Even after qualifying for graduate and post-graduate programmes in a subject of their interest, students are hardly able to articulate convincingly the reasons why they chose that particular subject
I have observed during my academic stint, that not only among students, of both natural sciences and social sciences but also many a times through a case study of myself that “why” is the question in which the essence of academia lies. However, students in Pakistan are so poorly trained in coping with this question that, even after qualifying for graduate and post-graduate programs in a subject of their interest, they are hardly able to articulate convincingly the reasons behind why they chose that particular subject if are ever asked about it.
The above claim can be illustrated from one of my recent experiences in an MPhil class when one of our teachers, who was teaching us research methodology, asked in the first class why we wanted to pursue MPhil in International Relations and initially the whole class had blank looks on their face and, then a few moments later, clichéd reasons for their motivation behind MPhil in IR started pouring in repeatedly. Similarly, I personally experienced answering the ‘why’ question quite difficult when I was applying for various scholarships abroad to pursue my masters degree, and as part of the application, I had to write a personal statement in which I was supposed to answer convincingly why I pursued an undergraduate program in a particular subject and why I wanted to pursue a graduate program via scholarship.
There is a dire need to introduce the culture of ‘why’ in our curricula so that students can make informed choices about what they want to study and where they want to go with it. Making the academic discourse a bit challenging can cater to this gap in our curricula, besides incentivising a diverse range of professions so that students can pursue them with the same conviction they find in chasing the civil service
The reason for students being so poor in coping with ‘why’ can be attributed to a lack of academic counseling and a less than challenging academic discourse. Students’ inability to answer ‘why’ has also robbed them of critically thinking about why they want to become what they want to become in their professional lives. In their ill thoughtout reasons behind a particular profession they want to pursue, there are omens for the society at large about whether it will make its way out of the shambolic situation it is imprisoned in or it will fester.
I would like to illustrate the dangerous trajectory our society has been lurching towards because of paying less heed to the ‘why’ in our academic discourse by shedding light on the aspirations of the best lot behind pursuing Central Superior Services (CSS) exam. For those who do not know about this exam, let me give you a bird’s eye view of this exam.
CSS is a highly competitive exam held in Pakistan every year through which young aspirants from diverse academic backgrounds, majority of them from a middle class, make their way to bureaucracy, which is considered to be the backbone of a political system in Pakistan.
Being one of the aspirants of CSS for the last couple of years, I have been in conversations with a small pool of very intelligent people who have devoted themselves to qualify for this exam. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked what drives them to go after CSS or why they are so passionate about it, I have asked majority of aspirants from multiple academic backgrounds comprising both natural and social sciences, and the common theme I found across the vast spectrum of students coming from diverse backgrounds was, “I am fascinated by CSS because it’s the most lucrative, powerful and influential job. Most importantly, by being in bureaucracy, it can be guaranteed that I, along with my family, can lead a peaceful and respected life in Pakistan which is not possible in any other profession.”There are very few people who are genuinely driven by their aspirations of CSS other than following the above theme.
Lust for power and money and considering that social security is in only being offered in bureaucracy should be a sign of worry for the society at large in Pakistan because their aspirations for CSS were inspired by those already in power and their induction into the system with such aspirations will be reinforcing the status quo. It’s reflects in their aspirations that they are waiting for their turn to act like those who are already in power and are misusing it.
There is a dire need to introduce the culture of “why” in our curricula so that students can make an informed choice about what they want to study and where they want to go with it. Making the academic discourse a bit challenging can cater to this gap in our curricula also, incentivising other professions, so that students can pursue them with the same conviction and vigour they find in chasing bureaucracy.
In knowing ‘why’, an essence of human existence lies at its peak according to David Brooks, who writes for The New York Times, a person knowing ‘why’ in heir life can endure any ‘how.’
There is a reason to quote Brooks here and that is that inculcating ‘why’ among students will inspire these students later on in their professional pursuits and they will join and inspire all those professions which can contribute to society and which Pakistan badly needs like academia, medical, engineering, painting etc.; no matter, how many odds they might come across in making their contributions materialised.
The writer is an MPhil scholar studying International Relations at Department of Political Science in University of the Punjab, Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected], https://www.facebook.com/inamullah.marwat.56