Of directions and directionlessness


This is a note on the state of affairs in Pakistan that I wrote in early 2009:

Of directions & directionlessness    

Out of the school, most students don’t know the available palate of professions they can possibly pursue in their career, or their respective career goals. They often tend to drift toward the colleges, degrees and interests where their respective cliques –group of very close friends- apply. It so happens that most of the college days get past enjoying the new-found independence from strict discipline and regular checks by instructors. As soon as students complete their Intermediate examinations, their life verges on another such point. It is predominantly undecided for most of the students where they’re heading, except for a blurred idea they have based on their own interpretation of the lifestyle of those pursuing a particular field, or their friends’ preferences for a particular work domain, and also quite often their parents’ interest in letting the children pursue some degree.

This ‘undecidedness’ clearly reflects in their selection of universities for application. For instance, commerce graduates try to get admissions in Chartered Accountancy institutions, Bachelors of Commerce institutions and Business Administration Universities all at the same time. Ironically, the so-called torchbearers for students of this age are the various coaching and test preparation institutes, lined up in almost every other locality in all major cities of the country, also suggest this approach as correct justifying, ‘this way students don’t waste their year in case they don’t get admission into their preferred institution this year.’ However palatable that reasoning might sound, this is a poor strategy to select one’s career.

“Cogito, Ergo Sum,” commonly translated as “I think, therefore I am” is what Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy suggested, implying thinking is one thing that differentiates a human being, from just a being. Despite being one of the blessed nations, with all the natural & human resources, we are lagging so far behind in our competitiveness that we are not even listed amongst the 57 countries that are ranked in the IMD World Competitiveness Scoreboard 2009. It is high time to start “thinking.” Most successful companies across the globe believe in planning, research, development, proactive analysis and commitment to continuous innovation, all of which have their roots in thinking.

It is not difficult to see why we as a nation lack this basic skill; simply because, this skill has never been nurtured properly. Our entire academic curricula, examination methodologies, societal reward systems and cultural norms mostly suppress our cognitive capacities and insist to accept things as given, taken as granted. The result, quite expectedly, becomes a society full of directionless people who know they have the resources but can’t manage them. We can’t decide. We can’t take a stand. Certainly, this reflects in the way we conduct ourselves. It sometimes seems that almost everyone in the country only knows that “Ignorance is bliss.”

We cannot run governments and corporations and compete globally by taking dictations; after all, the one giving dictation is also supposed to know what needs to be done. In this spiral, we have to take many radical steps to improve the state of affairs of the country. Its imminent importance is undeniable and cannot be emphasized more. We are so used to not thinking, that whenever we have to do it, even for decisions of petty significance, most of us try to avoid the thinking part and start searching for alternatives such as someone who could recommend, suggest or guide as to what should be done.

There is indeed a need to revamp not only our academic curricula, but also the teaching methodologies. Moreover, requirement exists for widespread adult education opportunities where people are rightly rewarded for their right thinking. This is the only way to dodge the impending doom on our society and get back on track to pioneer success.