Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves

Has Europe kept Afro-Asians illiterate?
by ALTAMASH M. KURESHI, Karachi, Sindh
The writer can be reached at
Courtesy and Thanks: Daily dawn, 6.3.2009
“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings”.- Shakespeare
THE ‘conspiracy theory’ and “blame game”, euphemisms for shifting responsibility on others of the failings we are suffering, that has almost become a norm of our society. This is exactly what Rasool Bux Palijo has propounded before the central convention of Sindhi Shagird Tahreek as reported in Dawn, “Europe wants to keep Asians illiterate” (March 3).

Mr Palijo while addressing Tahreek members has emphatically stated that ‘Europe is deliberately keeping Asians and Africans away from literacy with the aim to enslave them’. I vehemently disagree with this over simplistic and unkind view.
At the outset all the countries of Asia and Africa are not educationally backward and, secondly, those that lag behind in literacy are not so because Europe has deliberately kept them illiterate.
As noted from latest statistics, in the Asian continent there are countries such as Japan, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar, Indonesia, Iran, Singapore and Malaysia where literacy rate is from 80 to 99 per cent.
In the African continent too the overall literacy rate is 66 per cent whereas the rate of literacy in countries such as Algeria, Botswana, Cameron, Congo, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Zambia is from 75 per cent to 91 per cent.
In Pakistan, however, as per government figures the literacy rate is 49.9 per cent. Interestingly most of these countries have remained under colonial rule for a considerable period of time.
Moreover, Europe is not a single entity but a continent with 45 independent countries having as divergent cultures and ethos as in any other continent. These countries fought more wars devastating each other than they fought with any foreign power.
However, all European countries were not colonialists. Those who ruled Afro-Asian nations were mainly British, France, Germany, Dutch and to some extent Italy.
Although imperialists plundered wealth of the colonies and enslaved their citizens, yet when times changed and Europe encountered intellectual activities in every walk of life, they not only introduced modern and scientific knowledge in the colonies but also encouraged their subjects to acquire knowledge from the institutes they had established in their native lands.
They introduced educational institutions in the length and breadth of occupied territories, and natives were provided higher education in the best institutes of Britain, Germany and France.
This is the reason that the entire subcontinent leadership that fought imperialists’ powers was well versed in most modern knowledge they acquired from their best institutions.
Even now the western world is providing billions of dollars to the developing countries for the spread of literacy and also invites meritorious and eligible aspirants to acquire higher education in their countries. There is no bar on any Asian and African to get education in any institution of the West provided they fulfil the laid-down criteria.
Now even after 60 years of independence if we have failed to develop an educational system congruent to our conditions, are we justified in blaming Europe as a whole? Moreover, who has kept us from keep less then 2 per cent of GNP for education when minimum international requirement is 4 per cent?
Who has told us to squander most of the funds provided by the donor countries for the spread of education? Who has asked us to allow our school buildings to be used by the influential as their godowns and autaq and declared them as ‘ghost schools’ and absentee teachers as ‘ghost teachers’?
Who has kept us from wasting our intellectual assets by retiring teachers at 60 when at this age of wisdom he is more useful to society?
Who has told us to pay our primary teachers, who are real builders of nation, humiliating perquisites, barely enough to meet his both ends? Obviously for all these failings we cannot hold Europe responsible.

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