Whither education?

Yesterday, January 29, was the day Dr. Mohammad Abdus Salam – till recently Pakistan's only Nobel Laureate – was born. Dr. Salam was a physicist who contributed to electroweak unification (Google it.It is very important!). 

There were no mentions in the media.No ceremonies or accolades. Because he was from the Ahmadiyya Community and left Pakistan due to persecution a long time ago.

The following ironic tweet explains it best:

Our second and the world's youngest Nobel Laureate,Malala, was also run out of the country because her life was still in danger. For some strange and unforeseeable reason, she also seems to be disliked by many, particularly those educated "moderates" who are – or used to be – Taliban apologists.

It seems that we just do not like people who make us famous through educational achievement. Dr. Salam was a great scientist who did a lot to advance our knowledge of the universe. And Malala is someone who supports and promotes the cause of education, especially girls’ education.

Meanwhile, it was reported recently that Rs. 300 million in foreign aid had been given to 80 madrassas during 2013-2014– just 80! The mind boggles thinking about the amount all of themadrassas across the country must have received!

These are the same madrassas, where people like Dr Salam are termed kafir. This funding, in all probability, also went to the type of madrassas that breed people like those who shot Malala.

Our latest esteemed leader Mr. Imran Khan said recently that in his new Pakistan more money will be given to madrassas, to ensure furthering of religious education. No Mr. Khan, more religious education is not needed. In fact, as I have said previously here madrassas should be made to provide science, math, and technology education that will take the country into the next century.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's education budget keeps decreasing (from Rs. 87.8 billion in 2013-2014 to Rs. 78.9 billion in 2014-2015, when adjusted for inflation – a decrease of 11%).

Shouldn't this be the priority? Shouldn't more funding be given to the education system to bring it at par with the rest of the world?

Between Dr. Salam and Malala there were no other Nobel Laureates. In the meantime, we seem to consider our biggest scientific achievements to be the atomic bomb and the ‘water kit’ car. What is wrong with this picture? The fact that we collectively as a nation do not consider education to be the most important aspect of human life.

We are still reveling in the glories of our Islamic past, without realizing that it was the idea of learning more about the world that led to many of the achievements ascribed to the Muslims of that time.

So let's start with ensuring that our education system gives rise to people who dare to raise questions and strive to answer them. Let's stop worrying about the fact that religious education is being ignored -  because it is not – and start worrying about the fact that all other kinds of education is not being promoted in the manner that it should be. Let's inculcate critical thinking, so that we can have more people like Dr. Salam. Let's start respecting people for their achievements and not for their faith. Because what makes us human is our ability to think and our ability to make sense of our world. And this ability must progress through the education system.For me Dr. Salam is a hero, and I pay tribute to him today by standing up for the promotion of scientific knowledge. Happy Birthday Dr. Salaam. Some of us remember you and hope that this country will produce more like you in the future.

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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