Round Table Conference for dissemination of research project by Dr. Imran Ahmad Hunjra, held on 10 Oct 2019 at Arid Agricultural University. Discussant: Dr. Asad Zaman. 25m Video is followed by 2500 word summary. See link for PPT Slides.
00 to 0:50: Essential Importance of connecting Education to Reality: Let me start by saying that this Project is Essential – creating the link between thought and action, between the brain and the body, is of central importance. Today, our universities teach knowledge produced in the West, and mostly irrelevant for us here in Pakistan. Our Prophet Mohammad SAW taught us the Difference between USEFUL Knowledge and USELESS knowledge. He prayed for beneficial knowledge, and sought protection from useless knowledge. This distinction is NOT MADE in Western Academia. They consider all knowledge to be (potentially) useful. Mathematics is considered PURE, and is prized, when it has NO applications.
0:50 to 3:50 – Prestige of Theory is an Obstacle: There has been a huge amount of Confusion between SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY. It was actually low-level technological contributions, made by practical machinists (not scientists) that launched the industrial revolution. It was the money, power, prosperity generated by the industrial revolution that led to remarkable advances in science. These advances did lead to advanced technological innovations based on science, but this came much later. Also, the process of applying theoretical science to technology creation is NOT taught in most degree programs because of a strong theory application divide in US academia. Germany is much better in this regard.
A major problem is that while the most important WORK was DONE by Technology, most of the PRESTIGE was given to SCIENCE. This has had a damaging effect on education in Pakistan in that we strive to make achievements like Abdus-Salam when what REALLY need is routine applications of existing technology to solution of our current problems. My own life experience confirms this. When I went to my graduate advisor to ask what I should do for my Ph.D. thesis, he told me that Theoretical Econometrics is prestigious, and Applied Econometrics is NOT. Accordingly, I chose a topic which required very advanced and fancy mathematics, but had absolutely ZERO applications to any real world problems. The vast majority of theoretical work, especially in the social sciences, is like that. It has no real world applications. See “My Journey from Theory to Reality” for more details.
3:50 – 5:40 What do we need to do? The most important task for an educator is to recognize the potential for excellence in our students. We must understand that sitting in front of us are Ibnul Haytham – father of optics, and laws of motion – one of the giants on whose shoulders Newton stood. Alkhwarizmi – father of the algorithm – essential for computing today. Al-Razi – who comprehensive medical textbooks were used in Europe for a century. EVERY student is born with infinite potential. This is BUILT-INTO them, just like the seed contains within it the potential to become a tree. We just need to provide a nurturing environment, and the inborn potential will create the learning. See PP2: Building Confidence.
5:40 – 7:40 Learning from Cradle to Grave: We have to learn to relate the material we teach – in ALL fields of knowledge – to the existing experience of the student. Without this, we cannot create the interest in learning that is the goal of education. To relate knowledge to life experiences, we need to Learn to APPLY knowledge to real world problems. A serious problem is that this pattern of education DOES NOT EXIST in the courses we have studied. Western academia is built on a Theory/Practice divide, and most of what we find in our textbooks is just pure theory which has no real-world applications. In order to develop our courses so that they provide USEFUL knowledge to students, we need CREATIVITY on part of teacher. A major obstacle in learning real-world knowledge is that the teacher does not know it. To make a habit of learning real world applications while teaching courses, we need to switch to a Fellow Traveler Model. Instead of posing as an expert, teacher invites students to make the journey of knowledge together. This requires changing the way we think about the process of education. See Obstacles to Excellence (in teaching).
7:40 – 11:30 Change the SUBSTANCE of what is taught: Instead of accepting what is written as the final word, we need to make many changes in the substance of what we teach. To begin with, we must teach our students how to LIVE, not “THINGS in BOOKS”. What young students want to know is: how should I live this precious gift, the few moments that I have been given on the Earth? As teachers, we have our life-experience, which we should share. Of course, we may feel INADEQUATE – not having learned to live ourselves. However, we have great ideals in front of us, in the poetry of Iqbal, Saadi, Hafiz, and other greats in the Islamic tradition. Again, we do not need to claim expertise – we can say that let us ALL try to live up to these high ideals, as fellow travelers. We need to teach students how to become human beings, instead of human resources.
Another major change which is needed in the substance of what we teach is that we need to Teach how to DRIVE, instead of teaching about the Engine Parts. Having spent three years for a bachelor’s in mathematics from MIT, I was exposed to a huge amount of mathematical materials. Because it was complex, sophisticated, and deep, I learned to admire and respect this knowledge. It was much later that I learned that the portion of this education which could actually be applied to real-world problems was very small. We spend a huge amount of time teaching students about the engine parts, but we never teach them how to drive. These two are VERY DIFFERENT skills. Someone can be an excellent driver without knowing anything about how the engine is built. In mathematics, learning the theorems and the proofs is pretty useless. What we need to learn is HOW to apply a theorem to solve a real world problem. After I started looking at the practical relevance of theories, I found that MOST of the theorems I had learnt were useless – the few that were useful could be taught much more EASILY in context of real world applications. The student also finds it easy to learn and understand theories when they are taught in context of real world, because then he or she can relate the theory to life experiences.
The third important change is that we should learn to Teach CONCEPTS not CALCULATIONS. For example, it is not worth while to teach students the methods of calculus – today, symbolic math programs can differentiate and integrate better than anything we could teach. We need to teach them to understand the CONCEPTS in a direct and intuitive way, and then let them feed the problems to the computer to get solutions. The availability of the calculator means that we co not need to teach long division, and computation of square roots by hand. However, we do need to teach the CONCEPT of division and of taking square roots. This principle has widespread applicability and would radically change the way we teach mathematics. I am in process of developing some textbooks along these lines.
11:30 – 13:30 – Change the Methodology of Teaching: The methodology of education that we have learned is impersonal. Young students want to learn from our life experiences, and not chemistry and biology. If we want the ink of our pens to count like the blood of martyrs, we will need to adopt the methodology of teaching of the Greatest Teacher who ever lived – our Prophet Mohammed SAW. For details, see a six part post starting with Becoming a Great Teacher., Some basic points are mentioned below.
- We need RESPECT our students – ALL of them are treasures. We need to have love and affection for them. We need to TEACH them how to LIVE. For this purpose, we will also have to LEARN how to LIVE.
- Protect our students from the poisonous search for material wealth and possessions. Instead teach them about Service of Mankind for the sake of the Love of Allah. Explain that those who seek the higher things automatically get the life-satisfaction that others look for, but do not find, in the wealth and luxuries. See Learn Who You Are
- TEACH students how to BE useful. Discuss GOALS of LIFE, and LIFE Experiences. Give practical demonstrations of service, and ask them to provide service as part of their homework. This is what makes life meaningful.
By teaching them about life, you WILL CREATE Creativity in the students.
13:30 – 15:35 Change the GOALS of teaching –Teach Skills, not abstract “knowledge”. That is, provide them with knowledge relevant to their life experiences. Expanding their set of experiences, and the ways that they can engage with the world. Teach them how to articulate their idea ideas, express themselves, engage with the world for the purpose of changing it to a better place. Students are well-aware that most of what they are taught is garbage. They often ask US about the value of the knowledge. We must not say that this will help you pass the exam. The knowledge we teach MUST be useful beyond the classroom – it must be useful in their lives. See “The Search for Knowledge“.
To achieve this goal, we must change what we teach and how we teach it. We must take students as they are, where they are, and teach them to take the next step. One obstacle in doing this is that we often judge our students to be poor, because they cannot master the textbooks. The only reason for this is the “standardization” – all textbooks ASSUME some knowledge and preparation on part of the student, which many don’t have. This is a failure of the textbook and teaching methodology, NOT the failure of the student. We must understand that All human beings are like mines of gold and silver, and every student is born with infinite potential for excellence. If we can reach out to the students, motivate and inspire them, every one of them can achieve wonders. (See How to Motivate and Inspire Students).
15:35 – 16:35 Change the INCENTIVE structures: The environment, social media, movies, fiction, friends, all of these powerful influences are teaching our students an extremely wrong and harmful message. We must protect them from wasting their lives in pursuit of the wrong goals. We must get them out of the illustion that life is about getting power, money, jobs, rank, status, luxury, winning competitions, getting grades. We have to re-engineer educational incentive structures, in order to get students to value “knowledge” above grades. We have gone astray because we are following Western models, and they are going the wrong way in the West. Instead of these false gods, we must teach students to value the things which make our lives worthwhile. Islamic teachings emphasize our families, neighbors, community, service, social responsibility, and excellence in character and conduct. These are the things worth teaching and learning. See Impact of Colonial Heritage on Economic Policy in Pakistan
16:35-16:45 Three Fixes: I will conclude by suggesting three major areas which require fixing.
16:45 – 18:45 – Lack of Self-Confidence: The central problem which lies at the heart of it all is the lack of self-confidence, the deep seated inferiority complex created by centuries of colonization and defeat. We must learn that colonization is conquest of minds, and we must liberate our minds from slavish imitation of the West, without use of any judgment. Today, Western society is a disastrous failure, with more than half children being born to unwed mothers. The amazing advances of science and technology in the West have killed hundreds of millions of people, animals, flora and fauna, and are in process of destroying the entire planet via climate change. Instead of Imitating failures, we must learn to use our judgment. For improving conditions of life in Pakistan, we do not need advanced theoretical physics. We need to learn HOW to use off-the-shelf technology to solve routine problems.
18:45 – 20:10 Incentive Structures: The teachings of Islam launched a revolution in the world 1440 years ago, taking the ignorant and backwards Arabs from the bottom to the top. Today these teachings have the same revolutionary potential. The human being is the most precious among all the creations of God, and Islam can teach us how to become a human being, while a Western education is designed to teach us how to become a human resource. To achieve these goals, we need to change the incentive structures in three dimensions. The internal motivations of the student should be to acquire valuable knowledge, instead of grades – but for this, we have to give them valuable knowledge which enters their hearts and changes their lives. The social norms are extremely important in motivating people. We must create a society which values learning and scholarship over money and power. Finally, institutions of our society, universities, HEC, etc. must recognize and reward genuine achievements of knowledge, not just counts of fake publications.
20:10 – 22:10 – Supply Side Constraints: In attempting to create ties between academy and industry, we must start with the recognition that academics have NO knowledge of real world. We learn and teach textbook theories which fail on application, as demonstrated by the Global Financial Crisis. Instead of making false claims about knowledge and skills we do not have to offer to practical industrialists, we must engage in a learning process. One thing academics do know is how to do research. This is what we can offer to industrialists; not solutions, but research into finding solutions. This is proven valuable. The spread of smart phones led to increased Agricultural productivity in India. Why? Because people could look up standard solutions to common problems of plants and animals. Changing our teaching orientations to produce useful knowledge would be of extreme value as a step in the right direction.
22:10 – 24:10 Demand Side Constraints: Industrialists know that academics do not have much to offer, and do not value academic input into their decision making. In fact, this is an illusion. The reality is that Industrialists do not know the value of academic research, because academic researchers do not spend time thinking about problems which the industrialists face. Collaborations would help reduce the demand supply gap. A Win-Win solution is possible. Students would like jobs and money; which industrialists have to offer. Even though they do not know it, innovative and up-to date research can solve many problems industrialists face, and help increase productivity many-fold. Unfortunately, the USA educational models we are following blindly does not foster this kind of cooperation. Germany has developed far superior models of collaboration between academy and industry which we need to learn and follow. Many good suggestions were made by others discussants about how students could do internships, and also how industrialists could provide valuable inputs towards design of student courses with applied contents.
All praise belongs to Allah T’aala alone, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. May Allah T’aala grant us all the Noor of His knowledge, and guide us all in the pathways leading to success in this world and in the hereafter.