By Shoaib Hashmi
Sages, and ordinary
people, have been advising against it for ages.
It is a waste of time, silly and an exercise in
futility. But my friends have never been daunted
by such unsolicited advice, and one of them once
set out to prove them all wrong.
He wanted to reinvent the wheel! He was serious
and diligent, and he is clever, and after much thought
and experiment, he did come up with a new design
for -- a square wheel. He insisted that it was an
improvement on the old design because it could be
crafted with four straight cuts of the saw, and
you didn't have to muck about drawing circles with
compasses and making them on fretsaws and jigsaws
and lathes and stuff. He even got them to try it
out, and they agreed the making was easier, but
the use was not because it was too bumpy. He went
back to the drawing board and worked some more,
and came back triumphant with a brand new design
which he insisted was even better than his last.
This was a Triangular wheel! When we asked how this
was an improvement on the last design, he crowed,
"It eliminates one bump per revolution"! You cannot
argue with solid logic! Now he has been followed
by a whole plethora of high-powered organizations
like the Federal Education Ministry, the provincial
governments, the Senate bodies of a dozen or so
universities, and above all the vaunted Higher Education
Commission. They have all been killing themselves
reinventing the wheel. The case in point is the
bachelor's degree and the time required to gain
one. For almost two centuries, we have got by with
the old Brit system of education in which you went
to school for ten years, spent an additional two
at college, and went on to the two-year graduation
It is no matter that for a thousand years before
that, we had done even better with the older 'Madrassah'
system of schooling. That was the ancient way because
the word comes from the Aramaic Darsh which means
a lesson and is at the root of the Hebrew Midrash.
It was still in use, for religious education at
least until my youth, when you heard of degrees
with quaint names like 'Adeeb Alim' and 'Munshi
Faazil'. We scoffed at it, but in its time that
system did give us Hafiz and Rumi, not to mention
Ibn-e-Sina! But as I said for some time we had done
all right with the Brit system -- until we started
mucking around with it.
First at the lower end with decades of pre-school
and pre-pre-school and what not; so you had to register
your kid for school before he was a twinkle in your
eye, and he was middle aged before he matriculated.
Then the Americans got at the other end and insisted
that a bachelor's degree was four years and a two-year
degree just wouldn't do. I tried to tell a few people
that our degree did take four years, only we called
the first two years 'FA' but no one ever listened.
Then first the UGC and then the HEC jumped into
the fray. First they simply tried to extend the
degree to four years; and the parents baulked. They
were darned if they were going to pay four years
worth of tuition fees for a degree which their fathers
got in two.
So they compromised and, I think, now the system
is that the degree is four years, but you can get
it in three if you put your nose to the grindstone
and take all the required courses in two years.
Some people made the offer that they would not only
put nose to the grindstone but would also bust their
butts and take all the courses in two years -- or
one! So committees are meeting to reconsider the
whole schmozzle again. Forgive my cynicism, but
surely the worth and value of a degree should lie
in what you are taught and what you learn and know,
and not in the amount of time you spent.
I know any number of people who went to school for
decades and are still as ignorant as the driven
snow. But no one is listening still, and instead
a degree has been defined as a certain number of
'Hours of Class Contact'. It is the New Year and
I will follow my resolution and be a dog of the
wrong gender and remind you of the old story. This
group of yuppies was having a wild party, and the
hosts' nine-year old son who was asleep upstairs
woke up, came down and wanted to join the fun.
The parents took him up and tried everything. They
gave him toys and comics and cartoons on the telly,
but he kept trotting down. Eventually a wise old
uncle took matters in hand, he took the boy up,
talked for two minutes and came down and the parents
didn't hear a peep out of the kid for three days!
They asked the uncle what magical formula he had
used and he told them. He'd taught the boy to play
with himself, if you get what I mean. That could
keep him busy for a four-year degree!