Tag Archives: Education

Social change through education


Shahid Siddiqui

Education, during different periods of history, assumed different meanings and focused on different objectives. It has usually been equated with change, development and emancipation. It is important, however, to understand that education per se is not change, development or emancipation. It could, however, enhance the life chances of individuals to attain these objectives.

Education, being imparted in most of the mainstream schools, however, emanates from a transmission-based pedagogical approach where teachers try to transmit or transfer knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the next. In this paradigm, students are viewed as empty vessels or slates who are supposed to receive knowledge passively. The transmission approach in education revolves around the ‘banking concept of education’, as Paulo Freire would call it.

According to Freire’s banking concept of education, the minds of students are considered to be containers in which information is fed. The students are not supposed to think but just store the information given by their teachers. The students, without understanding the information relayed to them by their teachers, reproduce the stored information in the examinations. In this approach to education, knowledge is viewed as ‘static’ which is handed down to students by the ‘all-knowing’ teachers. The role of students in this approach is passive as they are at the receiving end. They have no compulsive motivation to think or reflect.

This kind of education cannot lead to the realisation of major objectives, change, development or emancipation. This form of education leads to stasis and conformity. Education in this format is destined to produce ‘mono-culture robots’ that may get good grades and later good jobs but are unable to think independently. Such graduates are least concerned with what is happening in society and do not feel motivated enough to bring any significant change in the world they live.

Ivan Illich, in his classic book, ‘Deschooling society’, laments the fact that mainstream schools are producing students who cannot think independently as they are trained to receive information given to them by their teachers as the ultimate truth. According to Illich, the major objectives of education, change, development, and emancipation cannot be realised through the conservation approach of transmission as it stifles the faculties of creativity and reflection and leads to students embracing conformity.

What kind of education can then bring change at individual and societal levels? For this we need to debunk the conservation approach of transmission that is based on five major assumptions. The objective of education is to transfer knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the next. Knowledge is static and out there. Students are empty vessels who act as sponges and absorb ‘knowledge’ transmitted by the teachers. Teachers are omniscient and know everything under the sky. Education is not required to reflect on what is going on in society and is not supposed to challenge societal taboos.

The alternative paradigm of education is the transformation approach that aims at transforming the individual and society. The transformation approach of education hinges on five important beliefs. First, the objective of education is to transform. It focuses on change at individual and societal levels. Second, knowledge is not a static object but is a vibrant, fluid and co-constructed phenomenon. Third, students are not empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge from teachers. They, even at a very early age, do have certain beliefs and knowledge about different things. Fourth, teachers are not omniscient and are only one of the sources of knowledge. According to this approach, there are many other powerful sources of knowledge available to the students. Fifth, the role of education is not just to bring change in the lives of individuals but also in society.

When we talk about education, we also tend to link it with development. The issue, however, is that the notion of development is narrow and usually confined to the economic aspect only. Amartya Sen in his book, ‘Development as Freedom’, links economic development with multiple freedoms – freedom of thought, expression, and choice. In this way, Sen extends the boundaries of development beyond roads, railway tracks and high-rise buildings. Education should then focus on the more holistic notion of development – socio-economic development.  The ‘socio’ part of development is unfortunately either ignored or under-emphasised in educational institutions. If we want to use education as a potential tool of change, this part of development needs to be underlined.

To bring change at individual and societal levels, it is crucial to adopt the critical paradigm of education that requires inculcating critical thinking skills in students so they become independent thinkers. The critical paradigm of education is an emancipatory approach that focuses on the ultimate aim of education, development and emancipation – that is freedom from personal biases in terms of language, ethnicity, cast, colour and creed. This kind of education will equip  students with the skills needed to live their individual lives in a better way. It will also prepare them to live with others in a peaceful manner.

If we really want to realise the potential of education, we need to revisit our notion of education and alter it from its passive role to an active one. Instead of serving as a tool of transmission of static knowledge, education should serve as a transformative tool that focuses on co-construction of knowledge. It is in this paradigm of education where focus is laid on developing thinking human beings who have a strong liaison with society. They are not mere robots filling job slots but are constantly engaged in bringing qualitative improvement in society.


The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com


Resistance through education

Shahid Siddiqui

The history of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile and coercion. To control the colonised, all possible methods are used, ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonisers suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies.

Education, in a conservative paradigm, was considered passive, neutral, fixed and apolitical. This myth was debunked by Antonio Gramsci who in his seminal book, ‘Prison Notebooks’, elaborates on the powerful role of the civil society, including educational institutions, suggesting that education is a vibrant, highly political and ever-changing phenomenon.

The politics of education and language can be seen at its best in the Minute by Lord Macaulay. It is important to analyse the vision of education proposed by a British representative for the colonised. Macaulay proposes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect.”

With this vision, a new education system came into being, which is still in vogue in mainstream schools of Pakistan. The essential purpose of this system was to produce a class of obedient servants who would conform to authority and never think of challenging it.

In ‘Culture and Imperialism’, Edward Said says that imperialism always found resistance in different parts of the world. The nature of resistance could be varied from place to place. Nationalism in British India flourished in the mid 19th century when the people of India came together as a nation. The British Raj and its despotic policies made Indians conscious of the worth of their country.

The economic policies of the East India Company (EIA) levied huge taxes on peasants. Similarly, local artisans were made jobless as finished products were made in the factories and India was used as a rich source of raw material. A number of peasants were forced to give up their professions and look for other ways of earning of their sustenance. Besides the repressive economic policies of the EIC, the Indians were also cornered because of the cruel political structure of the British rulers.

The British also introduced a new system of education which was quite different from the indigenous education system. Persian, the language of the courts, was targeted by the British rulers and the English language was introduced with lots of perks in terms of government jobs and social status. The British used the familiar imperialist technique of glorifying their own culture, language, literature, education system and way of life, and stigmatising the culture, language, literature, and way of life of the colonised. The ultimate objective of this approach is that the colonised internalise the ‘fact’ that the colonisers are superiors and the colonised are inferior.

As I discussed in my previous articles on these pages, different modes of resistance were adopted by the Indians to combat British imperialism. These modes were guided by two major paradigms of resistance – coercive paradigm and discursive paradigm. The coercive paradigm would allow use of force to resist whereas the discursive paradigm would use discourse as resistance.

One important mode of resistance paradigm is education. In India, education was used as a powerful tool of resistance against the British Raj. How education can be used to resist hegemonic forces can be better understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony which talks about two major approaches to hegemony –through the political society and through civil society. The political society uses coercion by using army, police and bureaucracy, whereas the civil society relies on discourse, and uses social institution.

It is through the civil society that the process of hegemony takes place in a subtle way and minds are controlled in such a way that the colonised group give ‘spontaneous consent’ to be colonised. Education, thus, becomes a potent tool to control minds and is frequently used by the colonisers.  Interestingly education has also been used by marginalised groups to put up resistance.

In British India a number of nationalist leaders used education to resist British imperialism. A number of educational initiatives converged on the idea of national education. Sir Syed’s Aligarh initiative was essentially driven by the passion of nationalism. This was a mild version of nationalism as a number of faculty members were British. Then we see a chain of educational institutions run by tnational leaders who believed in liberating India from foreign rule through education.

Darul aloom Deoband was established in 1867 by Qasim Nanotvi and his comrades. In Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia was established by the Johar brothers. Gandhi established a number of schools and popularised the concept of Nai Taleem. In Bengal, Tagore established the Shantiniketan School. In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai set up the National College. In the (then) Frontier province, Haji Tonag Zai and Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan established a number of schools.

There were certain traits which were common among these institutions. The distinguishing features were their curricula, faculty, pedagogy and aim of education. All of these schools at aimed at inculcating love for the country, indigenous civilisation, local languages and the desire and confidence to liberate India from foreign rule. In the forthcoming articles I shall be writing in detail about each of these initiatives, which produced students who were proud of their own culture and country and who contributed to the freedom of India.


The writer is an educationist.

Email: shahidksiddiqui@gmail.com

Reflections on “Aadhe Adhoore Khawab”

Sonia Irum Farooq

Adhe Adhoore Khawab, is a dazzling critique of educational practices in Pakistan.  It distinguishes itself from contemporary Urdu fiction in terms of its content, diction, and style.  The story is about the journey of a devote teacher, Saharan Roy, who is selfless and gallant and puts his heart and soul to see his dreams fulfilled. His dreams are the dreams of those many individuals of our society who comprehend the potential of our youth and take a stand against the injustices of society. The story is an inspiration to young teachers to bring a change not only in society but in them by trusting in a critical and creative approach. The dreams of this man who realizes his responsibility as a teacher, friend, guide and reformer are bright but would lose their shine if not fulfilled and all he can foresee is darkness of life in the world of hollow men.

The story is an inspiration to young teachers to bring a change not only in society but in them by trusting in a critical and creative approach.

Imperialism and Indigenous Education, The News, 20 April, 2016

Published in the News: http://www.thenews.com.pk/print/113718-Imperialism-and-indigenous-education

by Shahid Siddiqui

In The Prison Notebooks, Gramsci builds his argument that hegemony can be attained through political or civil society. The political society uses a coercive approach through army, police and/or bureaucracy. The civil society, on the other hand, makes use of social institutions. The hegemony in this approach is attained with the help of education, language, literature and culture, etc.

In other words, the political society uses a coercive approach whereas the civil society employs a discursive approach. The discursive approach, linked with discourse, is more effective. Through this approach, powerful groups can control others’ minds and thought processes. Education is a significant tool of the discursive approach.

The history of imperialism tells us that imperialist powers used education indiscriminately as a tool to take control of colonised nations. This is done in a two-pronged way. First, by stigmatising the local way of life, education, language and culture, and then imposing their own (imperialist) educational system and language.

In my write up, ‘Development: The imperialist way’, published in these pages on March 7, 2016, the major argument put forward was that how the British converted the local development into ‘undevelopment’ and then glossed over it their own version of development. This argument can also be applied to the education realm in British India. Pre-British India had a comprehensive educational network which was affordable and accessible to the masses. (Please see my columns in these pages, ‘Indigenous Indian Education’ March 21, 2016 and ‘Education in Pre-British India’

Book Launch of Education Policies in Pakistan by Shahid Siddiqui

Book launch at Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF)                                                         Title education book

Title: Education policies in pakistan: Politics, Projections, and Practices     

Author: Shahid Siddiqui

Publisher: Oxford University press will be held on 16th April

Venue: Lok Virsa, Shakr parian Islamabad

Date: 16 April

Time: 1:30 p.m