Character building is a cognitive and behavioral process of learning, adapting and assimilating the core ethical norms and civic values. It is the enculturation of the masses within the established social values and personality traits that ultimately lead to sustainably inclusive development. The individual and collective sense of responsibility, honesty, civic sense, accountability, diligence, discipline, resilience, punctuality, truthfulness, justice, integrity, transparency and rational judgment are universal values central to character building.
Though family, peer groups, society and media as the agencies of socialisation play a considerable role in enculturation, educational institutes shoulder the greatest responsibility in the nation’s character building. An educational system has two major functions: one, equipping the aspirants with the knowledge of the specific field through pragmatic pedagogical practices and reading culture; and two, infusing ethical codes and established beliefs which lead to a better understanding of self and surrounding. Though all education systems across the world essentially work in the former, the holistic productivity of a country’s education system is judged by how far it bodes well in the latter.
This is because crude knowledge without character is a tool for exploitation and persecution. The education system that hardly emphasises character building ends up producing symbolic literates who are not only incapable of contributing to development but also prove, in most cases, national liabilities. An enlightened education cultivates mutually beneficial individuals and collective social traits. It equips students with cognitive, cultural, social and physical skills necessary for a promising career; refines their personality; and enables them to meet the demanding dynamics of life. Unfortunately, our education system lags far behind on both fronts.
It is almost incompatible with the dynamics and demands of the age. The national education system built on colonial legacy, outdated curriculum, distorted historical accounts, excessive religiosity and elite-centric approaches cannot equip students with the state-of-the-art knowledge base necessary in contemporary times. This is clear from the fact that though the world might do wonders in quantum mechanics, AI, virtual reality, the internet of things, we are entangled in the classical notions of Newtonian physics and internet connectivity issues. Our education system promotes a herd mentality designed around falsified historical accounts, mythical propositions and conservative approaches to life. It is fraught with the colonial legacy and myopically framed rhetoric. The national curriculum, content and moral aspects have so carefully been designed that nurture ill-founded narratives dear to the power elite — a remnant of colonial legacy.
Meanwhile, character development is a secondarily important element in most of the educational institutes in Pakistan. The traits that build national character are barely practised and professed. Though Islamiat and ethics are taught in some educational institutes, they are more theoretical than applied. The civic apathy, incompetency, procrastination and fractured kinship testify to flaws in education. Moreover, the disturbing trends of intolerance, racism, xenophobia, blind political, ethnic and religious allegiance, political engineering, rampant corruption, terrorism and sectarianism are mainly manifestations of education without character. You need to rethink your existence if you believe only illiterates harm Pakistani society.
Had it been so, the national stakeholders and leadership with so-called elite educational backgrounds would not have brought the country to this sorry far. Against the backdrop of the moral crisis facing the country, the need for character education is overwhelmingly high. We must not lose sight of a bitter reality that our existing education system won’t navigate the needs and test of the modern times. Assimilating morals and core character-building values into the national curricula, pedagogical practices and academic culture would go a long way in producing an upright population.