Our Education System, A historical Essay by Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam
The main goal of our education system should have been to strengthen our sense of belonging to a single country, the concept of unity and nationhood.
In 1989, Government College Lahore was celebrating 125 years since its establishment. Editor “Hum Sabb” decided to celebrate the 125th anniversary with the memorable number “Ravi.” This issue also had a special article about our education system by Dr. Abdus Salam, the only Nobel Laureate Pakistani scientist. This historical writing is the effort of a great mind, so it has depth of knowledge and breadth of sincerity. With courtesy from “Hum Sabb” at your service, here are some excerpts from this 34-year-old work, translated from Urdu to English.
Dr. Abdus Salam’s words continue here.
I came to Cambridge in 1946 after doing my MA from Government College, Lahore. In a Cambridge classroom, students sit in the same way that worshipers sit in a mosque before prayer. A silence precedes the arrival of the lecturer.
In the middle of a lecture, an English student will be using a pen with four different inks and a roller to draw straight lines. His note-taking copies will be carefully written as if by a professional calligrapher.
The students next to me had come straight from the schools, all younger than me, but they had the kind of self-confidence and ambition that it took me at least two years to develop. He came from an environment in which every teacher in his schools used to send good students off to Cambridge, saying, dear, you are a child of the nation in which Newton was born. And the knowledge of mathematics is your legacy, you can be a Newton if you want.
The style of discipline at Cambridge was also new to me. You can take the Cambridge BA exam only once in your life. If you fail, God willing, then it is not possible to take the exam a second time.
The discipline of the hostel was that you could stay out of the college till 10 pm without permission. A fine of one penny between ten and twelve o’clock, but if you come after twelve o’clock there will be seven days’ gating, and if it happens three times during the year you will be expelled from Cambridge.
At Cambridge, every student is considered an adult and is fully responsible for all their actions. At Cambridge, these strictures were lifted from 1968 onwards. A Cambridge student is used to working with his hands.
I remember the first day when I went to St. Johns College, I took a taxi from the railway station, but when I reached the college, I called the porter and said that this is my box. He said that it is Wheel Borrow, take it to your room.
I am not reciting these old stories for personal gain. I want to make some suggestions on the subject of education and knowledge, and in this regard these stories are part of my essay.
Our education and economic development are closely related; educational backwardness, and especially poor education, is the problem of the whole nation. I understand the crisis that Pakistan is going through right now. The main reason for this is that the nation has not paid attention to its education system.
The primary function of the education system is considered to be the shaping of individual character. The foundation of character that is formed in college can hardly change throughout life, but in this essay I will not discuss personal character. My focus is on the national aspects of our education system.
In Pakistan’s 40-year (this article was written in 1989) history, the most important issue has been nationality. The creation of Pakistan was a miracle. After two hundred years of slavery, the Holy Lord gave us a land where we could build as we wanted. But during this long period, they could not create a sense of unity, a sense of brotherhood, or a sense of nationalism. Therefore, this holy person considered us unworthy and withdrew that blessing and trust from us in its original form.
After Pakistan was made, the main goal of our education system should have been to strengthen our sense of belonging to a single country. The concept of unity and nationhood has changed over time. In terms of today’s concept, there are many examples of countries and nations in the world whose stability is solely due to their education system.
Take the US situation for example. English, Irish, German, Italian, Swedish, French, all tribes live in America. These are the people who have given their lives in Second World Wars for their separate nationality in Europe. Their languages were different before coming to America. Religions were different and still are, but America’s education system has melted these tribes into a single nationality like a crucible.
Every child is taught the American Constitution in school. American heroes speak for themselves. Day and night, he listens to American anthems. Writers, poets, and fiction writers write in such a way that the love of every region of America is stirred in the citizens. An American citizen is not only taught to love his city, but he also considers himself a citizen of thousands of other American cities.
He no longer fits the streets of distant Europe, where he or his ancestors came from. It has to do with its region to which its food, its employment and its every resource belong. He strives to grow and shine the region through schools, colleges, newspapers, magazines and television.
Currently, Pakistan consists of four provinces. In terms of language, history, food, clothing, and culture, West Pakistan is one of the most homogeneous regions in the world. Believe it or not, Scotland, Wales, and England have longer distances. Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the border are relatively close to each other.
Like America, our education system, our curriculum can highlight our love for this land. I would like to express a personal wish. I would like a new Urdu to be born in Pakistan, a combination of Old Urdu, Pashto, English, Punjabi and the unique dialect of Jhang. Which will increase the sense of unity and nationhood. There is a need for our education system to consciously highlight the sense of unity.
My second request is about technical and science education. Pakistan is economically backward. An American earns fifty times more than us. Twenty times more than the average income in England, eight times more than most of Iran, eight times more than Iraq, Algeria, Syria, and Egypt have per capita incomes that are six times higher than ours. Why are we so poor nationally?
Granted, America is lucky. The Americans found an empty land rich in natural and mineral resources, but the questioner may ask us how we became the slaves of the British. If the Englishman was familiar with the art of sailing, and we were not, who taught him this art?
If Clive’s Flint Locks rifles, guns and cannons were of such superior quality that the match locks of Siraj-ud-Daula could not compete with them, who bequeathed this art of gun-making to the British? This art was not invented by this nation itself. After this art was invented, did not the British themselves promote it in their nation through education?
The victory in the field of Panipat was due to Babur’s Roman artillery. Even after 1526, the Roman Turks continued to conduct research in this art, but Babur’s descendants were unable to establish a regular laboratory for the advancement of the art of cannon making.
You visit Constantinople. The concept of the mosque of the Roman Turks in his time was that every Royal University would have a hospital on one side and a seminary on the other side. This seminary will not only be a religious school, it will also have cannon making experiments. Unfortunately, the Turks who came to Pakistan and India had relatively little interest in knowledge. They left their monuments, shrines and tombs like the Taj Mahal etc. No seminaries and laboratories.
What if God himself opened a new continent to the Americans and blessed them with a new home? It was not the reward for their tenacity that drove them to brave the storms in search of new continents in the endless seas.
If today Japan has surprised the world with its technology, no giants have descended to teach it. There was a time when Japan’s wealth was considered ineffective in the world markets, now it has the highest reputation in technical terms.
British Layland produced the Mini Morris car. The Japanese have made the same cars. Instead of 1000 cc, Japan develops the same power with a half-sized engine of 600 cc. How does this happen?
Honda assembles hundreds of engineers. The same kind of engineers who come out of Mughalpura with degrees. They get a stipend of one year, during which they are required to develop this new engine. Use your skills. This is their life and death.
Forty years ago, Professor Townes of America invented the transistor. He received the Nobel Prize for this invention. Attempts to break his patent began in the universities of Tokyo and were so successful that since then the Japanese have been king of electronics. Not only did he rediscover that invention, but he also published a copy of it in general papers, so that whether he was Pakistani, Arab, Iranian, he could develop transistor technology.
Who are the Japanese people of knowledge? You will not believe that these are the same people who were not familiar with the art of shoeing horses in the early nineteenth century. When American Admiral Perry brought his warships to Japan in the last century and the Japanese tried to stop them, a few barrages from the ship’s cannons forced the Japanese to open their port.
Reportedly stolen from an American admiral’s ship. It was the theft of a horse. The horse disappeared during the night and was returned the next day. The Japanese were eager to look closely at his shoes and learn shoe making. At that time, their metallurgy had not reached the extent to make iron shoes.
Today, matriculation season in Japan is known as suicide season. Future admissions are based on the results of this exam. But its standard is so high that children of this age do not take higher level exams in mathematics, physics, chemistry in any other country of the world. During these exams, the secrets of the papers are not revealed, there are no strikes, the doors and glasses of the examination centers are not broken. The whole nation, all teachers, parents, students suffer from Examination Fever. Then these people accept the results of these tests in their own way.
Many years ago I was fortunate enough to visit China. A student enters middle school in China at the age of twelve and ends at the age of seventeen. Think of these middle schools as the intermediate colleges of my student days. During these five years of compulsory education, every Chinese learns twelve subjects, none of which are optional. These are the twelve subjects:
1. Patriotism 2. Chinese language 3. Two foreign languages English, Russian, or Japanese 4. Agriculture, 5. Mathematics, 6. Physics, 7. Chemistry, and 8. Biology 9. History; 10. Geography 11. Workshop Practice. Each student reads twelve subjects out of twelve. (Now this map may have changed)
During my student days, it was said that a Muslim does not read mathematics. Nowadays, it is said that half of Pakistani brains are capable of calculus, physics, or chemistry. The structure of the remaining 50% of brains is such that these subjects cannot fit into them. The Chinese have decided that 100% of students will study both science and arts.
You might think that the result of this compulsory teaching of science would be that the standard of these subjects would be lower than our intermediate standard for a 16/17 year old student. To test this, I attended one-hour lessons in both physics and mathematics. In mathematics, I was amazed when I saw fourteen-year-old students reading Orders of Infinity. This is the subject we teach in BA.
China is determined to adopt every industrial technique. His new national life began two years after ours, in 1949. But the result of his determination is that, in these forty years, he has built sophisticated machine tools at the national level. MIG makes 21 aircraft. Every Chinese student spends one day a week during their school and university days in the workshop.
In the school I visited, there was a group of fourteen to sixteen students making Transistor Components. Another group was preparing Potassium Carbonate from mineral form to titration and bottling it for market. A group of four twelve-year-old students were busy cutting their classmates’ hair.
In one room, four twelve-year-old children were busy repairing the shoes of the other students by taking three cents. One of them spoke up. You look at the windows of this room, they are covered with curtains. When we first started repairing shoes, we used to shy away from handling smelly shoes. Curtains were kept on the windows. Gradually, we are no longer ashamed of this hard work.
It is important that we are productive during our student life, not parasites. I asked again and again in madrasas, colleges and universities that it was accepted that all the factories are owned by the government, but you guys work in the education department, the factories will be owned by the private sector. You’ll need grants to do all of this, here’s how it’s managed.
In our case, if the principal or headmaster wants to meet the Deputy Commissioner, the workers stop him. How do you solve these types of problems? Believe me, when I asked questions, I could not understand them as questions. His answer was always that our society is built on the principle that every individual will help a good idea wherever he is. How can it be that any officer or functionary of the government becomes a hindrance in any way?
In China’s statement, I strayed too far from my subject. Skills can spread throughout their nation if the Chinese don’t think of their nation as mentally retarded and expect every child to learn some kind of science and some skill to increase it, and if all nations reduce their poverty. If they are treating them in the same way, are there any lessons for us in this?
You will say that poverty itself is such a curse that if a person is hungry, naked, then there is no attention towards increasing his mental abilities. In this regard, I do not forget an incident in Germany.
In 1947, I was a student at Cambridge. Germany was defeated. The German nation was in ruins. A party of students from Cambridge and other universities was invited by the American Control Commission to see the condition of the German. Around 500 students arrived in Munich from all over Europe.
There was not a building in the city that was intact, so it seemed that the Germans were not living in houses but in buildings. Tents were pitched for us in a city park. In this city of tents, I heard that a German was looking for me. It is known that he is a Research Scholar. By that time, he was getting a monthly salary of maybe 25 rupees. With this advertisement, he could probably eat a day’s bread.
A bony frame, during the war he was employed in a prisoner of war camp where some Punjabi prisoners were also held. He learned Punjabi language from these Punjabi prisoners. In 1947, this German was compiling a Punjabi-German dictionary. His total capital in the Punjabi language was one copy of Heer Waris Shah and one copy of Dalla Bhatti, printed in Lahore and in a worn condition.
Hearing that there is a Punjabi in the city. That German was looking for me to explain some difficult points in Dalla Bhatti. Unfortunately, these places were also difficult for me, and this poor person’s desire remained unfulfilled.
Consider this incident. I don’t know whether that dictionary was published or not. Even if published, how many people use it? But this is the story of a knowledge-loving nation. A nation whose entire asset is knowledge. Knowledge of science, knowledge of technology, knowledge of languages, and then a nation whose people are determined that even if it is meaningless to write a German Punjabi dictionary, they will not spend their time playing cards. Will not do strikes, will not watch movies, will not consider their university time as play time, learn knowledge and create knowledge. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us too.
Regarding nation-building, I was referring to China. I want to repeat a story. This story is told by Chairman Mao and you will hear it in every Chinese language. In the olden days, there lived an old man in the north of China. His name was “Peer Kum Aql”. The direction of the old man’s house was towards the south, but in front of his door stood the two great mountains of “Ne Hong” and “Wang Du,” due to which the rays of the sun never reached his house.
One day, the old man called his young sons and said to them, let us dig this mountain away. His neighbor whose name was “Pir Daneshwar” said to the foolish old man. “Hey Mr., I knew that you were stupid, but I did not think that you would be so dumb.” How will you be able to remove these two mountains by digging?
The foolish old man said, you are right, but if I die, then my sons are after them, their sons after their death, their sons after their death. This cycle will continue forever. The mountains won’t get much longer, they will get shorter with each dig. It will not increase. One day, this curse will be removed from our door. The same night, two angels came and removed the curse from these two mountains.
My submission is that the curses of society are like these two mountains. Try to remove them from your sphere of influence with patience. The Holy Spirit of Allah will have mercy on your efforts. Do not worry whether your attempt will succeed or not. You should do your duty; the pure personality of God Almighty will shower many blessings on them. I think that we have taken the wrong meaning from Iqbal’s philosophy of self and have become more individualistic. And they started avoiding working for the nation.
Elevate yourself so much that before every destiny, Ask the servant of God himself and tell him what is your pleasure
It did not mean that we put our own interests first and gave secondary status to the nation. However, this has been the case.