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Apathy to social sciences has left us intolerant

So often when I interact with apparently educated young Pakistani men and women, for instance, an engineer, a doctor or a chartered accountant, I am taken aback at their lack of social empathy towards other ethnic, sectarian, religious and racial groups. They seem to have cultivated so narrow a worldview that they fail to accept and appreciate the diversity of views, cultures, faiths and ways of life other than their own. Having been brought up within the binaries of absolutist right and wrong as if those were the axioms has only stunted them intellectually and socio-politically to peacefully coexist with and work through the paradoxes around them.
A slightly deeper study of our political history informs us that it was not always like this in Pakistan; the educated professionals from the groups I just mentioned used to have a modern outlook about the world and they inspired others around them. What we see now in this respect has got so much to do with how we have indoctrinated our children in the name of education in the last fifty years. Besides, the unchecked overall rise of religiosity and cultural intolerance in our society only worsened what was already going to be bad.
When I was in school none of my teachers, nor did my parents, encouraged us to give as much attention to the subjects of humanities and literature as they did for pure sciences. The message to impressionable students was obvious that only pure sciences could fetch them a salvation and a hope for an enviable career in future. This might have been true given the tiny services and industry sectors in Pakistan then, yet what this emphasis on pure sciences didn’t require was to inculcate an apathy among students towards social sciences and literature.
Unfortunately, in part, the materialistic and utilitarian purpose of education- whereby attention was focused on pure sciences, which were considered as the only means to more profitable professions, at the expense of teaching students the universal values and characteristics of a peaceful and tolerant society that the subjects in humanities may offer — relegated the importance of humanities.
Certainly, inventions and discoveries in pure sciences have led us to modernity. Yet, emphasis and study of pure sciences teaches students about water-tight divisions, distinctions between correct and incorrect, and the laws and the principles. In the absence of due exposure to social sciences and literature, the students tend to define and understand the society around them, the social processes, and power structures in those very terms. In societies like Pakistan where religion plays a dominating role, focus on pure sciences in combination with the approach to study these subjects with a skewed religious lens has only promoted a tendency among people to define even purely scientific processes and outcomes as an extension of religious argument.
That’s why so often do we see, for instance, a medical treatment defined in the light of what’s is even vaguely related and hinted at somewhere in the holy scripture. An extension of the same is how patriotism is inculcated among students in most binary terms, which requires to create and nurture the image of a foe that must be fought through patriotism. The combination of emphasis on religiosity and pure sciences has created the minds which don’t entertain ambiguity, antithesis to their own thesis or questioning what they consider as the natural law or an established fact.
This sort of education reinforces status quo of social and political constructs such as nation, ethnicities, caste, class, religious superiority and gender — the very basis of intolerance, discrimination, exploitation and bigotry. It might define why so many university graduates and professionals with a background of modern schools and colleges find a source of pride in being from this and that ethnicity, caste or from martial races, being the descendants of some revered personality, or simply being born as men and not women.
If Pakistan must prosper and evolve as a civilised society where majority therein is able to appreciate and value the ideals of peace, coexistence with diversity within and the world outside Pakistan, we need to add social sciences and literature into all kinds of educational programmes.



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