Education is a social institution. It helps a society form its values, norms and mores so that the society continues to exist.
Education prepares a person to become a good citizen, and trains the individuals for life within the political structure of a particular society. It teaches the citizens how to play a role of a consumer, employee, employer, and how to interact with larger society, including government. It helps students develop social, interpersonal skills, and ability in abstract thinking and problem solving.
Only through education individuals do appreciate their cultural heritage and gain an understanding of social, economic, artistic and political institutions. They explore the relevance of a variety of themes to their own experience. Literary, artistic, social and technological innovations can be achieved only through education.
Education helps us understand our culture and its components, such as art, music, drama, literature, science, technology, and even sport. It exposes the students to new ideas, and relaxes the bonds of rigid traditions, thus spurring social changes. By nature, the traditions are inert, they resist to changes as the changes bring upheaval in their wake, therefore they are feared, and people are apprehensive about the unknown and unexpected. Only education can deal with this phobia. Even spiritually, education elevates the relationship of man to Deity to a higher level, as one can not have a clear and complete notion of God unless he or she understands the nature and its laws.
During the Middle Ages in Europe almost all the education was provided by the churches. Learning was centered round monasteries. Most of the reputable universities of today in the West were founded by the religious orders. However, the Medieval universities operated within a strict theological scope, and any teacher or scholar who extended inquiry beyond the approved limits was subject to charge of heresy.
Early cultures offered little opportunity for speculation. With the onset of Renaissance in Europe the education gained new momentum. Medieval world view was rejected as an error. The idea that men had to turn their back on medieval scholastic philosophy spread across Europe. With the Enlightenment the education became secularized, and the notion of Academic Freedom emerged. This new concept revolutionized the education. It invests the teachers and the researchers with the right to pursue research, to teach and to publish without control or restraint from the institutions that employ them. It is a form of civil right, and based on the premises that truth is best discovered through an open investigation of all data. The ideas and opinions must be tested and challenged. Only by listening to counter opinions we come closer to truth. This stimulation leads way to intellectual growth, which in turn opens new vistas to freedom of ideas.
This broad-minded outlook helped develop a new learning based on “True Knowledge”.
True Knowledge is defined as the knowledge derived from careful and continued observation of the particular occurrences in nature. When the consequences of these observations are verified, the law of nature is affirmed. This new discipline led to total reconstruction of the sciences, arts and human knowledge in the West. .
Lately, on the radio talk-shows there are comments on the dismal state of the science and culture in the Islamic world. In a recent show, the guest, an Islamic scholar, quite candidly characterized the technological gap between Islam and the West as “huge”.
There are a number of reasons for this lamentable condition. First of all, the Islamic societies are, in general, hide-bound; they abhor changes. The governance, the religion and the traditions all embrace the status quo fervently. Secondly, there is no legally imposed or nationally structured education system. Education is largely dogmatic in context. Teaching is carried out in informal gatherings without any well thought-out curriculum. Loose and unstructured discourses laden with parables from Qur’an are lectured to pupils. Thirdly, in an Islamic classroom there is no challenge, no counter-opinion and not a spark that creates this magic radiant energy. In the Islamic culture an “Ulema”, the so-called “religious scholar” is considered the foremost learned man. Even the Turkish P.M. when faced with a dilemma suggests consulting the Ulema!
The Islamic culture disproves challenging teachers; it is considered a serious breach of social conventions, and a show of disrespect. Those who attempt to it are ostracized in the society. This lack of interaction dries up the stimulation. Without exposing the students to new ideas and not to prepare those to having their ideas challenged gives rise to an academic vacuum. How the students can be expected to navigate in the abstract?
As a result, the young Muslims from all around the world flock to the west to acquire learning. The perennial obsession in Islamic culture with the traditions clinches tightly their will even though they know that their way goes nowhere. They can not get out of this vicious circle and pull themselves out from this curse.