A Question about the attitudes of Indian Muslim elite toward mass education and their conequences


One of my friends gave following as the reason for the abysmal failure of the state in Pakistan to put in place a functional system of public education:

leadership is at the heart of the failure in education. Implication: good and smart leadership can resolve the problems.” Elaborating on this further in his note to me, he kept going: “Take a look at Zimbabwe. For about 10 years after independence (in 1980), Zimbabwe’s education system expanded and became one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, the leadership started trying to control the economy, corruption increased, school funding went down, schools started charging fees (starting in 1980 there was “free” education), students protested (particularly at the universities), the government retrenched and became heavy-handed, and the economy declined. Now Zimbabwe has sub-standard schools to the extent that the country ranked at the very bottom of the latest UNDP list. There’s a tendency to relate education to the economy, but I believe it is more an issue of leadership. You must know which country has the best education system in Latin America and the Caribbean: Cuba. They also have the best health care system in the region. The Castro are almost always criticized in the West, but they did a remarkable job of transitioning to mass education and health care. Why can’t more countries do it? Absence of a far sighted and imaginative leadership can be one strong possible factor. I wish Pakistan would get better leadership. There are plenty of smart people who could do the job well.

I could only agree partially.  My reasons for only partially agreeing to his explanation were having to do with my perceptions about the general attitudes toward mass [and modern for want of a better word] education, not just in Pakistan, but possibly also in some other Muslim countries as well. It was possible that those attitudes toward mass public education were independent of the quality of leadership. Of course, I was not discounting exceptions here, such as perhaps Malaysia. But I thought we needed to delve deeper into the early reaction of the leaders in the Muslim countries towards modernity which differed from other [I mean non-Muslim] post-colonial societies.

Modernity did not just arrive in Muslim lands as a set of traveling ideas. It arrived in the wake of invasions by European powers. It challenged and changed the existing configurations of power in the Muslim world; indeed, it brought the then Islamic state and its entire apparatus down. The Islamic state was a legalistic state and the madrassa aimed at producing the interpreters of Sharia law. With modern education becoming the route to government jobs [and upward mobility in general] in the colonial state, a schism developed in Muslim societies between some who welcomed the new education and the opportunities associated with it and others who resisted it. I believe that this division was not a conspiracy by the colonial state – it just accompanied its development. Religious schools, under this new set of circumstances, became not only the source of law (which now stood apart from the law of the state) but also that of resistance to the emerging colonial (and now post-colonial) order.

Is it true, as some suggest, that in the case of India, the Muslims which responded favorably to modernity consisted mostly of the so-called “high born” Muslims; and that for them, the immediate issue at stake was preservation of their own status under the British Raj? If so, the present inequities in education in Pakistan may have a lot to do with the early attitudes of Indian Muslim elite toward mass education.

So the QUESTION is, were the initial conditions under which the very notion of ‘public education’ fell, different in the emerging liberal democracies such as the United States and the colonized countries? If so, what enduring influences, if any, did these different initial conditions have on attitudes toward education in general, and mass education in particular?

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About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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