returns to schooling to farmers were very low where technological progress was low, but increased with increasing technological progress.

When educated labor is devoted to low or unproductive activities, low returns to schooling may in fact be reflecting a low quality environment for applying cognitive skills. The government is often the employer of last resort. The question is not whether the educated labor flows into the government so much as what the educated labor does once it is in the government.

The persistence of negative institutional incentives is often built into the system because by and large the most educated control the access to power.  The growth inhibiting policies typical of many developing countries can perhaps be understood as direct products of the demands of a relatively small educated elite. (5)

The actual incidence of public spending is often skewed in favor of more influential population groups. This bias is even more significant in developing countries. Thus, since public education is also a matter of political decisions, it can be affected by more influential population groups. One possible result of this is social exclusion. This reduces income equality and intergenerational mobility.

Any reform proposal towards social inclusion will therefore have to take into consideration political opposition to such a move. Social inclusion reduces income inequality in the next period and thereafter. It also induces faster next-period growth as compared to the exclusion regime.

One important implication of this situation is that inequality in the distribution of public spending on education slows long-run growth and maintains income inequality. (7)

Evidence suggests schooling has a large number of direct beneficial effects beyond raising economic output. Education had a large non-economic component and is often privately valued for its own sake. Most societies believe that at least basic education is a merit so that its provision is not, and need not be, justified on economic grounds at all.

It is natural to believe that raising the schooling levels of the population would improve the development of a country. There are certain problems with this belief. A number of countries have expanded schooling opportunities without seeing a dramatic result in economic well-being. Even when schooling policy is a focal point, the anticipated results are not seen.

It is well known that putting more resources into schools does not reliably improve student outcomes.

One consistent research finding, obtained mainly from developed country experiences, is that teacher quality has a powerful impact on student outcomes. The two factors that more frequently appear to positively influence student outcomes are teacher experience and measures of teacher achievement tests. This implies that teacher quality is enormously important in determining student achievement. Increased local decision making and accountability, facilitates these improvements. There is suggestive evidence that greater school choice promotes better performance.

Several recent studies suggest that education is important both as an investment in human capital and in facilitating research and development and the diffusion of technologies. The composition of human capital between basic and higher education may be important, with initial phases of education being more important for imitation and higher education being more important for innovation. Education seems to improve income levels mainly though speeding up technological progress,

Educational quality has a strong impact on individual earnings. It has a strong and robust influence on economic growth. Available estimates of the impact of cognitive skills on outcomes suggest strong economic returns within developing countries. Individual earnings are systematically related to cognitive skills. Skill distribution in society seems closely related to income distribution. Economic growth is strongly affected by the skills of workers.

Part of the return to school quality is due to continuing school education. Substantial evidence from the US shows that students who do better in school, tend to study to higher levels. Studies have shown that more schooling is associated with higher individual earnings. However, social returns could differ from the private returns. In many developing countries, below one person in ten completes lower secondary education and passes at least a low benchmark of basic literacy in cognitive skills.

It is important for economic growth to get other things right as well, in particular the institutional framework of the economy. In other words, simply providing more or higher-quality schooling may have little impact on economic growth if other elements (e.g., market, legal, and governmental institutions) are absent.

The results suggest that openness and educational quality not only have significant individual effects on economic growth but also interact positively with each other. (8)

Improving the quality of schooling or opening more schools is an investment in future generations. It may have a positive effect on them. However, this may have a negative impact on the current generation.

An increase in public education expenditures financed by an increase in a neutral tax may reduce the income available to poorer sections of society. This problem is exacerbated by inefficiencies in public service delivery.

Under certain conditions, the overall effect of the education policy may redistribute consumption from all generations of the rich and the current generation of poor to future generations of poor. Therefore, it can be possible for the educational improvement to reduce social welfare.

One indication of the poor quality of public education is the defection of even poor households to private schools in some countries, a trend documented by recent work in South Asia and elsewhere. But the evidence suggests that many poor parents are choosing private schooling for their children primarily because of the low quality of education in the public schools, and that they are willing to pay more to do this.

Poor families may gain little from the additional public spending, and in the worst case may find themselves paying higher taxes even as their children remain in private school because of low public-school quality. Thus the welfare effects of higher taxes to finance educational improvements will depend heavily on whether those taxes translate into increased quality and on whether poor students attend public schools. (9)

Education in Pakistan

Only 12 countries in the world spend less than 2 percent of their GNP on education. Pakistan is one of them. The average Pakistani boy receives only 5 years of schooling, the average girl receives 2.5. Only 2/3rd of primary school age children are ever enrolled in school. Only 1/3rd of these complete fifth grade. The adult literacy rate is 40 percent. The female adult literacy rate is lower. Pakistan has the lowest education index of any non-African country.

The National Education Census (NEC) of 2005/06 was the first census in the history of Pakistan that collected information on all types of schools. A complete picture of the current education system was thus generated. Pakistan also has a National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) which collects education data annually. It has not yet studied the private sector educational provision. About 31 percent of basic education students attend private schools so this is a significant shortcoming.

Data from the NEC and NEMIS show that over 36 million students were attending an educational institution in 2005/06. The break-up between school levels was:

  • Primary and Pre-Primary: About 70.9 percent (24.3 million)
  • Middle Elementary: 15.4 percent (5.6 million)
  • Secondary and above: 14.3 percent (5.2 million)

Pakistan is still a long way from achieving universal primary enrolment. Over 35 percent of the population 5 to 9 years of age is not in school. Enrolment at the Middle Elementary level is less than half the enrolment at the primary level. Approximately 20 percent of the students in Primary School are repeating a grade.

31 percent of all pre-primary and higher secondary students study in private schools. In urban centers, 51 percent of students are in private schools. In rural areas, this rate drops to less than 20 percent. In 2005, there were 18.3 million boys and 14 million girls studying in basic education At the higher secondary level, there were equal numbers of boys and girls in the system. This shows that many more boys than girls stopped their education after secondary school

The vacancy rate measures vacant teaching posts. In 2005/06, basic education had a vacancy rate of 6.5 percent, The higher secondary level had the largest vacancy rate, with over 9 percent of the teaching positions remaining unfilled. 95 percent of public school teachers had received professional training. Only 50 percent of private school teachers had received professional training.

Many schools are short of facilities. 9 percent of primary schools do not have a blackboard, 24 percent do not have textbooks for the children and 46 percent do not have desks for the students. Almost one-quarter of primary schools do not have any textbooks. Only 36 percent of the public primary schools in the country have electricity.

Improving service delivery through increased accountability has been a significant   motivation behind the trend towards decentralization in developing countries. (10)

Pakistan’s education system has attracted American interest. The CRS policy report to Congress is discussed below.

The report states that US policy-makers have identified Pakistan’s education system as relevant to US interests in South Asia. The top US policy goal in South Asia is “combating terror and the conditions that breed terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Education is identified as crucial to Pakistan’s development. In-fact, the Secretary of State is required to report to Congress on Pakistan’s education reform strategy and US assistance in this.

A strengthened education system will prepare citizens for employment and halt the spread of extremist values. This is in the interests of both Pakistan and the US. To some extent, these values are spread through biased historical narratives taught in mainstream schools. However, the problem mainly lies in the curriculum taught in the madrassas. Between 1947 to 1988, the number of madrassas increased tenfold. The Taliban movement began among madrassa students. Press reports, citing Pakistani government estimates, claim that 10 percent of all Pakistani school children attend madrassas and 10 percent of these madrassas have links to militant groups. Some of these madrassas are financed by foreign entities, many in Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistani state is constitutionally obliged to provide free and compulsory secondary education. In December 2001, the Pakistani government launched an Education Sector Reform. One of its goals is to bring madrassa curriculum into the mainstream education system. English has been made compulsory in secondary schools. In August 2001, the Islamabad government created a Pakistan Madrassa Education Board to establish a network of “model madrassas” and regulate others.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is implementing a five year, $100 million bilateral agreement to increase access to quality education throughout Pakistan, with an emphasis on the Baluchistan and Sindh provinces. Current USAID education-related projects in Pakistan include efforts to improve early education, engender democratic ideals, improve the quality of assessment and testing, provide training to educators, and construct or refurbish schools in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. $58 million have been spent on the Education Sector Reform Assistance (ESRA)

Pakistan’s education system suffers from poverty and neglect. Wealthy citizens send their children to private, English-medium schools. The remainder choose between a public system that is physically difficult to access and religious schools that even provide free clothing and housing.

Corruption is also a factor. Often, schools and textbooks are available but the teachers never report for work. “Ghost Schools” that exist on paper only are a terrible problem.

There is little concrete evidence that President Musharraf cracked down on Madrassas. Pakistan’s Islamist political parties were an important part of Musharraf’s political base and this might be the reason for the inaction. The central, politicized control of the public education system and an over-emphasis on Urdu Medium Instruction have also been identified as contributing to on-going ethnic and sectarian divisions. Centralized curricular decision-making has increased the Islamization of the public syllabus. This may be due to foreign policy goals in Kashmir and Afghanistan. (11)

Two steps taken by the Pakistani government are in surprising concordance with this report. One is the devolution that took place during President Musharraf’s government. A study on the effects of devolution in Pakistan states that there is mixed evidence on the impact of decentralization on service delivery. Some studies show that corruption is increased by decentralization. Also, if voters are likely to be grateful to all the tiers of government when public goods increase, even if only one government contributed, then the incentive to provide that public good is diminished.

A recent econometric study found that the number of tiers of government was positively associated with corruption, and negatively with the number of paved roads or infants inoculated.

Devolution reforms in Pakistan created a three-tier local government structure at the union, tehsil, and district levels. Each government is headed by a nazim. The local bureaucracy is formally answerable to him. However, devolved staff remain provincial employees and the nazim therefore has limited administrative control over the local bureaucracy. The electoral system is a mixture of direct and indirect elections.

The degree of access to representatives has increased considerably after devolution. However, less than 2 percent of respondents approached local officials for education and health matters.

Union council elections are relatively competitive as compared to national ones. Yet district and tehsil nazims are indirectly elected and therefore electoral accountability is diluted.

A district nazim’s chances of getting re-elected also appears to be unrelated to citizens’ satisfaction with basic services, or views about whether or not these services had improved, as indicated in the household survey data.

Provincial priorities in the devolved sectors have had a significant impact on local preferences, and appear to have encouraged districts to focus more on the physical infrastructure sectors.

First, physical infrastructure, in particular roads, is by far the highest priority of the district governments; second, these infrastructure schemes are small and largely neighborhood specific; third, district policy-makers appear to attach a lower priority to operations and maintenance than their provincial counterparts; and finally provincial interventions in education and health appear to have provided additional incentives for districts to prioritize the physical infrastructure sectors.

The greater focus on physical infrastructure investments, the emphasis on small, localized schemes, and the relative lack of prioritization of operations and maintenance suggests that incentives for providing visible, targeted benefits are even higher for local policy-makers as compared to their provincial counterparts.

This emphasis on physical infrastructure could simply be reflective of the relatively greater responsiveness of local governments. It could also be an outcome of the local government political structure. The district is able to distinguish itself much more from the province in roads and water. The reason it can do so is that physical infrastructure is intrinsically more ‘heterogeneous’ than social infrastructure. This heterogeneity allows for ‘specialization,’ enabling district policy-makers to focus on and to take credit for the small, neighborhood schemes and provincial policy-makers to take credit for the larger ones.

The above data also suggests that many districts have responded to the provincial initiatives in education and health by essentially ceding all responsibility for these sectors to the province. (12)

Only two studies on the impact of madrassahs have been undertaken. Their findings are outlined in what follows.

There are several levels of Islamic education available in Pakistan, provided by madaris as well as primary Islamic schools known as  makatib. The texts used for religious subjects generally date back to the seventh century. Non-religious subjects such as math or philosophy are taught by a few madaris using classical texts that date to the 11th and 14th centuries.

The government of Pakistan (GOP) recognizes the final degree as equivalent to an MA in Arabic and Islamic studies. None of the lower degrees are recognized by the government.

Reports suggest that as of 2000, there were 6,741 registered madaris in Pakistan. There is no extant central database of registered madaris.

Tahir Andrabi and colleagues executed the first (and to date only) study enumerating the market share of madaris and other schools. They found that less than 1 percent of enrolled students attend madaris full-time. Nearly 70 percent attend public schools and 30 percent attend private schools.

For the bulk of districts in Pakistan, the madrassah market share falls between 0.02 and 1 percent of total enrollment. Districts with “extreme” market share (above 2 percent) are all in the Pashto-speaking belt – either in Baluchistan or in the NWFP.

There are solid reasons to doubt the most sweeping claims linking madaris and militancy in Pakistan.

Research shows that terrorists tend to be of “higher quality.” Given the general dearth of secular subjects, madrassah students (without mainstream education) are not likely to be desirable to many terrorist groups.

Some evidence shows that madaris may encourage public support for terrorism.

Empirical evidence has shown a statistically significant connection between density of madaris and sectarian violence. The madrassah system is fundamentally geared toward producing ulema and religious officiates. Many madrassah officials and administrators have ties to religious political parties in Pakistan while the madrassahs themselves are a very profitable businesses.

Islamic education may be partially due to parental demand. The preference for an Islamic education has been increasing over the last 10 to 15 years. New forms of schools combining religious and worldly subjects have been established. Many madrassah administrators noted that about 30 percent of their student bodies are from the middle class families who can afford other options.

Administrators of the best madrassahs contend that madrassah students are less likely to be unemployed than graduates of mainstream schools.

Madrassah  administrators believed that GOP efforts to intrude into madaris activities were motivated by US and UK pressure They believed that the GOP was seeking first to register and then to regulate them. This view was in conformance with the stated objective of GOP officials.

Given that the vast majority of students attend public schools, it seems that disproportionate efforts have been expended focusing on the madaris. More attention needs to be given towards understanding the determinants of parental choice in educating their children. (13)

Analysis and Conclusion

The above description of the history, philosophy and effects of education serves to highlight the fact that education is both effected by and exerts an effect on surrounding social conditions. The social outlook and aims determine what sort of education is to be provided and who is to receive it. Its effect on social conditions is demonstrated historically by the impact of the Reformation in re-shaping Western society and the crucial role played by education in this. The effect on society in the modern day is demonstrated by the correlation between madrassahs and sectarian violence.

Research that focuses the impact of education on the economy, reaches myriads of conflicting conclusions, some of which has been outlined above. What seems quite clear is that adequate education alone is insufficient to improve the economic conditions of a country. There have to be other political, economic and legal institutions in place already to facilitate the impact of education.

An education system that will impact the economy is one which provides effective skill. In other words, the quality of education is more important than simple quantity.

Creating an adequate education system is a very difficult proposition. Various factors come into play, many of which are demonstrated in the main part of this paper.

Certain questions arise when the above paper is reflected upon. First, the historical description of education is a history of the modern, formal, Western education system. This means that lessons implicit in forms of education that created and sustained non-Western societies and might be more relevant to present day Pakistan are not apparent. Traditional Japanese education, for example, lives on in its modern day education system.

A second observation is that the historical development of education studied shows its responsiveness to and control by local requirements. The US, British, French and German education systems, for example, developed due to decision-makers’ in those countries taking certain steps. Both the content and methodology of education was determined by educators that belonged to these countries. Going further back in time, the same pattern is evident in the Enlightenment, the Middle Ages and even ancient Greece.

As the papers quoted above show, Pakistan’s first ever complete educational census took place in 2005. The information culled from this census has been taken from a report prepared by UNESCO. This report also states that although data has been collected by the Pakistani government, there is no analysis of it. In-fact, two reports prepared by the Pakistani Government on Education were not used in this paper. One is the 2007-8 “Pakistan Education Statistics” prepared by AEPAM and the second is “The Development of Education, National Report of Pakistan,” prepared by the Pakistani Government for UNESCO. These two reports demonstrate the absence of analysis all too clearly. The former is a compilation of never-ending statistics. The latter, a statement of policies undertaken by the government without any supporting research or evidence of their impact. 

The tentative conclusion drawn is that the Pakistani government had, until 2005, inadequate data on education. Now that it has the data, it does not know how to use it. Therefore, a major question that arises is how exactly is the government running the education system? On what basis is it creating its policies? How is it evaluating the effects of these policies?

The CRS report outlined above shows the deep interest of the USA in Pakistan’s education system. It also states clearly that US involvement in Pakistan is in order to serve its own interests. Yet US policies are obviously based on inadequate research if the findings about madrassahs are considered. Despite the claim that the US is not directing Pakistan’s educational policy, the fact that English has been made compulsory and the government is attempting to regulate madrassahs is indicative of an alignment of US and Pakistani policies.

The question here arises whether this is a sensible strategy for the Pakistani Government to follow and whether it is in the interests of the Pakistani populace. What exactly is the impact of teaching students in a foreign language and what happens if the demand for Islamic education is ignored?  Further, has the impact of devolution on education come to its notice?

Only two authors of the research on the history, philosophy or effects of education were Pakistani. This was despite, not because of, the author. So the question is: where is the Pakistani scholarship on education? As an aside, it may be mentioned here that a report prepared for the the Woodrow Wilson Center on Education in Pakistan was read and discarded as worthless for this paper. Certainly Pakistani researchers contributed to the report. But their reports were mere assertions, as devoid of substantial analysis as the Pakistani Governments collection of statistics.

It appears that Pakistan lacks both self-direction, the information necessary to direct itself or the scholarship required to understand and analyse its education system and its place within the society. The vacuum is filled by external actors such as UNESCO and the USA to which the Pakistani Government calmly reports! Why exactly is an “independent” country providing country reports to UNESCO?

This paper has aimed to highlight the knowledge gaps about education that exist within countries. A major requirement of education planning in Pakistan must be research and analysis of the current situation, drawing from historical and present day research. Methodologies that have worked for countries in similar situations can thus be identified and applied. Let us therefore end on a variation of Plato’s dictum: Who will educate the educators? 

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[*]Mavesh Khan is an Islamabad-based scholar workig for an NGO dealing with education.