HUMAN CAPITAL VS BEING HUMAN: The craft of education is slowly being hijacked by various interested parties
AS the Keeper of the Royal Seal announced that last Sunday would be the start of Aidilfitri, I received a distressed email from a colleague at Albukhary International University, describing the melancholic experiences of its Syrian students.
Some of them are worried about their family members who are in danger due to the prevailing uncertain situation in the home country. Others are gravely concerned that some of their close ones are already missing in action.
In all, the depressive mood cannot be more apparent against the background of a festive season that celebrates peace and harmony. This is further exaggerated knowing full well how secure they have been since arriving in this country; something that Malaysians think little of.
While we can be sure to blame the warring parties for the massacre in Syria and other places, it is also obvious that this is not the full story. I cannot help but recall the depth of it all from a letter written by a war victim to a teacher. It reads:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education.
My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.
Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.
Being embroiled in education for a number of decades now, this letter continues to haunt me each time the question "What is education for?" is raised. Admittedly, it is not about making our children more human. Today, the buzz word is "human capital", not "human being".
Why this is so can be easily gauged from the response of yet another war victim, Elie Wiesel, when he spoke at the Moscow Global Forum in 1990. He said: "It (education) emphasised theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience."
I find it difficult to disagree with this perception as "education" is slowly being hijacked by various interested parties, especially as an industry. Like the military-industrial complex of President Dwight Eisenhower (1961), increasingly today's university seems to be undergoing a similar fate.
The difference is that while the former feeds into a "war-for-profit" modus operandi, the latter is prone towards "education-for-profit". In other words, profitability in the guise of "human capital" comes first instead of the state of humanity -- be it in war and education today. More often now, the two serve the interest of each other.
Innovation is tactically fast-tracked as the main business of the education-industrial complex with profitability, through commercialisation, being the ultimate good. Innovation is indeed the bedrock of advanced weaponry, to make killing more precise and seemingly invisible.
It is now an open secret that much of the scientific advancement that we see today piggy-backed on sophisticated war technology, from lasers to the Internet.
As educational institutions get more and more competitive in marketing themselves, they begin to adopt several techniques well known for promoting and sustaining wars.
War-related jargon is now invading the education sector too, with its own notion of "global strategy" and "strategic alliances" to "recruit" talents as part of a long-term "mission". Many, too, have their version of "war rooms" where all this is clandestinely conceived and tracked. To be sure, these were all alien to education before the days of Otto Adolf Eichmann, one of the vicious war criminals against humanity.
Hence, unless we dare to reclaim the true ethos of education that upholds humanity and human dignity rooted in virtues that nourish humanitarian values universally, we will be fighting a losing battle to bring peace and harmony through education.
We need to work harder, beginning with the awareness created by Syria's bloody anarchy -- because it is not possible to stop violence, what more waging wars, if the education system fails to extricate itself from being turned into subtle tools of global war machines.
The worst would be if citadels of learning are the places to spawn violence, ranging from bullying to gunning down fellow students, instead of havens of learning to live together, as long advocated by one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's four pillars of learning.
Unfortunately, we are still a long way off in translating peace and harmony into tangible learning goals and outcomes if we have no interest in learning how to live together!
By DZULKIFLI ABDUL RAZAK | firstname.lastname@example.org Source: New Straits Times Columnist 25 August 2012