Shifting educational idealism in the age of globalization

By Mohd Abbas Abdul Razak and Mohd Mumtaz Ali

In the past centuries, education was regarded as a medium for creating a good individual and citizen. The philosophy of education is designed to guide in producing the kind of individualsthe state intends to create. The analogy of the educator is like that of a blacksmith who moulds the iron into his desired shape while it is still red-hot. Likewise, the learner can be moulded into character by the parents, teachers and school system during his or her tender age.

Compared to most contemporary educational systems, in the olden days, all forms of education, regardless of formal, informal and non-formal were all directed towards the transference of knowledge, values, skills, culture, language, religious teachings, etc. from the old to the new and upcoming generation. Education during the bygone centuries had a more holistic and comprehensive concept of bringing up an integrated personality. Modern-dayeducation with its technology-mediated learning has deprived the learner of many real-life experiences. The learner has been confined to the four walls of the classroom, even though the natural world has a lot to offer. Ancient philosophers have always emphasised the fact that any good and ethical activity under the sun can be a learning experience and a soul-enriching process for the learner. Furthermore, many education experts have highlighted that if an individual learns to remember, he or she will forget, and at the same time if theindividual learns to understand, he or she will remember. This philosophy explains to us education is not a mere exercise of memorization of facts and figures but the understanding of what life is all about and that life is a process of developing one’s personality.

Diametrically opposite to the conventional system of education, today’s scientific and innovative way of learning has enabled modern man to get access to knowledge and information quickly and efficiently. Besides the fast connectivity with the broader world, there is a downside to this new technology. This new means of communication has made people learn in a more personalized way which cuts off much of their interaction with the community or society. Learning in isolation using gadgets deprives learners of real-life experiences in life.

This quote by a well-reputed social psychologist and analyst, Erich Fromm, explains candidly some of the things missed by an individual when he studies in isolation: “Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions”.  

Another aspect that is missing in the personalized form of learning is the interaction with the tutor or teacher. The proponents of teacher and student face-to-face interaction believe that it is very important for the learner to get acquainted with the teacher by physically being present in front of him. Besides that, raw information and data can be more meaningful when they are properly explained by the teacher.

“We live within a human space where proximity between teachers and students makes tangible communication possible. Body language, tone of voice, personality and emotion are all indispensable elements in the formal activity of instruction. More than the facts, we need the elusive intimation of how they are being received, comprehended and evaluated. Teachers convey more than the subject matter under discussion. No matter what the topic they also embody something of what it means to be a human being,” mentions David Walsh in his 1999 article, “Plato Meets Technology”.

The above is very true with the teaching of Islam, especially in the learning of the holy Qur’an and other auxiliary subjects that demand a serious understanding of the faith and practical aspects of Islam for those who are new to the religion and for those practicing Muslims who are still at their basic level of understanding the religion.

Challenges Posed by Globalization 

In the West, long before the era of industrialization, education was seen as a means to produce a good citizen. However, after the modernization of Europe, there was a change in the mindset of the state and the masses. As a result of that, modern Europe’s aim of educating its subjects was to produce skilled workers and professionals to cater for the industries and other job markets. Not only that, the shifting of paradigms in education in some ways has made religious values marginalized, and in some cases, obsolete. Conversely, in the Muslim world, the primary aim of education is to know oneself, and God and to produce the good man “Insan Kamil or Insan Soleh”. 

Moreover, the Islamic concept of education also emphasizes that the well-educated man should be an ethical and God-conscious individual. Such a man should be able to bind a good relationship with God, the Self, the environment; flora and fauna and others (Muslims and non-Muslims). Education from the Islamic perspective is viewed as a process that leads the learner towards his intellectual, moral, social, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual development. The laxity in developing any one of these areas will cause an imbalance in the personality of the learner. The end product of an Islamic system of education is to produce the type of man called the ‘universal man’. Simply put, the ‘universal man’ in Islam should be a peace-loving and caring personality. He should rightly position himself as a “messenger of peace”. His existence should bring peace and harmony to nature and humanity. Education should inculcate in him the values and feeling of cohesiveness with the rest of humanity. His philosophy should say, “Never say my home is my world, but say the world is my home”.  

In today’s globalized world, education is seen as more of a passport to being affluent and successful in the future. Education at all levels is directed towards producing paper qualifications that can generate good income, better living standards, fame, glory, etc. With the rise in the cost of living and the mechanization of human life, the role of education has been narrowed down to the level of producing a qualified workforce for the market demand. Educated individuals are deemed successful only if they have a higher capacity to earn. The inculcation of human qualities through education is no longer the main concern of education. Science and mathematics get much more preference than all other human science subjects.Instead of educating the students into creativity and critical thinking, in some parts of the world, they are educated out of the two. Such a school system gives the idea that creativity is a God-given quality that is bestowed upon some selected individuals. Contrary to this narrow view of creativity, the latest research on human brain capacity provides a different revelation, whereby psychologists believe that creativity is not only inborn but also can be acquired through the process of learning. By explaining the true concept of creativity and creating aconducive environment, teachers can bring out what is latent in the human psyche to the surface.

In the last few decades, humanity has observed the tidal wave of globalization at work in trying to change the world into a single global village. Globalization is a multi-faceted phenomenon that affects major sectors of human lives. Since globalization comes from the affluent countries of the West, it tries to influence people living in the third and developing countries of the world. Many studies have indicated that globalization has many positive and negative influences on people who embrace it. In the field of education, globalization has made it a commodity like any other sales product. Globalization of education has resulted in the mushrooming of foreign universities in developing countries.  

The establishment of foreign universities in third-world countries has caused the vanishing of lofty ideals of education in those countries. Moreover, one can see in many developing countries, globalization has caused the marginalization of local cultures and languages. Since modern education offered by globalization pays less attention to religious and traditional values, it has failed to bring the best out of man. Due to this shortcoming in modern education, man is missing many of the human qualities which are latent in him. Missing values in man have also caused an increase in crime rate, white-colour corruption, pollution of all kinds on land and sea, fraudulent banking system, etc. To overcome all these human shortcomings, the educational system in the East and West should give preference to the creation of the good individual over the creation of the intelligent man. After all, education should not only be reduced to making the learner intelligent. Before education can create a genius, let it create a good individual and all other things can fall into perspectiveaccordingly. 

Muslim Scholars’ Response to Globalization

In the Muslim world, scholars can generally be classified into two main groups concerning the issue of globalization. The first group claims that globalization is not a bad idea as it has some positive contributions in terms of trade and direct foreign investment creating plentiful job opportunities in underdeveloped and developing nations. The second group deems globalization as bad because it is a Western idea or ideology that works well to their benefit. According to this group, globalization is a form of colonization in disguise. They further believe that the West has not changed in their mindset in their ambition like in the past which brought them ploughing the waves to subjugate the East in greed of power, riches and dominance over the weak and downtrodden. Through their direct subjugation of the East and Africa, they have managed to plunder the wealth of the underprivileged countries. Globalization as seen by these scholars is nothing new than the old colonization, except it is done more subtly, from a distance by using sophisticated media like cable and satellite TV, the Internet and other modern means of communication.

In describing the nature and contents of globalization designed by the West, Mohd Kamal has candidly explained in these words: “Facing the challenges of globalization with all the negative impacts of Americanization, secularization, materialism, neo-imperialism, debt-bondage to World Bank and IMF, unilateralism, militant liberal capitalism, global media conglomerates’ manipulation and deception, impoverishment and homogenization of culture, bullying by the powerful, imposed liberalization, dominance of the global market, international and regional competition, commodification of education, environmental degradation, moral decadence, high tech crime, violence and war-all these and more at a time when the Muslim world is divided, weak and poor.”

Going deep into contemplation and analysis of what has been stated by Mohd Kamal will reveal that globalization has brought Western culture and way of life to the East and the rest of the world. Many times, these values are atheistic and do not regard the Supremacy of God Almighty. Through globalization, secularism practised by the West is also transported to the homes and minds of the people in the East, disrupting their Islamic and Eastern family core values that are already there in existence. Secularism is a way of life that separates things and actions into all that belongs to God and all that belongs to the state. The two states of affairs cannot mix. The dichotomy that is prevalent in their everyday life gives people in the West to think of God only when they are in the places of worship and when they are elsewhere, they can behave and do anything and everything that suits their selfish desires. Such a philosophy of life is very opposed and contradictory to the Islamic and Eastern lifestyles where people live very much attached to their religious beliefs.

Another important thing about globalization that is contradictory to the religion of Islam is the Western idea that states education should be value-free. Knowledge and education are sought for knowledge and it does not link the individual with God almighty. In Islam, knowledge is sought for self-improvement that humbles man in the presence of his Creator. Knowledge is sought for the enlightenment of the human soul that brings man closer to God. In contrast to the Islamic concept of seeking knowledge, most people in the West believe that knowledge is value-free. Other than this, the Western attitude of being non-judgmental in the things they see, acquire, experience and assess is not applicable in the context of Muslim society. Islam calls on Muslims to take a stand by being judgmental. One has to be clear in his mind as to what are the things that have been approved and shunned by the Qur’an and the Sunnah concerning the human relationship. By referring to the religious guidelines, one can easily distinguish between what is good and permissible and what is bad and should be avoided.

Final Analysis

Islam has no problem with any new approach brought by a globalized educational system aslong as it makes the integration between science and spirituality. The integration of the two has been stated in the Holy Scripture of the Muslims. The Qur’an uses the term ‘Zikr’ for spirituality and ‘Fikr’ for science, thinking and contemplation. Seeking scientific knowledge devoid of spirituality can lead the learner to an undesired result in education. It is interesting to note that Islam does not forbid the seeking of knowledge to improve one’s economic status and in seeking a good life in this world. The only thing Islam demands from the learner is that such an intention should not be the first aim of seeking knowledge. It should rather come after the primary aim of seeking knowledge, which is to know oneself and one’s Creator. Education in Islam is also sought to well equip the learner to carry out the duties as a vicegerent of God on this earth. Globalization which is intended for the homogenization of culture is not an ideal concept that can bring humanity together. Metaphorically speaking, humanity exists like a rainbow. What makes the rainbow interesting are the different shades of colour. Likewise, what makes humanity interesting are the different colours, cultures, ethnicities, languages, etc. Homogenisation of culture will make the world a boring place for humanity.***

(Dr. Mohd. Abbas Abdul Razak is Assistant Professor in the Department of Fundamental & Inter-Disciplinary Studies, AHAS KIRKHS and Dr. Mohd Mumtaz Ali is Professor in the Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion, AHAS KIRKHS, IIUM.)