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OP-ED: The no-know factor

  • Published at 01:30 am December 19th, 2020

We still don’t know what knowledge really is

As a nation, are we in the practice of seeking knowledge? Have we been engaging ourselves to know better and then reflect that knowledge in our own as well as national lives?

Our [and my] experience says that we don’t.

Take me, for example. I have been in the corporate communications profession for the last six years. Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, if you ask me to teach a classroom on what communication is, I probably would stumble. Well, I probably would be able to ready myself for a mere two-hour lecture on communications and the profession related to the subject, but I don’t think I can carry through a semester.

That brings me to the question: How much do I know about communications? Am I capable of authoring a book that may be taught at the universities? Nay! But they say, if you study a particular subject every day for an hour for five years, you become a national resource at the end of five years.

Have I become one? Nah! By now, I should have read at least 30 books and at least 200 scholarly articles on communications. Surely, I did not. I only focused on my task that my employer had assigned me to. I also emphasized on how I could sustain my employment at the corporate that I worked with. That means, my objective was to have a sustainable income, not knowledge.

Precisely so. Our parents had tried to show us the way to acquire the skills that would lead us to earn the dime for survival. I don’t blame them. They had rightly shouldered their responsibility to teach us the skills that were needed in a money and greed-centric environment.

I’m not sure how long we have been following that model of acquiring skills, and for that matter, knowledge. We may have progressed in terms of subject-oriented skills, but we still don’t know what knowledge is, what gyana is.

The UN Development Program and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation have just published a global knowledge index in which we ranked 112th out of 138 countries. This index has focused on the knowledge that we learn from the educational institutions -- schools, colleges, and universities. It’s not a rank to be very happy about. We’re far behind many countries.

Now, what do they do that we don’t? What do they learn that we don’t? What are they taught that we aren’t?

A Dhaka Tribune news report last week said that a GPA-5-winning student at the SSC level was asked about the capital of Nepal; the student’s reply was: Neptune.

It may sound shocking to us, and we would start fuming over the lack of knowledge among the present-day young generation, but we -- who claim to be knowledgeable -- wouldn’t want to shoulder that responsibility that it was us who has created this knowledge-less environment. I don’t blame the student. No one has told him about Kathmandu or for that matter, the world.

I remember we were taught “general knowledge” in our school years -- the countries of the world, names of their capitals, and currencies. We had a second blackboard on the rear wall of the classroom. We had to write down daily news headlines on the board. We also had compulsory general knowledge exams in every quarter.

This could be followed by every school of the country so that the students know the world around them.

Take our model of learning languages, for example. After learning Bangla, English, and Arabic for 12 long years, we haven’t learned these languages for using them in our everyday life. We all learned English, but the majority don’t know English grammar. Millions have learned Arabic in the Islamic schools. By now, many should have written poems and stories in that language. 

Our knowledge in English language couldn’t lead us to translate the great literary works in Bangla in English and send them to English-speaking countries.

Poor us!

The state of religious knowledge is pathetically low. A handful of Bangladeshis read the scriptures and understand them. The rest depend on hearsay. I am dumbfounded by watching some religious sermons that are being promoted on social media. An absolute distortion of religious knowledge is taking place across the country and this process is led by some propagandists who are taking advantage of the lack of religious knowledge among the masses.

I wish we had some Socrateses, Platoes, Aristotles, Confuciuses, Descarteses, Emersons, Foucaults, Nietzsches, or Kants among us to lead us philosophically. We may not have philosophers of that stature, but we do have our own who had tried to enrich the minds of the people with their theories, ideas, and innovations. But unfortunately, we have politicized our own thinkers, thereby blocking our way to create an enlightened society, a thinking society.

There’s another side of earning spiritual knowledge. We all know Socrates said: “Know thyself.” These are not just two words; these two words have a universe of knowledge if we look for true meaning of them. Knowing one’s self may be the ultimate form of knowledge that we humans can imagine.

To my mind, the knowledge about our own selves could be the gateway to an ocean of skills. If we know our selves, our dreams, our needs, our wants, our objectives as a nation, our purposes for living, we are bound to become a thinking society that would advance positively.

Designing a nice education system could be a way out of this lack-of-knowledge state. Millions of unenlightened aspects have cast a thick cloud of ignorance in our minds. Our education system is far from inspiring us to learn more, to know more, to live more.

We must fix the system. Redesign it. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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