Food For Thought

Education and National Security

Fighting is not just about using weapons. It is about harnessing your fighting capabilities with the ability to think and innovate. A schooling that stymies thought and kills curiosity can do anything but produce a thinking soldier —  or a thinking anyone.

25 A: Right to Education: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”


—the Constitution of Pakistan

When the Philistines sent Goliath, their most fearsome warrior, to challenge the Israelites in single combat, the Israelites were awed and cowed. No one but David, a shepherd boy, was prepared to face Goliath. Goliath, armed with a sword, a javelin and a spear stood about 6′-9′, according to some sources, and about 9′-9′ (according to others). If David were to get close to Goliath, he would be dead.
But David had no intention of doing that. He was going to hit Goliath with a slingshot, hitting him between the eyes while staying clear of Goliath’s terrible strength and the reach of his sword. But he had to act fast before Goliath could resort to his javelin or his spear. David used the sling, the rock hitting Goliath between the eyes and killing him.
When Heracles was challenged to a wrestling match by Antaeus, the half-giant son of Poseidon and Gaia, Heracles would throw Antaeus to the ground and he would get up, doubly strong because Gaia, his mother and earth goddess, would give him strength. After a while Heracles realised that throwing Antaeus to the ground only strengthened him. Whereupon, Heracles lifted Antaeus off the ground, held him aloft and crushed him to death.


Fighting is not just about using weapons. It is about harnessing your fighting capabilities with the ability to think and innovate.


Hannibal, the greatest Carthaginian general, crossed the Alps and landed in northern Italy to fight Rome and its armies. He was relying on his Gallic allies and also his undisputed operational capabilities. His reliance on manoeuvre warfare, speed and surprise gave him stunning victories at the battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae. To this day, double-envelopment in tactical literature is known as the Cannae movement.
In response, the Romans adopted the Fabian strategy: avoiding direct contest of arms against Hannibal, frustrating him, burning crops, diverting their forces to fight Hannibal’s allies and other Carthaginian armies and defeating them, draining the morale of Hannibal’s army and inducing fatigue. The final push came when Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal’s army was defeated and Hasdrubal killed after the Roman army marched at night to engage Hasdrubal’s troops. With Hasdrubal’s troops, Hannibal’s reinforcement army defeated, Hannibal was left with no choice but to vacate his strongholds and ultimately sail back to Africa.
One can go on citing examples from military history of how battles and wars were won or lost or how a stronger army or state lost a war despite winning many battles. But pray, what is common among the three examples cited above? Let’s consider.
Goliath had an asymmetric advantage over David. David’s challenge was to first neutralise Goliath’s advantage and then defeat him by creating his own asymmetric advantage over Goliath.
Heracles would not have won if he had continued to throw Antaeus to the ground. He used the strategy of dislocation — dislocate the adversary from the context which strengthens him — to win.
Hannibal was too good for the Romans. So, they decided, after their crushing defeat at Cannae, to use the strategy of the indirect approach instead of going into battle against Hannibal directly.
Fine. But what do these three approaches have in common? The power of the mind.
The mind is the greatest weapon.
Those who can think and innovate can create; they can discover and invent.
The history of colonisation is the story of one people defeating another. The winners had an edge, technological or ideational, over those who got defeated and were condemned to slavery.
Somewhere along the line it is always about how and to what extent we can think and create.
One way of getting to the thinking stage is to know the body of knowledge that has already been created and impart it. But that’s stage one. Beyond knowing that body of knowledge, we need to build on it. And building on it requires a system that forces people to question, to connect dots, to be curious, to experiment.
Corollary: to have an education system that helps seekers of knowledge, not just those looking for degrees. That differentiates the knowledgable from ‘common minds’ who cannot find affinities in seemingly disparate objects.
Let’s go back to where we began, with Article 25 A, and list some statistics for where Pakistan’s education system stands.
There are 22.6 million boys and girls out of school – that’s nearly half (44%) of all children in the country. Of those children who do go to school, the vast majority receive an education of poor quality. 43% of government schools are in a dangerous or dilapidated condition and lack basic facilities such as furniture, bathrooms, boundary walls, electricity and running water. 21% government primary schools are operating with single teachers and 14% with a single classroom. Corporal punishment is widespread and remains unchecked. Budget allocations for education are insufficient and funds that are available are not spent effectively.
Stunningly disconcerting while these stats are, they are a mere initial peek into the emergency we are facing. There’s much more on the Alif Ailaan website for anyone who might be interested in further and even more unnerving details.


The war’s nature doesn’t change; its conduct does. And modern wars are not a direct contest of arms. They are waged at multiple levels and primarily through non-kinetic means. Facebook, Amazon, Google etc. are now as important to the United States as its blue water navy and its carrier battle groups. Washington is pursuing legal action against what it has called a national security threat from Chinese tech giant Huawei. A combined Israeli-U.S. cyber operation destroyed more than half the number of centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility.


But here’s the thing: while we have a huge problem with those children who are out of school, we have a bigger problem with those who are in schools. In other words, if we could somehow manage to put into schools the 44% currently not enrolled, we would only be producing unthinking ‘literates’ in larger numbers. Our issue is thus not just those who are not in schools but also those who are in schools.
But stats alone do not mean much. They are the starting point. At the back of the stats are a horde of issues that need to be resolved and they require debate: what kind of schools do we need? Public or private? If public schools are the only way to increase basic literacy, how do we make them effective and efficient? Are students produced by the current system geared to teach in a manner in which they were never taught, never groomed to think? Clearly not.
So, what we have here is a system that not only perpetrates but perpetuates unthinking mediocrity, a system that doesn’t prepare anyone to face the challenges and to tap into the opportunities presented by the 21st century.
What language should be used for instruction, Urdu, English, the regional languages? What does the market demand? What is it that opens up broader avenues for those in search of knowledge, if at all?
Should we be focusing on what’s called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or should our focus be social sciences and the arts? Is this even a good question, especially if posited in an X versus Y framework?
The Pakistan Peoples Party government put Article 25 A in the constitution. It also put together a task force and then declared an education emergency. We have since had the third elected government. Despite some increase in funds, the structural problems remain unaddressed to a large extent. Yet, some conversation has begun because of the efforts of campaigns like Alif Ailaan, among others.
But while the conversation is important, as is work by several conscientious experts, the emergency is dire. Here’s why.
It’s not just an education emergency. It is a national security emergency. Let there be no doubt about that.
Modern war, even when it is non-hybrid, requires knowledge, capital-intensive armies and economies. That simply cannot happen with the human resource we are producing. 
The military tries to get the best for its requirements and then acculturates its personnel. But it cannot escape the consequences of consistently poor educational standards. It will either have to work twice as hard to polish the personnel it gets or it will have to rest (dis)content with poorer standards.
Except, one thing you cannot do with poor standards: fight and win.
And fighting is not just about using weapons. It is about harnessing your fighting capabilities with the ability to think and innovate. A schooling that stymies thought and kills curiosity can do anything but produce a thinking soldier — or a thinking anyone.
Ditto for the economy. With the current human resource, there’s only this far that we can go and no more. And if we cannot produce innovative entrepreneurs, diversify our exports, reduce our trade deficit, in addition to doing many other things, we will continue to have economic emergencies. At the heart of those emergencies lies our education or the lack thereof.
Do note how all of this is interrelated. That’s the flowchart we need.
As I noted elsewhere, this talk about 5th Generation war, a recent fad, is one that tends to tackle the problem upside down and at the wrong end. Consider. Not every autumnal leaf that falls is indication that the world is waging 5th Generation war against Pakistan; two, why is it that everyone is waging 5th Generation war against us while we sit there like a duck waiting for someone to shoot us?
How about we take this 5th-to whatever-generation war to those who are presumably waging it against us?
Hybrid or non-hybrid war, 5th Generation or 6th Generation war, irregular war, call it what you will, requires for victory people who can think. What we are taught, or how we are indoctrinated can only get us morons, certainly not the material thinking is made of.
The war’s nature doesn’t change; its conduct does. And modern wars are not a direct contest of arms. They are waged at multiple levels and primarily through non-kinetic means. Facebook, Amazon, Google etc. are now as important to the United States as its blue water navy and its carrier battle groups. Washington is pursuing legal action against what it has called a national security threat from Chinese tech giant Huawei. A combined Israeli-U.S. cyber operation destroyed more than half the number of centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility. 
Nations are exploring space and before long someone will put weapons in space. Drones and war-bots are already in play. Soon enough we will have a bigger range of weapons in the category of what is termed as Lethal Autonomous Weapons.
This is what we know so far; there is much else that is being worked upon but about which we do not know much, a good example of it being AI (artificial intelligence), its integration into our lives and its functioning in both civilian and military spheres.
The common strand in all this is the same: thinking and innovation.
Once again, neither can come without questioning, experimentation, exploration and research. Once again, our education system woefully lacks the tools to inculcate thinking. And that means, to recap, our education emergency is not just about education. It’s about survival. Survival as a people. Survival with dignity.
If that is not a national security emergency, I don’t know what is.


The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997) and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. (2002-03). He is a famous anchorperson, analyst and remained editor, National Security Affairs at a private TV channel. He also regularly contributes to various national and international publications. 
Twitter: @ejazhaider

 

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