Pakistani Academia's Growing Interest in Decolonizing Minds
By Riaz Haq
There is an 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 felt “liberal arts and sciences education allow 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 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 previous 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 .
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 mind 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.
There is increasing realization 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 momentum with more liberal arts centers of learning like the Karachi-based Habib University in the near future.
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