Friday, March 29, 2013

Myth: We are Backward because we Lag Behind in Science and Technology

The mythology that has been sold to the entire Muslim world and especially in Pakistan is that our backwardness is because of our backwardness in Science and Technology. Hence, S and T became the holy grail for progress and development. Everyone is willing to invest in Science and Technology, whether it has been Zia's government and Dr. Mahboob ul Haq's drive for S and T scholarships, or whether it is the political governments of the 90s or the Musharaff era (1999-2008) when Dr Ata ur Rahman was at the helm of S & T and HEC. Funds were lavished on S and T. The underlying assumption behind this myth was that the society would magically transform itself when we have x-thousand S and T PhDs; y-thousand professors with high impact factor;  n-thousand SIS publications and z-thousand state of the arts labs spread all over the country.


After spending of billions of tax payers money we find ourselves back to the starting point.

Let me make this clear. We can make atom bomb, we can make missiles. However, we have not been able to ensure that the plug for my mobile charger fits snugly in the wall socket. Each one of us goes around from one power point to another trying to find a socket wherein the plug will fit. We do not seem to find a socket that can hold the plug of my iron snugly without the noise of the sparks. But, this deterioration in plug's quality has happened only over the last twenty years despite all the funds lavished on S and T. I can recall my school days forty years ago, when the plugs of that time used to fit snugly in sockets, any socket! The plugs and the sockets would last forever.
Covered Drains of Moenjodoro

Open Drains of Pakistan














Another of my favorite example is that of covered drains. We have studied in our history books that 5000 years ago cities of the ancient civilizations of Harrapa and Moenjodoro used to have covered drains and streets bisecting at right angles. We have been successful in making atom bombs and missiles but have not been able to master the technology that can build or maintain covered drains or build cities with streets bisecting at right angles. Why?

I often ask what dent would R and D of an ultra high speed wafer fabrication technology  that speeds up the processor by the next notch (and publishable in a high impact factor journal), make on our time savings, when shopping centers in Karachi do not open even at 1pm on workdays (even on days when there are no disturbances). What time saving would even the existing computer technology that executes billions of instructions per second, make in speeding up the businesses of the shopping centers when shopkeepers as well as buyers sleep late till noon and do not open their shops till after noon. Majority are then eager and ready to close their shops at 8pm. What would a saving of a few nanosecond here and a few nanoseconds there would buy us when we are not willing to start work early!

I think the reason for our backwardness is not that we are backward in S and T but because we are backward in our social ethics: 
  • We are backward because we lack principles, such as honesty, commitment, fairness, integrity… 
  • We are backward because we lack “principles centered leadership” 
  • We are backward because we de-emphasize social sciences, at the cost of emphasizing S and T. 
  • We need to emphasize time management and promise fulfillment. 
  • We need to emphasize healthy and productive life styles. 
  • We need to emphasize character building, societal change movements and mobilizations for justice, honesty, integrity, commitment .... 
Only by becoming a better human being, a better citizen who is socially interactive, can we get out of the malaise that afflicts us and which is eating through our fabric of society.


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This write-up is an extended rehash of the ideas presented in a talk on "Five Major Myths of Higher Education" made at the CIO Conference, March 2009 at Sheraton, Karachi (link.)

This is the 1st of the Five Major Myths of Higher Education in Pakistan:

  1. Our backwardness is because of science and technology 
  2. There is mushrooming of educational institutions in Pakistan 
  3. Public universities cost lower than private universities 
  4. Bigger infrastructure (land, building, equipment) means better education 
  5. Impact Factor research measures real impact






5 comments:

  1. Amazing! In my opinion, the "terror of backwardness" for the last 150 years has also gone into building of this myth!


    I was just reading about the reason of non inclusion of modern sciences/subjects in the syllabi of madrassas. The comment here is a bit long but I would really like to share. I think your analysis of our "backwardness in social ethics" bears striking similarity to the reasons why modern sciences were not made part of the curriculum in the madrassas.

    In 1866, Maulana Qasim Nanotvi ra, a contemporary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, laid the foundation of Dar Ul Uloom Deoband and the following was his answer to a question ‘Why were the modern sciences, which had already reached India at the time this syllabus was compiled, not included in it?’

    //SOURCE:
    al-Nanautwi: Why Modern Sciences were Excluded from the Syllabus of Dar al-’Ulum Deoband By Sayyid Mahbub Rizwi - Translated by Prof. Murtaz Husayn F. Qurayshi//

    This question had also cropped up at the inception of the Dar al-’Ulum itself; on the convocation of 1290 AH Mawlana al-Nanautwi threw full light on this question. He said:

    “For the education of all the rational and traditional sciences and to acquire competency therein, this madrasah and the madrasah at Saharanpur (Mazahir al-’Ulum) are, no doubt, an excellent provision; and if it please Allah, the alumni here, provided they complete the curriculum, can easily and quickly acquire the remaining ancient and modern sciences by dint of the power of their ability. The reason therefore is that in these madrasahs, the greatest objective, besides the religious education, is the attainment of the power of ability. We did not rest content with only the religious sciences but as per the old system, have also provided subjects that develop intelligence, an excellent result of which in the former times was that great savants and polymaths possessing prodigious abilities were produced in legions amongst the followers of Islam. Hence, we understand with certainty that though the students here may not have succeeded with some of the modern arts and sciences, the ability of theirs may prove sufficient like a perfect teacher for their education. In other schools, though, due to the teaching of some modern subjects, the students thereof may have acquired some new acquaintance of those subjects which the students here may be wanting in, the latter, in fact, in the eyes of the just, would be considered, by virtue of their ability, superior to the former in these subjects also.

    “…..Now we also point out this thing so that it may be known why in respect of acquirement (of knowledge) this special method was proposed and why the modern subjects were not included. The main reason, inter alia, for this is that whether training be special or general that aspect should be borne in mind from which crack may have developed in their accomplishment. Accordingly, it is manifest upon men of intelligence that nowadays education in modern subjects is making rapid progress due to the outnumbering government-run-schools. Indeed the old sciences must never have declined so much as they did now. Under such circumstances the people looked upon the founding of schools for modern sciences as an exercise in futility. Hence, it was considered necessary to spend money for the traditional sciences, as also for those disciplines which certainly develop ability for the conventional (religious) as well as the modern sciences.

    “…..Hereafter, if the students of this madrasah, joining government schools, acquire knowledge of the modern subjects, this thing would more shore up their accomplishment.” (Rudad Dar al-’Ulum Deoband, 1292 AH, p. 13)

    (Rizvi, Sayyid Mahboob (1981). History of the Dar al-’Ulum Deoband, Volume 2. Deoband: Idara-e Ihtemam. p. 211-3.)

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    Replies
    1. I think the point of view of Deoband was that given the emphasis on modern science subjects in the rapidly burgeoning schools at the expense of traditional subjects, there is a need for a madrassah that would cater to the demands of the traditional subjects.

      My post is not suggesting that we EXCLUDE S&T subjects from the curriculum. It is only saying that we should stop regarding backwardness in S&T as a cause of our weakness.

      If you see my other post on Holistic Education, you will see that we should think of knowledge as all inclusive; spirit, body and mind together. Holistic Education questions the whole notion of dividing knowledge into subjects.

      It is for this reason that Quran does not have subject wise divisons with headings and sub-headings and sub-sub headings. The narrative is continuous with all subjects interspersed.

      More about subject divisions (even in traditional Islamic curriculum) in a later post. We will even question the notion of a pre-specified subset of knowledge being mandated as a curriculum!!!


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  2. This is now published in Daily Dawn, July 21, 2013 in the Letters to the Editors titled "Death of Social Sciences". http://dawn.com/news/1030744/death-of-social-sciences

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  3. so true. even the parents are emphasis more on the so called "high standard schooling" rather than teaching them the values such as honesty, commitment, fairness, integrity. social behaviors and ethics. let the modernization began at home :)

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