Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pakistani Academia's Growing Interest in Decolonizing Minds

There is increasing recognition in Pakistan and other nations colonized in the past by the West of the need to "decolonize knowledge" and to deal with the entrenched "injustices inherited" from colonial masters. Language is being recognized as a "library of ideas" essential for creation and transmission of knowledge in former colonies.

Habib University Conference:

Habib University, Pakistan's leading liberal arts institution of higher learning, is leading the way forward with "Postcolonial Higher Education Conference (PHEC)", an annual conference held each year at the university's Karachi campus since 2014. The conference attracts scholars from around the world.



This year’s PHEC's theme was “Inheritance of Injustice” to highlight the results of historical injustices seen today in many facets across the world, from economic and ecological to geo-political, according to a report in Newsline Magazine.  The conference featured top global academics from South Asia, Africa, the US and the UK.

The keynote at this year's conference was delivered by Dr. Mwangi wa Githinji professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Dr. Githinji discussed how “inherited economic, social, language and ecological structures have transmitted colonial injustice into the present.”

He suggested that “development still is understood in a deficit model based on dualities with the aim to move countries to be more like the ‘modern’ and ‘industrialized’ world” and called for education systems to also break out of their post-colonial inheritance to indigenizing systems in which “language is a library of ideas and telling a story allows us to create our own histories.”

Answering questions at the conference Professor Githinji said “liberal arts and sciences education allows us to become knowledge creators rather than just consumers. Part of this process requires a rethinking of our history, even before colonialization. Telling of a story is the creation of a memory.”

South African scholar Dr. Suren Pillay of the University of the Western Cape who also attended the conference said that the “intellectuals must struggle to decolonize knowledge, by not taking progress and civilization at face value, but by telling more multiple and messy stories that co-constitute the story of the modern state.”

Education to Colonize Minds:

Dr. Edward Said (1935-2003), Palestine-born Columbia University professor and the author of "Orientalism",  described it as the ethnocentric study of non-Europeans by Europeans.  Dr. Said wrote that the Orientalists see the people of Asia, Africa and the Middle East as “gullible” and “devoid of energy and initiative.” European colonization led to the decline and destruction of the prosperity of every nation they ruled. India is a prime example of it. India was the world's largest economy producing over a quarter of the world's GDP when the British arrived. At the end of the British Raj, India's contribution was reduced to less than 2% of the world GDP.

In his "Prison Notebooks", Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist theorist and politician, says that a class can exercise its power not merely by the use of force but by an institutionalized system of moral and intellectual leadership that promotes certain ideas and beliefs favorable to it.  For Gramsci "cultural hegemony" is maintained through the consent of the dominated class which assures the intellectual and material supremacy of the dominant class.

In "Masks of Conquest", author Gauri Viswanathan says that the British curriculum was introduced in India to "mask" the economic exploitation of the colonized. Its main purpose was to colonize the minds of the natives to sustain colonial rule.

Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his book "Decolonizing the Mind" talks about the "culture of apemanship and parrotry" among the natives trained by their colonial masters to maintain control of their former colonies in Africa. He argues that "the freedom for western finance capital and for the vast transnational monopolies under its umbrella to continue stealing from the countries and people of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Polynesia is today protected by conventional and nuclear weapons".

Cambridge Curriculum in Pakistan:

The colonial discourse of the superiority of English language and western education continues with a system of elite schools that uses Cambridge curriculum in Pakistan.

Over 270,000 Pakistani students from elite schools participated in Cambridge O-level and A-level International (CIE) exams in 2016, an increase of seven per cent over the prior year.

Cambridge IGCSE exams is also growing in popularity in Pakistan, with enrollment increasing by 16% from 10,364 in 2014-15 to 12,019 in 2015-16. Globally there has been 10% growth in entries across all Cambridge qualifications in 2016, including 11% growth in entries for Cambridge International A Levels and 8 per cent for Cambridge IGCSE, according to Express Tribune newspaper.

The United Kingdom remains the top source of international education for Pakistanis.  46,640 students, the largest number of Pakistani students receiving international education anywhere, are doing so at Pakistani universities in joint degree programs established with British universities, according to UK Council for International Student Affairs.

At the higher education level, the number of students enrolled in British-Pakistani joint degree programs in Pakistan (46,640) makes it the fourth largest effort behind Malaysia (78,850), China (64,560) and Singapore (49,970).

Teach Critical Thinking:

Pakistani educators and policy makers need to see the western colonial influences and their detrimental effects on the minds of youngsters. They need to promote liberal arts education and to do serious research to create knowledge. They need to improve learning by helping students learn to think for themselves critically. Such reforms will require students to ask more questions and to find answers for themselves through their own research rather than taking the words of their textbook authors and teachers as the ultimate truth.

Summary: 

There is increasing recognition in Pakistan and other nations colonized in the past by the West of the need to "decolonize knowledge" and to deal with the entrenched "injustices inherited" from the colonial masters.  Part of this post-colonial conversation is to stop being uncritical consumers of knowledge and narratives produced by the West and to encourage creation of local knowledge in the former colonies. This is a positive welcome trend toward real decolonization in Asia and Africa that I hope gathers serious momentum with more liberal arts centers of learning like the Karachi-based Habib University in the near future.

Here's an interesting discussion of the legacy of the British Raj in India as seen by writer-diplomat Shashi Tharoor:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN2Owcwq6_M




Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Day: Freeing the Colonized Minds

Alam vs Hoodbhoy

Inquiry Based Learning

Dr. Ata ur Rehman Defends Higher Education Reform

Pakistan's Rising College Enrollment Rates

Pakistan Beat BRICs in Highly Cited Research Papers

Launch of "Eating Grass: Pakistan's Nuclear Program"

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan

Impact of Industrial Revolution

Hindutva: Legacy of British Raj


6 comments:

Shams S. said...

The true definition of development is what we see here in the US, China, Russia, and Western part of Europe.

Here, liberal arts majors typically end up as a filing clerks, George W Bush and Donald Trump excluded.

Riaz Haq said...

Shams: " The true definition of development is what we see here in the US, China, Russia, and Western part of Europe. "

The fact that most 4 year engineering/pre-med colleges in the United States require a substantial number of general education credits is testament to the importance of liberal arts education in areas such as language and history.

Understanding history is important for people to know who they are and where they from. It helps them celebrate their heritage and avoid the past mistakes to guide them to a better future.

Liberal arts education helps students to analyze and think critically and communicate ideas effectively.

Ideas are the foundation of a civilized society....ideas such as democracy, justice, rule-of-law and peaceful coexistence that are essential for peace and security, development and growth.

Steve G. said...

Dear Riaz,

I would have loved to have attended that conference. I have spent just over 26 years of my professional life living and working in “developing countries” that were once colonies of the British, The Spanish, the Portuguese, and the French.

I have occasionally taught Biology 101 to first year university students. It’s a mandatory course with very few students having any intention of becoming biologists. As an attempt to stimulate some interest in my lectures, I start the first class with the origin of food. Most young people are unaware that potatoes came from the Andes, maize from Mesoamerica, black-eyed peas from Africa, chili peppers and tomatoes from Central America, mangoes from South Asia, bananas from Papua New Guinea, and coffee from the Sufi monks of Yemen.

If our national diets have changed so drastically in a mere five centuries, then I wonder if cultures have also flowed in two directions: did the Vietnamese teach the French how to cook, and did Ghana give the English their sense of humor?

Riaz Haq said...

Steve: " If our national diets have changed so drastically in a mere five centuries, then I wonder if cultures have also flowed in two directions: did the Vietnamese teach the French how to cook, and did Ghana give the English their sense of humor?"

You rightly point out some of the benefits of interaction between cultures as a result of normal global movement of people across regions and continents.

Colonialism is the worst form of such interaction in which one side, the colonial master, has all the power to extract benefits and deprive the other party, the colonized, of their most basic rights as human beings.

Riaz Haq said...

Western philosophy is racist

Academic philosophy in ‘the West’ ignores and disdains the thought traditions of China, India and Africa. This must change

https://aeon.co/essays/why-the-western-philosophical-canon-is-xenophobic-and-racist

ainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. I know I am levelling a serious charge. But how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?
Western philosophy used to be more open-minded and cosmopolitan. The first major translation into a European language of the Analects, the saying of Confucius (551-479 BCE), was done by Jesuits, who had extensive exposure to the Aristotelian tradition as part of their rigorous training. They titled their translation Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, or Confucius, the Chinese Philosopher (1687).
One of the major Western philosophers who read with fascination Jesuit accounts of Chinese philosophy was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). He was stunned by the apparent correspondence between binary arithmetic (which he invented, and which became the mathematical basis for all computers) and the I Ching, or Book of Changes, the Chinese classic that symbolically represents the structure of the Universe via sets of broken and unbroken lines, essentially 0s and 1s. (In the 20th century, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung was so impressed with the I Ching that he wrote a philosophical foreword to a translation of it.) Leibniz also said that, while the West has the advantage of having received Christian revelation, and is superior to China in the natural sciences, ‘certainly they surpass us (though it is almost shameful to confess this) in practical philosophy, that is, in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life and the use of mortals’.
The German philosopher Christian Wolff echoed Leibniz in the title of his public lecture Oratio de Sinarum Philosophia Practica, or Discourse on the Practical Philosophy of the Chinese (1721). Wolff argued that Confucius showed that it was possible to have a system of morality without basing it on either divine revelation or natural religion. Because it proposed that ethics can be completely separated from belief in God, the lecture caused a scandal among conservative Christians, who had Wolff relieved of his duties and exiled from Prussia. However, his lecture made him a hero of the German Enlightenment, and he immediately obtained a prestigious position elsewhere. In 1730, he delivered a second public lecture, De Rege Philosophante et Philosopho Regnante, or On the Philosopher King and the Ruling Philosopher, which praised the Chinese for consulting ‘philosophers’ such as Confucius and his later follower Mengzi (fourth century BCE) about important matters of state.
Chinese philosophy was also taken very seriously in France. One of the leading reformers at the court of Louis XV was François Quesnay (1694-1774). He praised Chinese governmental institutions and philosophy so lavishly in his work Despotisme de la China (1767) that he became known as ‘the Confucius of Europe’. Quesnay was one of the originators of the concept of laissez-faire economics, and he saw a model for this in the sage-king Shun, who was known for governing by wúwéi (non-interference in natural processes). The connection between the ideology of laissez-faire economics and wúwéi continues to the present day. In his State of the Union address in 1988, the US president Ronald Reagan quoted a line describing wúwéi from the Daodejing, which he interpreted as a warning against government regulation of business. (Well, I didn’t say that every Chinese philosophical idea was a good idea.)

Riaz Haq said...

Don’t Panic, Liberal Arts Majors. The Tech World Wants You.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/books/review/you-can-do-anything-george-anders-liberal-arts-education.html

Surely one day the ability to interface directly with the nanomachinery connected to our brains will render computer science as we know it obsolete. When experts start arguing for its continued relevance, undergraduates choosing a major will begin to realize that the obscure art of manually punching arcane symbols into keyboards is no longer a safe bet. At the present moment, however, it is only liberal arts majors who have to wonder whether all of the articles and books promoting the marketability of their chosen discipline should make them more or less uneasy about the future. Two additions to this growing field have appeared just in time to try to soothe the post-graduation panic that some within the class of 2017 may be experiencing: George Anders’s “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education” and Randall Stross’s “A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees.”

According to both Anders and Stross, the ever-expanding tech sector is now producing career opportunities in fields — project management, recruitment, human relations, branding, data analysis, market research, design, fund-raising and sourcing, to name some — that specifically require the skills taught in the humanities. To thrive in these areas, one must be able to communicate effectively, read subtle social and emotional cues, make persuasive arguments, adapt quickly to fluid environments, interpret new forms of information while translating them into a compelling narrative and anticipate obstacles and opportunities before they arise. Programs like English or history represent better preparation, the two authors argue, for the demands of the newly emerging “rapport sector” than vocationally oriented disciplines like engineering or finance. Though it does not automatically land one in a particular career, training in the humanities, when pitched correctly, will ultimately lead to gainful and fulfilling employment. Indeed, by the time they reach what Stross terms the “peak earning ages,” 56-60, liberal arts majors earn on average $2,000 more per year than those with pre-professional degrees (if advanced degrees in both categories are included).

While “You Can Do Anything” and “A Practical Education” supply useful talking points in support of the financial viability of studying the liberal arts, they may arouse more fear than hope. Both feature myriad anecdotes of job searches, all with happy endings, but the journey there invariably proves daunting, circuitous and chancy. Moreover, the reality that apparently favors liberal arts majors is precisely what makes the current job market so forbidding: extreme precariousness. Trained to be flexible and adaptable, these students are well equipped, according to Anders, to navigate an unstable job market, where companies, fields and sometimes whole industries rise and fall at a nauseating clip, where automation is rendering once coveted skills redundant and where provisional short-term jobs, freelance assignments, part-time gigs, unpaid internships and self-employment are replacing long-term, full-time salaried positions that include rights and benefits protected by unions. While Anders, a contributing writer at Forbes magazine, clearly wants the best for recent liberal arts graduates, his pep talk often consists of rebranding the treacherous market conditions of the 21st century as part of a thrilling new frontier. Instability can promote “quirky-job-hopping” and greater “autonomy.” Recent liberal arts graduates who find these conditions less than inviting, Anders says, simply need to discover the proper spirit of adventure — the same spirit that led them to their chosen field of study. But somehow it seems unlikely that his analogy to white-water rafting will get them excited to send out yet another batch of cover letters and résumés.