By Naimat Ullah Khan
After the gory incident of Mashal Khan’s lynching at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, there is an obvious question in the minds of most thinking Pakistanis: what is the cause of intolerance and extremism among the educated class of Pakistani society? There are many reasons but the most prominent one is related to the abysmal state of education in the field of philosophy at our universities.
The childhood coding has a profound effect on our overall personalities and it is there that a most harmful idiosyncrasy is inserted in Pakistani children i.e. discouragement from asking questions. Mostly, children are advised to lower their voices in front of elders and their instinct to be inquisitive about the world around them is frowned upon. It is at this very moment when parents or elders suppress critical thinking of a child. Critical thinking involves rational, logical and unbiased analysis of factual evidence to deduce conclusions. It is ‘self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective’ thinking.
Once these kids are admitted to schools, they are rebuked by teachers for asking too many questions. As they grow up and reach the stage of adolescence, these youngsters are pampered and patronised — not letting them take independent decisions. For each petty decision of their life, many youngsters are at the mercy of their families. This dependency further diminishes the quality of critical thinking.
When some among these individuals enter universities, they are supposed to be transformed into critical thinkers. But do our universities have the resources and the guts needed to achieve this task?
At universities, the main focus is on imparting technical know-how on particular subjects, without focusing much on personality grooming. Majority of students who have been patronised at their homes now expect to be spoon fed by teachers. Likewise, teachers remain content with do-as-directed students as they make their lives easy. Resultantly, the universities also fail to nurture critical thinking skills in students who are groomed such that they want to score high marks without being creative or proposing out-of-the-box solutions to society’s problems. A student with such traits usually prevails at Pakistani universities.
My personal experience of teaching in a British university was quite different. Most of my students would get annoyed on being patronised, and sharply reacted that ‘they are not kids anymore and don’t need patronization from a teacher’.
Philosophy as a subject of study is missing from all levels of curriculum in our education system. Pakistani universities don’t have a dedicated subject on ‘philosophy’ in different disciplines. So much so that many degree holders of Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) do not know about the philosophy of their theses. The pathetic status of philosophy as a subject at universities is clear from the following statistics. Out of 20 public- and 10 private-sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, only the University of Peshawar has a department of philosophy. As if this in itself is not shocking, the total enrolment of students at master’s level, both previous and final years included, is just 11.The statistics from other provinces may not be any different either.
The centuries-old Dars-e-Nizami curriculum taught at religious madrasa originally comprised both religious and non-religious subjects such as philosophy, geography, mathematics, and astronomy etc. Resultantly, in their more than 15-years of education, the graduate of these Madaris (religious scholar) acquired a more holistic view about the world around them with reasonable critical thinking skills. Now the old curriculum has been replaced with new syllabus regulated by the Wifaqul Madaris, formed in 1982. Unfortunately, the teaching of philosophy has been downplayed (nearly abolished) in the new curriculum that lets students graduate in the span of eight years. Historical evidence shows that a deliberate attempt was made by vested interests to downplay the content of philosophy in the curriculum taught at Madaris.
An example from our neighbouring country is worth mentioning. Afghan King Dost Muhammad Khan had declared himself an Amirul Muminin (The Commander of the Faithful) in 1934. According to famous writer on Afghanistan, Vartan Gregorain, a step taken by Dost Muhammad among other measures to strengthen his kingdom was to gradually expunge subjects conducive to development of rational and critical thinking from madrasa curriculum.
Philosophy is not at odds with the principles of Islam that teaches us not to believe rumours without proper verification and research. Islam encourages us to apply rationality, wherever applicable, to reach conclusions. History tells us about some great Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Rushd, Imam Al-Ghazali, Ibne Khaldun, etc.
Philosophy develops critical thinking among students and encourages them to think about the narrative as well as the counter-narrative on any issue. Such an approach broadens our horizon of thinking. It promotes a culture where individuals may stand upon their own ideas, without hurting emotions of others. It discourages being judgmental and opinionated about someone (or something) without knowing the facts. When we learn to respect others without compromising on our own principles, extremism will vanish. And the revival of philosophy as a subject of study will develop critical thinking among students to have more holistic and pluralistic views about the world.
Naimat Ullah Khan is PhD and assistant professor at the University of Peshawar.