Universal Quality Education: A Challenge to the Whole World


Book Review

Universal Quality Education:
A Challenge to the Whole World

This informative book on education by Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmed
is an essential reading for every physician,
educationist and the parents

PESHAWAR: Universal Quality Education- a challenge to the whole World is an extremely useful an informative book which is an essential reading for every physician, educationist and the parents as well. The book gives lot of useful information, data with pearls of wisdom spread on page after page and one has to read it not once but more than that to fully grasp the message it contains. An eminent physician, former Professor of Medicine and Principal of Khyber Medical College, Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmad has accumulated a wealth of knowledge over the years and his habit of reading and keeping himself abreast of latest developments in the field of education in general and medical education in particular has enabled him to offer sincere advice with practical, useful, doable suggestions to those who wish and are keen to learn. However, if the past is any guide, there is very little danger that it will be read by those who look after our educational system in general and medical education in particular.


Going through the pages initially one gets the impression that as if it was a charge sheet against our corrupt politicians which also highlights the incompetence and inefficiency of our planners in the field of education and health but it turns out to contain a lot more as one goes on to different chapters. He also comes very hard on his own professional colleagues in the medical profession and reminds them of their duties and responsibilities to the area, village, small cities and towns they belong to, about whom they have forgotten everything. However, at times some of the sentences used are too long which does create some difficulty in grasping the message easily.
This book was first published in December 1999 and this is the fourth edition which was revised and updated in October 2012. As pointed out by Prof. Daud Khan in his comments, it is in fact an eye opener for all those who deal with the destiny of Pakistan. The book has been divided into two sections i.e. formal and informal education. The author believes that while formal education is the responsibility of the educational institutions, the informal education is the responsibility of the family, the community, the professions, media and every individual. Prof. Siraj is of the view that the secret of eradiating poverty, ignorance prejudice, intolerance, hatred, injustice, inequality in educational and economic opportunities, extremism, crime, violence and terrorism from the world lies in achieving universal quality education. In the absence of education, ignorance of the poor, democracy in Pakistan has become ploutcracy which he defines as the rule of the wealthy.

Democracy in an ignorant society, he further sates, provides a golden opportunity for the corrupt elite to perpetuate their domination and exploitation of the down-trodden. The possession of a vote by a person ignorant of the privileges of citizenship is like the playing of a child with dynamite and is responsible for endless corruption and political instability. Pakistan, he says, is one of the nine countries accounting for the seventy percent of world illiterates. The growth and development of Malaysia credited to Dr. Mahatar Mohammad is because thirty yeas ago, he decided to allocate 30% of their GDP to education which did the trick. The book contains lot of figures regarding the Ghost schools particularly the number being too high in Sindh province which continues to be governed so badly. Immense corruption all round and lack of dedicated teachers, he feels, are some of the reasons for the present sad state of affairs.

Prof. Siraj suggests utilizing the services of part time teachers in educational institutions. Development Prof. Siraj says should focus on quality education and industrialization simultaneously to maintain a balance between job seekers and employment opportunities. Teachers should be given due recognition and respect to overcome the shortage of teaches and attract talent to teaching profession. He quotes Aristole that “if you want to see the condition of a nation, see the condition of the Teacher”. Deeni Maddressahs provide free education with free board and lodging but some of them are also alleged to be breeding grounds for extremisms, terrorism and suicide bombers. The combination of poverty and ignorance provides a highly fertile ground for religious extremism imparted by “some” Deeni Maddressahs. On the other hand the elite schools in Pakistan breed the highly Westernized and Anglicized youth, the Brown Sahibs who think and act like the British rulers. In Pakistan the poor remains deprived of both education and health both of which are the responsibilities of the State. Education, Prof. Siraj writes is like a tree with numerous branches that bear leaves flowers and fruit. The number and quality of fruit it bears depends on how well this tree is nourished from its roots. Any attempt to inject nourishment in the branches is likely to fail. Only offering nutrition to roots of education will allow the trunk and branches to grow and gain strength for producing an abundance of healthy fruit. The mental growth of the child being one part of education can be promoted by focusing on his/her inborn potentials. They are inquisitive by nature and wish to find an answer to every thing. Listening leads to wisdom, speech is a human right but must be controlled carefully. One must know to whom, why, what, which, where, when and how to speak. Taking a wrong step is only justified if the right way is not available for achieving the noble objective but a right step could be withheld if its consequences are bad. These human qualities, he feels, are very important part of emotional intelligence that creates confidence and loyalty among the workers and team members.

Writing about the social skills of a leader, Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmad says that he should have the ability to communicate clearly, putting up a smiling face, politeness, giving importance to others, calling them by names and avoiding criticism which are vital for making a friendly environment. Tolerance, patience and ability to forgive always pay back in an emotional situation. Similarly self evaluation, self analysis and self learning are the habits of great leaders who need the ability to digest honest criticism and feedback of others who should make efforts to learn from such criticism. Leaders also need courage to take a calculated risk when the chances of success are even bit more than the chances of failure without which no initiative can be taken. The most effective method of promoting emotional intelligence Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmad writes is through exposure of students to role models. The teachers are expected to abide by all the standards of morality, ethics, manners, hygiene, qualities of self and discipline that they expect from the students. By inviting role models to educational institutions, organizing students, teachers exchange programme with institutions of great merit will promote the exposure of students to role models. Children must be taught to speak politely with a smile which will earn them goodwill and prayers of every one. Honesty and truthfulness in students must be noticed, promoted encouraged, rewarded and publicly acknowledged.

Similarly dishonesty must be dissuaded against with love and reasoning, discouraged and condemned. Indemnity provided to the rulers in Pakistan is a license to commit any violation of justice which is against the principle of justice. As the time passes, the inequality between the rich and the poor is mounting in Pakistan. The Scandinavian countries excel in health and education because their gap between the rich and the poor is very low. Heart with soul , Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmad writes, is full of love, truthfulness, selflessness, sympathy, empathy, mercy, compassion and humanity.

He has highlighted that humiliating punishments in educational institutions should be stopped forthwith. Even a minor injury can result in serious complications, similarly any emotional trauma could result in high blood pressure, can cause brain hemorrhage or cardiac death. Humiliation leads to violence and violence then leads to murder. He quotes Prof. James Gilligan a noted psychiatrist from USA who says that “He has yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated”. Poverty in the developing countries is directly linked with their lack of freedom of economic opportunities. People living in high levels of economic freedom enjoy higher level of prosperity. Virtues of Respect for elders, punctuality, smart hard work, cleanliness, contentment have also been highlighted.

Mentally slow but not retarded students can be taught beneficially in normal schools with extra attention. Those students who suffer from inferiority complex also require extra time, support and encouragement to lift their morale, self esteem and confidence. A good teacher creates trust, confidence, interest, enthusiasm and hope rather than fear, frustration and disappointment. They are kind and forgiving instead of being revengeful. A sensible teacher avoids laughing, ridiculing, humiliating, embarrassing or insulting any student over commission of mistakes. Talking about other qualities of a good teacher, Prof.Siraj has mentored a good role model, well wisher of students, and a spiritual parent. Developing Nations should be prepared to pay the price for good teachers who will groom their children into knowledgeable, skillful, productive and enlightened personalities of character who will in turn take the nation to zenith of glory and prosperity among the comity of nations. Children are like flower buds; if properly nurtured at home unfold in beautiful and pleasantly fragrant flowers to the outside world. As such it is for the teachers who are responsible for their growth into healthy and delicious fruits that the society will relish in later years.

The emphasis of instruction, Prof. Siraj says should shift from lectures to small group discussions, problem posing seminars, academic debates, students assignments, students projects and presentations, experimental and applied work, self learning and self evaluation. Students need a convincing justification for every learning activity and when they do not find it there, they lose interest and motivation to learn and study. Prof. Siraj also refers to the Quaid-e-Azam’s advice to the students in his address at public meeting in Dacca on March 21st 1948 where he had said that “You will be making the greatest mistake if you allow yourselves to be exploited by one political party or the other”. He had advised the students to be fair to themselves, to their parents and to the State and devote their attention to studies. The students of today need to be reminded this much more than at any other time in the history of Pakistan.

Medical Education

One whole chapter in this book has been devoted to Medical Education. Prof. Siraj writes that “it is painful to note that “doctors, who are member’s f the most revered profession and who have been closet to the hearts of people, have violated their commitment to the community more than anyone else. Members of the medical profession have displayed the maximum trend among the educated professional classes of abandoning their parents, families and communities, migrating to bigger cities and rich countries in quest of selfish ends of better material gains, higher living and working standards. Today many doctors are guilty of being responsible for ignoring their own kith and kin in rural villages, tribal areas and even cities by their exodus to bigger cities and more prosperous countries.” Prof.Siraj feels and rightly so hat something has seriously gone wrong with the education of doctors resulting in emotional and subsequent physical detachment of doctors from their families and communities much more than any other educated class. Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmed does not fail to mention and highlight the issues like security, lack of job satisfaction, depressing and frustrating working environment, low salaries, lack of facilities, essential services, practice of favoritism, nepotism, corruption in selection, appointment and transfers, political interference in their working in public sector healthcare facilities which all needs to be addressed and above all merit must be upheld at all times. We must shift our emphasis from Disease Oriented Physician Education (DOPE) to Health Oriented Physicians Education (HOPE). Similarly we must shift from Patient Oriented Physicians Education (POPE) to Community Oriented Physician Education (COPE). Prof.Siraj lays emphasis on assessing and improving quality of care, making optimal use of new technologies, promotion of healthy lifestyle and working efficiently in teams. He has particularly highlighted the fact that it will be very dangerous to consult a doctor who does not abide by his professional ethics. Duties of physicians in general and to the sick have also been covered in detail supplemented with references and quotations from the Holy Book Quran which could form a good reminder for the physicians to know what they are supposed to be doing.

Planning a Retired Life: Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmed also comes up with lot of useful suggestions on planning a retired life and advises to remain contented and understand one’s limitations. He also offers advice on when to get married, how to start and progress in professional life, how to manage age related diseases like hypertension, diabetes mellitus, cancer, joint disorders, failing resistance to infections, slow deterioration of hearing, vision, pain in the knee, back and neck, loss of balance and ability to walk steadily. Regular exercise, use of balanced healthy diet, avoiding addiction, substance abuse, alcoholism, regular medical check up has been recommended. The readers will also find some useful hints how to prevent aging of brain. A minimum daily intake of five to ten glasses of water or more in hot weather will prevent many health problems. Vaccination and immunization against communicable, infectious diseases, wearing seat belts and helmets can prevent thousands of head injuries and deaths. He has laid emphasis on the institution of Family Physician who should be consulted first at every stage even before consulting a specialist. Unfortunately this concept of Family Physician has not yet fully and adequately developed for various reasons which deserve to be given a serious thought as it ensures easily available, cost effective healthcare. Keeping proper medical records which can be looked at when needed by the treating physician also offers many advantages. My faith in God Prof.Siraj says is rational rather than blind which he has described in detail with reasoning.

Writing on priorities of public education, Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmad says that downfall of a Nation becomes inevitable if “people are allowed to remain lying in gutters of ignorance. Morality cannot be taught through giving sermons but through display of personal example of good conduct. Many a times, Terrorism, robbery and thefts are acts of desperation by those who are deprived by society of their legitimate rights. Wisdom, Prof.Siraj opines, lies in listening to others and knowledge becomes power only when it is applied.
Reading this extremely useful book once will be doing a great injustice to the great admirable efforts made by Prof. Sirajuddin Ahmad but then it could have been made much easier if at the end of each chapter or in between, some useful messages or key points were highlighted in boxes. Similarly lot of useful information regarding access to basic amenities by the public, comparative figures of GDP spending on health, education etc., with various countries in the region which has drowned in the text could have been given in the form of Tables which would have been better. Yet another suggestion one can offer is to have small chapters focusing on particular topics rather than discussing too many things in one large chapter. All this would have provided an opportunity to the reader to go through the book again and again spending much less time. Keeping in view the excellent quality of contents, the title of the book is least impressive, it could have been much better. Furthermore, this is the only book I have seen wherein the name of the author is not mentioned on the title which is a serious omission. There are a few proof reading mistakes as well which could have been avoided had the publishers been a bit more careful. On the whole the book makes an interesting reading. The book is published by National Book Foundation. Pages 438. Price Rs.600/- SAJ