Post-Modern Education and the Missing Dimension

The Backbone of a Nation

Education and its role in aiding young people to become good citizens are at the centre of public debate in many western countries. Buzz words like 'standard', 'excellence' and 'performance' are being used extensively by the experts in and outside educational establishments. Teachers and education providers are experiencing more pressure than ever before to come up with better achievements by their pupils. The fear that many western countries may be falling behind a number of developing countries has created a sense of urgency among the policy makers. The concern is rising because of the ever-increasing incidents of bullying, juvenile delinquency, racism in the campuses, drug, alcoholism, teen-age pregnancy, etc. In some countries, this anti-social behaviour is growing in an alarming rate. They are creating a big hole in the confidence of a nation's capacity to tackle these issues.

Needless to say that these problems in the campuses are not isolated from what is happening in the wider society. They are the products of many social diseases that are engulfing not only the West, but most traditional societies of the East as well. For a sound civic society these are the challenges from within. But the way these issues are addressed is definitely not going to work. Instead of adopting a holistic view, the policy makers in the West are simply resorting to piecemeal solutions by attempting to incorporate citizenship education in the curriculum and improve academic performance of the young people. Nobody would ever deny that citizenship concept such as loyalty, liberty, justice and fairness is less important in disseminating education to the younger generation. But these qualities can never be balanced and wholesome if the knowledge of the essence of human purpose on earth is excluded or sidelined from education curriculum. Campuses are not isolated from the wider societies. The prevailing values and philosophy in a country filters through her education system and as such directly affect younger generation.

Education is about transmitting the philosophy of life to the new generation and preparing them to take on the task in future. It is about linking generations together. "Education is a social process designed and organised to induct the rising generation into membership in a group, whether the group is a tribe, a community or a nation". [1] So, the sort of curriculum young people of a land is subjected to, depends wholly on the ideology of the land. "The aims and content of education are intimately connected with views about the kind of society we wish to live in". [2] An education system reflects the prevailing attitude, culture and historical legacy of a country. It always takes into account the norms and values of the mainstream society.

The Predicament of Western Education System

The modern western society has developed by leaps and bounds in technological advancement and organised institutions. Life has become fast, competitive and complex. With the rapid rise of materialism, the concept of higher purpose of life is all but lost. As a result, societies are losing many values and norms human beings hold so dear in other parts of the world. We are in an era dictated by the philosophy of moral relativism. In this moral maze spiritual bankruptcy is the inevident outcome. There does not seem to be any absolute values and norms of life. Everything changes according to the needs and demands of people. While societies are creating needs, consumerism is influencing societies. This has given rise to global consumerism of an unparalleled strength. Human behaviour is changing accordingly. The vacuum created by the weakening of religious influence in the West over the centuries is deepening. This has now been filled with alternative but powerful 'religions', such as Secular Liberalism and Market Capitalism which can, at times, be as proselytising and intolerant as some religions used to be in the past.

The overriding principle that dictates the post-modern education system in the West is to create 'good citizens'. A young human being is educated to grow up as an individual to play his/her citizenship role. Here, the idea of citizenship and identity is limited within the boundaries of mainly language and ethnicity. It is often forgotten that, in a plural society, people can prefer to identify themselves as 'faith communities'. Finding little room in the narrow citizenship concept, these groups can feel disaffected, disadvantaged and excluded. At the same time, even the minorities within the ethnic groups could feel themselves marginalised. History has also shown that citizenship can have different meaning and different dimension at different periods of history.

On the other hand, education in the West is predominantly task-centred where a student fails to get similar importance as a human being. With a bit of religious education s/he is probably aware of various faiths, but is susceptible to more confusion about them. As social pressure and peer influence are overwhelming, the moral, ethical and spiritual dimension is missed. They are compromised by the needs of social norms and economic productivity. In the absence of exemplary role models around them, the young people are tempted to imitate those who have made name and fame but have little balance in their life.

The situation has worsened after the second world war when the powerful Secular Liberal camp in the West has succeeded in creating social norms where individual freedom and self-fulfilment are paramount. They sometimes clash with the interest and well-being of the wider society. Religion and culture are not rejected outright, but have only a subordinate role in determining social policy. Empirical knowledge, based on 'facts', dictates the value system of life. To the die-hard secularists, religion is out-dated and illogical which promotes irrational attitude to life. Religion is no longer the 'opium' of the people, because mankind has invented far more powerful 'opium' than that in order to indulge in permissive life. So, it is demanded, young people in the educational institutions should not be overburdened with the age-old 'dogma' of religious teaching!

Not a single western country is exception in this process of religious disengagement from their social policy. As a result, the education system is geared toward promoting an indulgent and value-free philosophy of life. In this system young people do not have the opportunity to learn any higher meaning of life, e.g., accountability and responsibility as human being on earth. Life is governed and conditioned by the desire to survive and succeed. Human beings, in this philosophy, are at best rational animals, albeit an intelligent one.

Although, the Christian Church have had an alternative view of life, it has suffered century-old onslaught from many quarters and now seen, by most, as inadequate to the modern social requirement. Their internal disharmony on many issues is also responsible for their failure to provide a consistent and reasonable model of education. The situation has worsened to such an extent that some Church leaders themselves occasionally cry out to express their frustration and impotence. The recent internal memo that the Church of England is "culturally light years behind the rest of the society" [3] is not an isolated view of Churches' exasperation against their marginalisation in the wider society.
Is Education All About Producing Good Citizen?

Teaching younger people to become good citizens of a country without helping them acquire universal and transcendental values is counterproductive in wider context. History has witnessed the appalling atrocities carried out by 'good citizens' of some countries on others. Can we easily forget the recent genocide in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda? Iqbal, the philosopher poet of the East, has rightly said that exclusion of religion from public life gives rise to Chengis's atrocities. Of course, what he meant was religions with transcendental values, not the one full of bigotry and fanaticism. Ignorance and excessive enthusiasm in any religion can also bring similar disaster in humanity.

Education policy, based on the philosophy of market-driven expediency, may succeed in producing more and more capitalists, but has the inherent weakness in overcoming social disharmony that would ensue. The focus is commercialisation of most things in life. "The effect of government reforms in education is to put schools squarely into the market place, where heads and governors find themselves managing not only the resources and curriculum but increasingly also the disparate values of a customer-driven culture". [4]

Although devoid of spiritual dimension, the West's material success lies in their education system which is creative and imaginative. It prepares the young people with social qualities and life skills. It is encouraging that school education has been given prime importance in the West, as they provide the foundation of a nation. It is also important to tackle the problems of under-performance through improving literacy and numeracy, reduction of class size, ensuring equal opportunities for all, improving school leadership and teacher training, inspection of schools and education providers and use of ICT in effective and efficient manner. These standards and accountability are, of course, essential. Essential are also the partnership with teachers, parents, businesses, voluntary and statutory bodies as well as their implementation with proper planning, sensitivity and funding. But they themselves are not the panacea to the sort of social and moral ills that prevail in the society. What is fundamental for a young man and woman is the inculcation of a strong foundation, a moral and spiritual root, to which they are anchored from the very beginning of their life.

There has been recent emphasis on an inclusive education policy in some western countries. But the policies they propose are either marred by inconsistencies or unable to comprehend the depth of the requirement. The recent British government's white paper on education, "Excellence in Schools", acknowledges some of these moral requirements when it mentions that "There are wider goals of education which are also important. Schools, along with families, have a responsibility to ensure that children and young people learn respect for others and for themselves. They need to appreciate and understand the moral code on which civilised society is based and to appreciate the culture and background of others. They need to develop the strength of character and attitudes to life and work, such as responsibility, determination, care and generosity, which will enable them to become citizens of a successful democratic society". [5]

Once again, the main objective is to become citizens of a successful democratic society. The question is, how can young people achieve these qualities without having in them the conviction and stability based on faith in the all-powerful and ever-vigilant Creator, to Whom all human beings must be accountable in the day of Judgement? How would they know that responsibility and accountability are at the core of human emancipation from whims and desires? Without incorporating these in the curriculum and a determined effort to their dissemination the expectation of these countries will remain pure idealism.
Or is it to Produce Good Human Beings?

Human being has a meaning and purpose on earth. According to Islam, he is the emissary or caliph (al-Qur'an 2:30) [6] of God on earth. Man is created with the free will to choose between right and wrong. Two inherent but contrasting nature is imbedded within him, the ability to do good or evil (al-Qur'an 91:8) [7]. This is an immense test for him. But man is also born in nature (fitra), the nature of submission to the will of his Creator. According to a tradition from Prophet Muhammad, "every child is a born Muslim…". This is a trust and a heavy burden on every human being. Thus, the main focus of education in Islam is child-centred and bent on preparing him for that greater role in the most effective way.

Secondly, human beings have been put in-charge of the affairs of this world. It is an immense collective responsibility on them. As such, education should also focus on the continuous maintenance and development of harmony and justice in the human society as well as in the environment. Imbalance in nature and deviation from natural justice brings in calamity. Both these individual and collective roles have elevated human beings above everything except God. [8] Unfortunately, many of the children of Adam have decided to follow their whims and debase themselves. God, out of His love and compassion, has sent Prophets to warn and remind these people of their responsibility. All the prophets were great teachers of humanity.

Education, in Islamic framework, is intrinsically linked with these objectives. As such there is a clear unanimity of opinion within the Muslim scholars that education should aim at familiarising the individual with his/her [9]

¨ individual responsibility in life.

¨ relationship to other creature. ¨ responsibility towards the human community. ¨ social relations.

¨ relationship to the universe and universal phenomena and exploration of natural laws in order to utilise and exploit them.

¨ Maker's creative wisdom apparent in the creation.

Education is, thus, a continuous process of transmitting knowledge and values in order to promote the intellectual, moral, spiritual and physical development of the pupils enabling them to cope with the challenges of the modern society and grow up as balanced and motivated individuals. It is about the harmonious development of mind, body and soul. On the one hand, education helps equipping human being with the required skills and experiences needed to meet the challenges of a competitive society, on the other, it prepares them how to live as caring human beings in a diverse society. With effective dissemination of these roles they attain peace in life and pleasure of God.

Can religions provide this moral framework of education in this day and age? The answer is 'yes', provided religions are taken in a wider context where basic human values, not the narrow precepts, determine the policy. Whatever the diversities in religions, all of them believe that human beings are created by a Creator with a meaning and wisdom. Major religions in the world would have similar attitude toward life on earth and converge on the fundamental precepts of human role in the world.

It is evidently clear that the religious or theological education prevailing in the West is out of touch and inadequate to face the challenges of the modern complex society. It has, in fact, little influence in shaping the life of the people. However, offering bigger chunk of time for the present religious education in the national curriculum is not going to do any miracle. What is needed is changing the lock stock and barrel of the overall curriculum. The fundamental requirement is to extract basic human values, i.e., moral and spiritual, from world religions of transcendental values and blending them with all the areas of curriculum in education.

For example, sex education, at the moment, deals primarily with the knowledge of sex with the emphasis on safety. In most cases, they are embarrassing, if not provocative, to the recipients The ethos and environment are superficial and uncomfortable. Although, the focus is primarily to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, the result is growing number of sex related crimes and teen-age pregnancy. While nobody denies about the importance of knowledge in this area, the main emphasis should be directed toward balanced understanding and responsibility in sexual behaviour. This is extremely important in the context of parenting, family life and continuation of human progeny.

In the same way, all the subject areas could be reshaped with the vision and concept based on the principle that human beings are responsible managers on earth and its belongings.

Although there are differences and sometimes antagonism among religions, including the major ones, all of them have common grounds regarding human values that determine the individual and social life. When it comes to common good of humanity, all religions do encourage their followers to work in harmony with others. The Qur'an is explicit about the necessity of this harmonious co-existence between people to explore commonality in order to build a peaceful world. "Say: O People of the Scripture! come to an agreement between us and you; that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than Allah. If they turn back, then say: Bear witness that we have surrendered unto Him" [10]

The world is becoming ever smaller now. In spite of the diversity of race, colour, religion and geographical boundary, humanity is coming closer and gradually converging to a common purpose. The planet earth, with its limited resources, need to be managed with caution and sensitivity. The existence of humanity is now a collective endeavour which needs good human beings with an outlook of global interest. Education is not meant to create utopian global citizens with little concern for their own society. A man or woman is, of course, a citizen of a particular nation state and subscribe to the interest of the country, but s/he should have a responsible attitude toward looking after the globe as well.

Most western countries are now plural and truly multi-cultural. Diverse and rich religious and cultural values do also matter to most people in the West. As a result, they can easily reach a common understanding to frame their education system with a view to producing 'good human beings'. In order to do that, they need to incorporate transcendental values in all areas of knowledge and educational environment instead of mere putting some religious aspects in the school curriculum. Only then the younger generation will grow up with a sense of responsibility rather than recklessness, conviction rather than doubt and humility rather than arrogance.

The Choice!

Young people need stability in their life. Those, born and brought up with physical and emotional care as well as love and warmth in stable families, have the unique potential to deliver the same to the wider community. On the other hand, those born to irresponsible parents in unstable environment suffer most and can contribute very little to the society. Deprivation is not purely economic and social, it could be moral and spiritual as well. The former creates chaos in the society, whereas the latter brings abuse and eventual destruction. No nation can prosper with social impairment and internal instability.

Campuses provide the most important education for the growth of young people into adult life. That is the formation period where human beings come across the most important stage of their life, the adolescence. Only a moral frame work in the school environment can produce generations of people bonded together with purpose and sense of responsibility. What is needed is the will and courage of the moral majority in the education and political establishment. It is a big choice.


   1. Collier's Encyclopaedia, p581, P. F. Collier, Inc., 1993. 
   2. Education and the Good Life, John White, p16., London Education Studies Kogan Page, 1993. 
   3. The Daily Times, 13 March, 1998. 
   4. Educational Values for School Leadership, Sylvia West, p13, Kogan Page, 1993. 
   5. "Excellence in Schools", p10, paragraph 5, Government White Paper in Education, 1997.
   6. Al-Qur'an : Chapter 2, Verse 30. 
   7. Al-Qur'an : Chapter 91, Verse 8. 
   8. Al-Qur'an : Chapter 17, Verse 70. 
   9. Curriculum and Teaching Education, Ed. M.H. Al-Affendi and N.A. Baloch, Hodder and Stoughton, p16, 1980. 
  10. Al-Qur'an : Chapter 3, Verse 64.

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