It’s about more than just a ‘fake’ degree

Published: April 11, 2013
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Those who lie, cheat and steal while entrusted with the future of the country lack the fundamental premise for being awarded political candidacy: character. PHOTO: FILE

It is almost refreshing to see the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) scrutinise politicians with fake degrees, unpaid bills and bank loans. While I am fairly certain that some of this scrutiny comes with a pinch of biased resentment, it is neither unwarranted nor undeserved.

Those who lie, cheat and steal while entrusted with the future of the country lack the fundamental premise for being awarded political candidacy: character. Justice cannot and should not operate with the childish notion of “but he/she did the same”, the fact that a selected few have been let off the hook does not absolve the rest from justified punishment.

However, it would also be worthwhile to ponder for a moment why fake degrees are a punishable crime.

The crime is that education is equated to a name on a paper.

The crime is that education is metaphorically slapped in the face when years of mental development are equated with a worthless fake degree. The crime is that through these actions, not only do the indicted cease to value education in its true spirit and form, they begin to advocate that it bears no value in “the real world”; a world where running a country does not seem to require the ability to read, think critically and make informed decisions not only regarding the day-to-day running of a country or constituency, but the progress that will determine its future.

With scores of parliamentarians being rejected based on having “fake degrees”, parliamentarians who promote this distorted view of education, it should come as no surprise that academic sources and organisations like UNESCO have repeatedly cited “lack of political will” as one of the key reasons for Pakistan’s poor performance in the education sector and its mediocre implementation of existing education policies.

To politicians who do not value education, it is of little concern that Pakistan ranks 113th among 120 nations in the global assessment of literacy rates, that the overall literacy rate hovers around a meagre 55%, that female literacy rates are a proverbial poster child for prevalent gender disparity when compared with male literacy rates, despite scientific evidence that increases in female literacy lead to measurable improvements in health and economic circumstances.

Despite promises of free education, politicians in Pakistan have continually refused to ‘put their money where their mouth is’; expenditure on education forms approximately two per cent of the GNP (neighbouring India spends twice as much based on that indicator).

What’s more, keeping populations illiterate actually serves political interests, because well, heaven forbid that people begin to empower themselves through education. It would be tedious indeed for politicians to guarantee voter banks in that awful scenario. Education is actively treated as a threat and consistently used as a political tool.

The issue here is not simply that of lying about having a fake degree; it is about failing to respect the value that the process of legitimate education provides and as a result, failing to advocate education as fundamental to the welfare and rights of every citizen.

It would be presumptuous and rather bigoted to declare that only those with a “degree” are in fact “capable” of running a country. After all, an abysmally low percentage of those with real degrees and ‘quality, higher education’ have stepped up to govern, having bequeathed politics to people with fake degrees and absent morals, only to complain about that fact later.

Even with supposedly educated politicians, allegations of corruption and insincerity are common. However, the actions of the educated are not an argument against the value of education itself.

Crimes that undermine the sanctity of education, if left unpunished, would irrefutably catalyse the destruction and progress of any nation, Pakistan included.

Read more by Fatima here of follow her on Twitter @zahra7891

Fatima Zahra

Fatima Zahra

Fatima is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and is passionate about using Communication Management as a medium for solutions to social issues. She tweets as @zahra7891 twitter.com/zahra7891

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mufaddal

    Very well Written , great job .Recommend

  • http://mezaajedeen.blogspot.com Tribune Reader

    Good Job well written, disregard to education exists even among the affluent, especially business communities in Pakistan, who see women’s role solely in the house, and men need to start carrying their economic weight as early as 16 or 17. Recommend

  • Chugtai Rizwan

    I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts.But i think people need to learn more about it before they choose it for their situation.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Tribune Reader: True. Although I would argue that reasons for not valuing education would be different for different socioeconomic classes, something that we need to research and take a better look at. One could even debate whether the education given with the system we have is in fact “valuable”. But yes, a skewed version of the value of education seems to be prevalent across society. Recommend

  • Chunky Lafanga

    @Chugtai Rizwan:
    People need to learn more about education before they choose it for their situation?

    What?Recommend

  • http://www.reikimaster.com.pk M Akram Khan

    Good article! Progress of a nation is directly proportional to its educational standard.Recommend

  • Sajid

    A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.” – Theodore Roosevelt.

    Evaluation of moral character of electoral candidate should be given a higher priority over the evaluation of his/her educational credentials.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: Well put. Although by that standard I’m pretty sure over 90 percent of existing candidates wouldn’t qualify, but then the morals of a candidate are somewhat representative of the morals of those who elect them. It still isn’t a case of either/or I feel, both of those areas require scrutiny in one form or another. Recommend

  • Poop

    A degree is a degree, fake or authentic aint the question, you are fufilling the criteria nevertheless..Recommend

  • Pro Bono Publico

    @ Fatima & Sajid
    Apropos to your very last comments..though you`ve both highlighted the facts..my question to you both is…what difference can you make once knowing this disease clouding in the society.?
    Do answer.

    Fatima: Brilliantly-written-piece this time, very-well-chosen issue, Fatima, now you`re talking. :)Recommend

  • Atif Khan

    @Sajid: Well what Theodore said is debatable but it is entirely out of context to quote it here anyways. Although evaluation of moral character in an electoral system is very important, but educational background should also be there. Do we still believe in an uneducated person been given responsiblilty to run educational ministry (like old days)? Its simple, when we donot even let someone without a graduate or post graduate degree (let alone from a good university) to run or be part of a company/organization, then how do we expect to give the role to RUN A COUNTRY to such a person and still hope for prosperity????? There must be some sort of minimum educational standards for this as well.
    @Fatima: Good article and correct conclusionRecommend

  • Parvez

    Education and greed / corruption etc are two different entities. Even if there is a link, its very distant.
    Education is something humans acquire and is essential for progress. Greed resulting in corrupt practices are basic human failings and can only be controlled by laws and systems.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Parvez: Agreed, that’s why I mentioned that even the educated behave in heinous ways, but then it takes more than an honest person to change laws and systems too so, in that respect those areas may be linked. Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Pro Bono Publico: The first thing would be to vote so that parties with progressive educational policies can come to the forefront. The second would be professionally oriented, one can contribute to education through more than just teaching or administrating in schools, various fields and organizations are involved in creating policy, campaigns, conducting much needed research etc. Even if one is not directly involved though, it’s always possible to volunteer at a local school to teach underprivileged children, or focus charitable donations towards giving a few children the opportunity to study, or even perhaps collect funds through community collaboration to build schools in your own village etc. Plenty of ways to make an impact in varying degrees. Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Aitf Khan.

    I think we have elected enough educated/enterprisng theifs to power (who have robbed not just a freight car, or a railroad but the entire country) to make that quote quite relevant.

    @ Pro Bono Publico
    I’m not sure I understand your question. Which disease were you referring to?Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Fatima

    Lets simplify the scenario. If the choice was between
    A) A candidate with only secondary school education, but who is completely honest and sincere. And
    B) A candidate with a PhD in economics/finance/management, but who is absolutely corrupt.
    Who would one vote for.

    I think the ECP should first focus on rooting out corrupt candidates, than work on the educational standard of our representatives.

    Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Fatima: You, me and everyone else knows that our problem is basically the lack of will to do what is right.
    To activate the will to do good, can happen if the 99% decide to stand up and kick the 1%
    into action……………..true power rests with the 99%.
    Thanks for the response, always enjoy the interaction.
    Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: To your first scenario, I have a question. If the first candidate, both honest and sincere, is put in charge of say, PIA, or the Ministry of Education, how far is honesty going to help him/her do their job effectively? Or say, the candidate if elected is asked to vote on complex economic policies that affect national well-being.

    Corruption isn’t limited to the educated, never has been, and choosing honesty over education isn’t really a sustainable solution I feel, you need to value education just as much as character when it comes to governance, they aren’t mutually exclusive choices. Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Fatima: A large part of of my post was edited out, in which I motivated the choice of an honest dropout over a corrupt graduate. And I hadnt even begun to mention the names of successful dropouts, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey etc.

    If the first candidate, both honest and sincere, is put in charge of say, PIA, or the Ministry of Education, how far is honesty going to help him/her do their job effectively?

    Educated or not, heads of instituions can never know everything about their own setup. They gather around them advisers/assistants/managers with a diverse set of skills and often differing views. They listen to them and deliberate on which course is best to follow.

    If they are sincere they will pick the best course to follow, if they are corrupt they will choose the path that serves only themselves.

    Thats why we see so many heads of organizations who, with out a formal education, manage to do so well. Because at the end of the day, there is little in college text books that can help one in solving the many diverse problems a leader has to resolve.

    Another old argument was that only about 20% of our population has a college degree. Do we really want to deny the 80% percent from even a chance of representing their 80%. Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: As a percentage, the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world are anomalies and exceptions, and even in that case, they may be college dropouts but at least in the field of technology, they have very very unique skills. The CEO of Google was a PhD student at Stanford, Zuckerberg went to Harvard I believe, so to generalize that to somebody who dropped out of secondary school in Pakistan is slightly presumptuous I feel.

    Secondly, yes realistically nobody has adequate knowledge to deal with every scenario in the real world even if they’re PhD’s. The whole point of education is that it gives you the ability to apply and transport critical thinking and sometimes very technical skills to those scenarios.

    I’m not denying that a dropout cannot be successful, you have multiple examples of businesses started in Pakistan where their founders don’t have degrees and now have family members with formal ones to take the ventures forward, but to say that you don’t need a formal education, that someone who’s say, never even studied Math properly is advising with PhD’s and MBA’s to make decisions about trade and commerce, no matter how honest the person is, you still need a certain level of cognitive development to make complex decisions like that, something that science has proven. Which is why the education system exists to begin with.

    To your last point, here I would agree that the other 80 percent should be represented, it is fair and they should not be penalized for a criteria that they may not have had the means to fulfill. Also, local knowledge would be more critical for local administration. Having said that, I would disagree that local knowledge is something that can be transported to organizations of more technical, national relevance, where educational barriers should exist for those roles. That could also act as an incentive for education for those who wish to be promoted within the government.

    I suppose that’s the point that I’m trying to make here. If we begin to say we don’t need education to run the government, if we generalize like that, that would be an extremely dangerous precedent to set, and a bit of a sweeping statement that has minimal bases in reason and proven performance. Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Fatima: “I suppose that’s the point that I’m trying to make here. If we begin to say we don’t need education to run the government, if we generalize like that, that would be an extremely dangerous precedent to set,

    Yes. Though I was not saying that education is irrelevant to good governance. I am saying that honesty/sincerety is more relelvant to good governance than formal education.Recommend

  • Pro Bono Publico

    @ Fatima
    If you allow, i`d like to answer your following question, directed towards Mr. Sajid, hoping it would make things a little clear.?

    “To your first scenario, I have a question. If the first candidate, both honest and sincere, is put in charge of say, PIA, or the Ministry of Education, how far is honesty going to help him/her do their job effectively? Or say, the candidate if elected is asked to vote on complex economic policies that affect national well-being. “Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/shazaadali shazaad

    Great peace of writing by zahara..it is really a dismal fact that large chunk of our politicians are under educated.Recommend

  • someone

    @Sajid:
    An uneducated person, no matter how moral he/she is, is not fit to run the country.Also, educating the person is not just limited to built a skill, but also to impart moral values.An education without imparting moral values, is incomplete education.Recommend