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Education and social justice

What role does education play in realising the dream of social justice?
March 29: Education and society are considered to have an important relationship in which both inform, impact and transform each other. Education is viewed as a necessary condition for socio-economic development, emancipation and freedom; then there is its relationship with social justice.

Before delving further into this topic, it is important to understand the term 'social justice' since it has multiple meanings. An oversimplification of the term is to understand it as the execution of justice at the societal level. A more radical interpretation would have it refer to a just society where people have equal opportunities to exercise their freedoms and where there is no discrimination in the provision of justice on the basis of social class, gender, disability, ethnicity, colour and religion. So, what role does education play in realising the dream of social justice? Can an enhanced literacy rate guarantee social justice?

Before addressing these questions, it is important to look briefly at the place of education in society, for it has always been considered important in order to achieve certain objectives. These objectives were determined by different societies according to their priorities, which were in consonance with their times. Tracing the genesis of education we first come across religious education, focusing entirely on morality and leading one's life on the straight and narrow. As society progressed, pragmatism took centre place but there still remained voices in favour of aesthetics, reflection and critical thinking.

During the last three decades, however, the pace of change accelerated at a phenomenal ratio and objectives at the personal and societal level also changed rapidly. It is interesting to note that the corporate culture, in order to sell new commodities, made us aware of 'newfound needs'. With industrialisation and corporatisation, the expectation from education also changed and the objective became very specific: to produce efficient human beings to fit into the workforce required by society.

This objective continues to gain currency, and in contemporary times the major objective of education is to prepare an individual to find a job; 'quality education' is defined as education that prepares someone to find a better job with a better salary package.

This narrow objective had a strong impact on the nature, dynamics, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment of education. Education emerged as a powerful industry where schools, emulating the factory model, were turned into massive production centres churning out hundreds and thousands of students destined to become efficient members of a country's workforce.

With times thus changing, the notion of social justice also underwent a major change. According to Foucault, a French thinker, power and knowledge go together, with power in the better position to construct, advocate, perpetuate and validate a discourse. This discourse leads to a certain social reality or knowledge that justifies the action of power. It is through discourse that powerful groups in a society manage to gain hegemony over marginalised groups.

This is exactly what happened to the term 'social justice', which is now synchronised with the terms 'efficiency', 'productivity', 'globalisation', 'monitoring' and 'accountability'. Since these terms come from powerful organisation, they are considered undeniable truths and the education system, in order to achieve the corporate version of social justice, is producing mono-culture minds by offering only certain subjects, mechanical pedagogy, insensitive assessment practices and a highly quantitative system of evaluation.

Let me briefly explain these points. At the national level, it is considered that in enhanced literacy numbers lies the panacea for all educational ills. Decision-makers tend to forget that their notion of literacy is based on purely functional aspects of literacy, where reflection and critical thinking have no space to exist. Similarly, most educational institutions offer programmes in areas that are considered popular in the market. That is why the humanities and social sciences - which prepare an individual for social roles - are usually pushed to the back burner: the simple reason is that they are not considered market-oriented fields.

In addition to the choice of subjects, the actual pedagogical practices also play an important part in realising the objective of social justice. Interestingly, the teacher's role is further straitjacketed since in some schools the lesson plan is prepared at a central place and then copies are distributed to different branches. Critical thinking, which is considered a core attribute of quality education, gets buried under teacher-fronted, lecture-based pedagogy where the emphasis is on transmission rather than transformation. Meanwhile, in the prevalent methods of assessment, memory and recall skills are tested but the application of knowledge is barely assessed.

Such education can produce efficient and productive workers but not thinking human beings. Consequently our schools are further widening rather than reducing the gaps of economic disparity and social injustice. Education should be a precursor to emancipation, freedom and social justice; instead, it is engaged in the further stratification of society. The rich-poor divide is becoming sharper and more obvious in terms of access: 'quality education' is out of the reach of the poor.

Meanwhile the state seems to have given up and passed the buck to the private sector. Contemporary education imparted in mainstream schools is perpetuating the existing power structures and the dream of social justice becomes ever more distant - even though it could be realised through an educational system that is lively and relevant, and prepares students as thinking and responsible members of society instead of as productive technicians. Such an educational system is based on equal opportunities, mutual respect and recognition of the individual.

The writer is director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. -shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com (Dawn)

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Student bus service planned in capital
Islamabad: Though establishment of a mass transit system or public transport service in the federal capital seems a dream, the local administration has taken an initiative to provide transport facility to the students.

"The district administration has prepared PC-II for carrying out comprehensive study and research through experts or consultancy firms on provision of government transport facility for students of both government and private schools," said an official of the local administration on condition of anonymity.

If the plan is implemented, the facility will be first of its kind to be availed by the students.

The estimated cost of launching the 'student bus service' is said to be over Rs500 million, including purchase of 60 to 70 buses. It is believed that the expenditure on initiating the service is not as big as is required even for construction of a road but its benefits will be much bigger.

According to the concept, funding for the project would be acquired from the federal government and students of institutions under the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) and prominent private schools would be accommodated. "Buses would be plied in collaboration with the FDE and managements of private schools," the official said.

Consultancy firms would be invited soon through advertisements for submission of bids who would have to prepare the study in three months.

The study would provide details about total number of school-going students and how many can be accommodated under the bus service.

The local administration is hopeful that the service will minimise most of the problems confronting the students, their parents, school administrations and traffic controlling authorities.

The service will also provide safer mode of transportation to the students who are mostly compelled to travel on rooftops of buses.

Sources in the local administration said the idea of student bus service had been under consideration for the last one year but it could not be materialised due to bureaucratic hurdles and inordinate delay in decision making process by the top office of the local administration.

However, Commissioner Islamabad Tariq Pirzada reinitiated the case and got the PC-II prepared, they added.

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Student gets gold medal after six months
Peshawar: An outstanding student of the University of Peshawar at last got his gold medal after hectic efforts of about six months due to 'lethargic' attitude of the university administration.

Sahibzada Usman Mahmud, the final year student of MSc Economics, was declared eligible for the gold medal when he topped the examination in 2008-09. But he suffered a lot in receiving the gold medal due to uncooperative attitude of the university administration.

Sahibzada Usman said, "Fortunately I was declared eligible for a gold medal because I secured first position in the one-year MSc Economics programme 2007-08". The result was declared on 15 December, 2008.

Usually, gold medals are awarded to the top position holders in the convocation by the chancellor or vice-chancellor. The convocation was announced for 30th October, 2009 which couldn't take place due to worsening law and order situation.

In November 2009, he said, he wrote an application to degree section of UoP to receive the gold medal and MSc degree.

He also submitted the supporting documents, the distinction certificate clearly reflecting the first position, details marks certificate verified by the controller of examinations, the recommendations by the chairman of the department and Dean of Social Sciences. The preparation of these documents took about six months, he said.

Mr Usman said he was made to run from pillar to post to sign and countersign the documents. "I paid around 50 visits to the economics department and secretary of UoP. Each time the officials gave me new documents to be signed from the respective departments", he alleged.

Finally, he said he was awarded the gold medal on March 25 (Thursday). There were five other students who got the gold medals for securing top positions in different departments including Nosheen Umar, MSc Botany session-2008, Nigar Khan MCom, session-2008, Attaullah MA Quranic Studies, 2007, Shams ur Rehman MBA session 2002-03.

Mr Usman said, at least there should be a small gathering of students while awarding the gold medal. "The Controller Examinations Ifthikhar Hussein Khan simply handed me over the gold medal at his office", he said and termed it a joke with the prestigious award of gold medal.

The gold medalists were also given cheques of Rs5,000 by the account section of the UoP, he said, adding, the cheques were stale. Now the gold medalists have been asked to write an application to revalidate the cheques which could take a lot of time again, he said.

The Controller Examination Iftikhar Hussein was contacted on his cell phone but he didn't receive the call.

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IJT activist arrested
Peshawar: Police have arrested one of the accused charged in the murder case of a student of the University of Engineering and Technology.

An official of the Campus police station said that Nauman Khattak was arrested from his Takht Nusrati village, Karak district. He said Nauman was arrested by the Karak police and later handed over to the Peshawar police.

He said Nauman was also a student of the engineering university and living in the hostel.

He said Nauman was associated with the Islami Jamiat Talba.

He said the other nominated persons, Sibghatullah, Muqeemuddin, Umer Farooq, Mohammad Ibrahim, Zahid Khattak, Azizur Rehman, Fahad and Zulfiqar, were at large. Dawn

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