In defence of the uneducated – by Iqbal Jafar

Originally published in Dawn
A FALSE, even perverse, assumption, if allowed to go unchallenged for a period of time can become part of conventional wisdom.

If it is significant enough it can even find place as an accepted premise in the national discourse. Through this imperceptible process the uneducated Pakistanis have now become the most maligned people in the world.

They are routinely held responsible, in Pakistan and elsewhere, for all sorts of evils — religious intolerance, suicide bombing, dysfunctional democracy, lawlessness, poverty and much else — and are a convenient excuse for the colossal failures of the ruling class, caused by its own insatiable greed and endemic indolence.

The educated Pakistanis, most of whom are ill-educated or miseducated due to an insular curriculum prescribed by more ‘educated’ Pakistanis, tend to believe that but for the burden of illiterate Pakistanis, which they think they carry, they could resolve the problems that have remained intractable so far. Now, what could those problems be, whose resolution is being prevented by this wild horde of ‘unwashed, uncouth, uneducated’ Pakistanis?

Are they the ones who prevent the rich from paying their taxes? Are they the ones who keep nagging the rich and the powerful to have their loans written off ever so often? Are they the ones who have contrived the bankruptcy of even the biggest and most viable state enterprises like Pakistan Steel, Pakistan Railways and PIA? Are they the ones who have received millions of dollars in kickback by buying submarines at twice the real cost?

Are they the ones who run drug, land and arms mafias? Do they oppose appointments on merit and, instead, get their clueless sons, daughters, cousins, nephews and friends appointed as state functionaries? Where would Pakistan be if none of these things was to happen?

The truth is that unlike the ruling class, the illiterate Pakistanis are not social parasites. The reality is just the opposite. They grow food, and are starved themselves. They build houses but often remain homeless. They build schools whose classrooms, they know, their children would never see. They build hospitals where, they know, they would not be looked after. They live at below sustenance level so that others may live in opulence. Even so they are not the ones to cause hatred and discord, unlike the regionalist politicians, sectarian clerics, parochial bureaucrats and the self-appointed guardians of faith and frontier in the military.

By a lucky chance I had the opportunity of being in contact for about 15 years with rural Pakistan, where most of the uneducated Pakistanis live. Over the years I developed a distinct impression that those persons were hardly ever motivated by any kind of hate. I was also impressed by their native wisdom and their natural gift of common sense that had not been distorted or debased by miseducation. However, these were personal impressions, not supported by any kind of evidence that a social scientist would accept. That inadequacy has now been partially overcome.

Recently a survey was conducted by a team of Herald “to pick the brains of 15-to-25-five-years-olds from a broad cross-section of society, from uneducated labourers to Masters degree holders…”. The survey, published in this year’s annual issue of Herald, offers some astonishing conclusions for those who take a dim view of the mindset of uneducated Pakistanis. There is empirical evidence, as we shall presently see, that the uneducated Pakistanis are far more liberal and tolerant than those who haven’t gone beyond school level (matriculates being the most conservative), and are often on the same page as those who have done their Masters!

This is incredible but true. The reason, according to the survey, is that “those who go through the country’s schools and then leave the educational system — after being taught a certain version of Pakistani history but perhaps before developing critical and independent thinking skills — have the most conservative values”. But the evidence gathered indicates that the problem is not confined to the schools and seminaries alone but could extend to colleges and universities.

Here are the responses to these key questions that give some idea of the mindset of the educated and uneducated youth. To the question whether they favoured a secular state, 27 per cent of the uneducated and 31 per cent of the postgraduates replied in the affirmative, but only 12 per cent of the matriculates did so. To the question whether they favoured the punishment of flogging, stoning to death and amputation, 45 per cent of the matriculates and even 39 per cent of the postgraduates replied in the affirmative, while only 25 per cent of the uneducated did so.

Most astonishing were the responses to the question whether suicide attacks in Pakistan were justified. Looking at the responses the survey team concluded that: “The prize for most peace-loving goes to the uneducated — not a single respondent who falls in that bucket thinks suicide attacks in Pakistan are justified.” What is astonishing is that while not a single respondent amongst the uneducated supported suicide attacks, 11 per cent of the matriculates and six per cent even among the postgraduates did support suicide attacks.

These figures, while they do vindicate the uneducated Pakistanis, are a telling indictment of the kind of education imparted in our educational institutions, at all levels, not just the schools and seminaries. Given these facts, it doesn’t require much imagination to conclude that education in Pakistan has been distorted and medievalised to such an extent and so extensively that it can abort the birth of modern Pakistan. If that ever happens, it won’t be because of the uneducated Pakistanis.



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