What Are Pakistani College Students All About?

By Howard Schweber

After spending a summer teaching political theory to Pakistani college students, I can confidently make two assertions:  they are just like all the other college students I have known, and they are not at all like the other college students I have known.  Beyond that, I found puzzles and mysteries.

My first impression of Pakistani students was that they are … well, just college students.  How utterly, disappointingly unexotic.  Grade-conscious careerists, canny manipulators of the system, highly competitive … future engineers and finance majors.

But there are some differences, after all.  That word “elite” comes into play, here. In the U.S., no college student would describe him or herself as “elite” – that word is primarily reserved for use as a political insult.  Americans, notoriously, valorize the idea of belonging to “the middle class,” sometimes to a ludicrous degree.  Pakistani students have no such compunctions, and are quite pleased to describe themselves and their family backgrounds by saying “we are the elites” and other words to that effect.  Partly this tendency reflects an inherited colonialist culture, partly it reflects the reality of a deep economic divisions reflected in the ubiquitous servant culture that every American I spoke with privately described as jarring.  American college students at top schools tend to have a sense of entitlement … but nothing that compares with the “elite” classes of Pakistani society.

Not all LUMS students come from backgrounds of privilege, however.  In my small, unscientific sample of about 40 students whom I met (out of 65 enrolled in my two courses), I encountered 10 or so who come from worlds very different from that of Lahore’s upper class.  These students tended to approach me quietly and privately to describe their backgrounds; students from small villages, not only in the Punjab but also from the areas around Karachi and Peshawar, the student who confided that he had grown up on streets similar to the ones we were walking through in the area around Lahore’s Walled City, the student (pointed out to me) who comes from FATA and cannot go home.

And there is yet another dissonant strain that clashes with the “elite” culture of graduates of Aitchison School, convent schools, and the like.  This different voice appears in the form of deeply religious students, referred to on my particular campus by faculty and fellow students alike as “the mullahs.” At first I thought I understood the significance of their presence on campus, but by the time I left I had concluded that the relationship between these religiously observant students, their fellows, and the administration is the great unsolved mystery that I take away from my visit.  It may be the great unsolved mystery of Pakistan, in fact, but I’ll come back to that.

Looking more closely at the students I met and taught reveals more mysteries.  Some had serious problems with English, particularly in their writing, but most were extremely well prepared as far as language skills are concerned.  It is when we look beyond language skills that puzzles begin to appear.

Here’s an example:  on the first examination that I administered I included a question that asked students to “compare and contrast” two texts.  I was not particularly proud of the question, since for American students this is considered the most banal, overused, pedantic imaginable form of exam problem, the sort of question they have been encountering since the fourth grade.  I was therefore nonplussed when several students asked what I meant by “comparing” different texts.  “We have never been asked a question like this,” said one, and a dozen others in the room expressed their agreement. I have often had students request extensions on assignments, but LUMS was the first place in which I encountered a request for an extension signed by five students – who, it turned out, were among the better students in the class! –  justified by the statement that “we have never been asked to write something like this before.”

In response to these inquiries, I tried to explain the idea of making comparisons in terms of taxonomy – you identify the salient characteristics and use them to classify objects in terms of their differences (“zebras have stripes, horses don’t.”)  Now apply the same idea to, say, theories of history.  “This writer views social arrangements as expressions of economic organization, this writer understands social arrangements as the performance of ideological claims … and here’s the explanation that makes more sense in modern Pakistan.”  I wasn’t necessarily expecting brilliant insights, but it was startling to realize that the question was, itself, startling.

That was only the beginning of a slowly dawning realization that LUMS students are palpably uncomfortable with abstract concepts and what people in Education Schools call “critical thinking skills.”  When I raised this point to faculty and alumni, every one without exception acknowledged the problem, and pointed to the system of secondary education as the culprit.  Undoubtedly the point is correct, but I think there is a deeper observation to be made here.  In addition to being uncomfortable with abstract concepts, these students and their families seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of knowledge that is not justified by an immediate practical application.  That discomfort extends to a reluctance to embrace basic scientific research as well as the humanities.  I heard from students who wanted to study physics but whose parents insisted that they become engineers, students who wanted to become historians but whose parents did not see the point to being an historian.  The same attitudes exist in other places, to be sure, but among LUMS students it seemed to be universal.  There is a classic saying about immigrants to America:  “the first generation are factory workers so the second generation can be lawyers so the third generation can be artists.”  I mentioned that saying to a student and he found it deeply puzzling.

Part of the reason for the discomfort with abstraction may have to do with a curiously limited range of background knowledge.  My students – many of whom, again, had graduated from the finest schools – knew almost literally nothing of non-Pakistani history and culture.  The reason is not that Pakistan is culturally isolated – far from it.  At one point I found myself confronted by a room full of students who had an exhaustive knowledge of the movies that were Oscar candidates last year but among whom the vast majority had never heard of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  In general, students had no idea – not even a wrong idea! – about the significance of the French Revolution or World War I, the history of nationalism and empires, the contents of the Book of Genesis, the Scientific Revolution or the Renaissance.  Again, when I pressed students, faculty members, and alumni, the answer was always the same: the fault lies with the secondary school curriculum, and particularly the fact that during Zia’s rule secondary school curricula were shifted to emphasize Pakistan studies and Islam at the expense of everything else.  Again, that can only be a very partial explanation.  But it is worth noting that this lack of cultural literacy helps feed the culture of conspiracy theories for which Pakistan is justly famous.

But what happens once these students get to college?  I saw and heard about fine courses in Shakespeare and Islamic Jurisprudence, but when it comes to the social sciences it appears that the students who learn anything about these subjects at all (that is, those who choose to take courses outside of Accounting and Finance) are fed a steady diet of snippets of readings and excerpts from trendy current theories.  Many students could and were eager to could talk fluently about Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and (rather weirdly) Nazi Germany, but Locke and Rousseau, Machiavelli and Madison, Cromwell and Marx were all equally unknown territory. Undoubtedly, at this point I will be accused of Western ethnocentrism; how many American college students know the names of the first four Moghul Emperors?  It’s a fair point, to be sure.  But it’s a big world out there, and a dangerous place at home.  Colleges don’t just train engineers, they train citizens and future leaders.  Pakistan might do well to train some future leaders in the history and the philosophies that have shaped the world around them.

The point is not that the instructors at these colleges are bad teachers, far from it; the instructors I met were qualified, dedicated teachers.  The point is that establishing the historical and philosophical context out of which modern ways of thinking emerge does not seem to be part of the curriculum.  Nor, for that matter, does reading whole books seem to be an expected element of the college experience.  I had a student in my office who complained, with no apparent sense of irony, that I had asked a question on a take-home exam to which he was unable to find an answer on Wikipedia.  (To repeat an earlier observation, Pakistani college students seem to be almost entirely unencumbered by any sense of irony.  I find this incomprehensible, given the Dadaist absurdity of much of Pakistani politics.)

Which brings me back to the “mullahs.”  Over and over I was warned, by faculty members and students alike, to beware of these students.  When I mentioned some of the texts that I was teaching, a senior colleague was first horrified, then said “well, you are probably all right because it is the summer.”  All of this fed into a rather well settled narrative of universities as bastions of secular knowledge (and a fair amount of partying in the men’s dorm, I hear), besieged by the forces of religious extremism.

But then I got to know a few students who are, themselves, religiously observant.  They tell a different story.  Their claim is that the so-called “mullahs” are two groups of students.  One group, led by an instructor, follow a Sufi order called Naqshbandi, while the other is associated with “Tableeghi Jamaat.”  Neither group, according to these students, has any interest in confrontation.  The same students insist that there have never been any incidents of religious students harassing secular students or faculty or disrupting classes, and that the college Disciplinary Committee would make short work of any student who tried to do so.  By contrast, the same students complain of a pervasive anti-religious bias.  In an e-mail, a student wrote:  “I remember that in one particular class a student with beard came late to class, which is a normal practice, and instructor said to him sarcastically, ‘Oh go back and offer prayer etc. because these things (courses) are not important…’”

So there are two narratives at work here.  Which one is right, is one more right than the other, are both simultaneously operative?  Which narrative captures more of the experience at the University of Punjab, which captures more of what goes on at LUMS?  I have no idea – I only know that no one disrupted my classes or threatened me, but that many people seemed to feel compelled to call my attention to the possibility of such events.

The more I think about it, this last mystery about Pakistan’s universities is a mystery about Pakistan.  I have no clear idea about the relationships among different approaches to Islam and secularism among Pakistan’s elites.  Traditionally, Pakistanis have been “the kind of Muslims who go to shrines,” but the nation has a death penalty for blasphemy and just a few months ago “Death to Qadianis” banners used to festoon the boulevards of Lahore.  And one Pakistani student, in front of other students, told me “as a good Muslim I would never say a’salaam back if an Ahmedi said a’salaam to me.”  The other students said nothing, in a class devoted to examining theories of democracy and multiculturalism.  As I walked around the campus, I observed the students lounging on the stairs, men and women together, but then a sociologist tells me that among the very people I am observing more than 85% will enter arranged marriages and that more than 90% of those marriages do not permit the wife to file for divorce.

So maybe these aren’t “just college students” after all.  But what are they, this next generation of the nation’s elite?  Individually I can tell you that they are bright, thoughtful, witty, principled, socially and intellectually attractive young adults with widely varying worldviews, limited only by a lack of education and culturally imposed limitations, especially the women.  But as a group?  If you ask me “what are Pakistani college students all about?” I can only answer that I find it a mystery.

This article appeared first in The Friday Times, Lahore, and is being reproduced here with permission of the author. Howard Schweber is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he teaches political theory and constitutional law. He taught this summer at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

A follow-up to this post is now available: LUMS and Learning: Reflections on a Discussion.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008 he taught a three-week course to a co-ed class at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. His observations of his experience provide another data point for consideration in this discussion.

A more general discussion of issues related to education in Pakistan is available here and a summary is available here.

For an assessment of liberal arts education at one of India’s most well-known institutions, St. Stephens College, see here.

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108 Responses to “What Are Pakistani College Students All About?”

  1. yayaver Says:

    Its like repetition of same story cross border this time. I have never found so much truth but only in these lines:
    How utterly, disappointingly unexotic. Grade-conscious careerists, canny manipulators of the system, highly competitive … future engineers and finance majors.

    Education lacking cross-disciplinary research and curiosity to ask questions, what hope remains for the future ?

    • Mira Says:

      I found article to be accurate in terms of the class gap and elitism attitudes in Pakistan. They cannot relate to “Real Pakistan” which is middle and lower classes. The issues of not being able to compare and contrast is accurate because critical thinking freedom of thought isn’t taught in schools. It’s learned via the open press and media in Pakistan but even those are just posts and diaries of events that occurred vs. articulated perspective of what is occurring in that nation. Some of these kids have difficulty adjusting into the Western world and go back to Pakistan because its a class issue is a problem. Elite Indians have that issue as well. Education and critical thinking and perspective are an extremely important aspect of building a well rounded curriculum and especially if a percentage of them go abroad. There is blanket racism/classism in Pakistan and its great you got to see it first hand in Pakistan.

      This makes one appreciate their freedoms tend fold.

      • Mira Says:

        I did not understand this statement. What did you mean by uncumbered irony? College kids all over the world can be this way…

        “To repeat an earlier observation, Pakistani college students seem to be almost entirely unencumbered by any sense of irony.

  2. srean Says:

    “In general, students had no idea – not even a wrong idea! – about the significance of the French Revolution”

    I doubt that the answer will be much different if asked of an average US citizen. The significant difference is perhaps that the author’s sample set were political science students. But I still feel a hint of chauvinism in the author’s expectation. That European/American history is _the_ history.

    If an American student is asked about some event that is deemed significant in asian history the responses will in all probability be equally vacuous and yet no one will judge them lacking. In this context some may even argue that to question americans about events that did not touch them in direct and tangible ways is unfair. There I rest my case.

    On the otherhand if an American is quizzed about the history of their own land and native people I have my reservations (no pun intended) about how well they will fair.

    • Vinod Says:

      Fact remains that the French Revolution is part of the reason for Pakistan being a nation state and India being a secular nation state and for India and Pakistan to exist as nation states. It has far more significance than Indians and Pakistanis or other Asians will care to admit. But history, leave alone intellectual history, is not a subject that is taught with a modicum of quality in both countries.

      • srean Says:

        True, and that is why i specifically mentioned “did not touch them in direct….” The key word there is direct. If someone does not know that some event affected him/her, from their point of view it did not affect them at all, particularly in comparison to other events that have touched the living generation in person.

      • Umbrella Says:

        True but I wouldn’t think that is big deal. I would question Their knowledge of their own history. Some Pakistanis do not know about Indian history or the events. I would think they would know it because per the Dean of Lums they travel outside a lot and have goals to go to the west but not all can go and some stay to work in Pakistan. There is only a % that gets selected per their interviews. They should all be required to do a day of social work to graduate …

  3. Sakuntala Says:

    I was amused, and remembered my own experinces of teaching in an American univerisyt, while on a Fulbright assignment.Why, many leading Americans spell Gandhi as “Ghandi” and ask me about “Hindu” language. There isnt one. The average American student (even at the graduate or post doc level) doesn’t realise that Asian nations are marked by far greater diversities than in the West, and that there is no “average” or “typical Indian woman” or man for that matter (I was forever being asked, by campus audinces, whether I would describe myself as a ‘typical Indian woman” — there are a few millions like me, there are millions of others with whom I have nothing in common whatsoever (except our gender) So students at one institution hadn’t heard of Chomsky ? I wonder how many in the West have heard of Shankara, or Manusmriti , or leading Muslim freedom fighters who were Gandhians (or can name India’s first woman President)…

    • Vinod Says:

      Fact is nothing of Sankara and Manusmriti or muslim freedom fighters have shaped American or Western polity while the French revolution has shaped so much of the world including Asia.

      • srean Says:

        The French revolution definitely had a role to play in shaping the Asian experience but it is not a part of their identity. It happened in a different continent. Its impact was by way of proxies, the European colonizers.

        Native americans were surely a part of the american history, but I doubt if any of these would be on the average college students mind. One could argue that it is not a part of the pop culture anymore, but it does not seem to help even if it were. I wonder how many would know why the oscar nominated film mystic river is called so. Though it is considered among the “10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America”.

        Rock music is deeply influenced by African music. A representative US student of humanities would at best be able to trace the influence to the delta blues (that too not always), but not across the continent to Africa.

      • Vinod Says:

        It happened in a different continent. Its impact was by way of proxies, the European colonizers.

        Even the native leaders in the freedom struggles of Asian countries were influenced quite deeply by the ideologies that emanated post French revolution. And they went on to form political institutions underpinned with these ideas.

      • Abdul Says:

        Mahatma Gandhi’s non violence had a deep effect on Martin Luther King Jr. Indian spirituality had an effcet on the western world

    • Lalala Says:

      err neither have most of us heard of them :S

  4. Vinod Says:

    I can explain the mystery in the interaction between the mullas and others. The religiously observent want certainty of morals from the chaos of social, moral and economic change that modernity brings. Religion provides an easy answer as compared to a critical thinking attitude towards modernity. But religion, especially Islam, has its reputation preceding it. It tends to be overtly or covertly missionary, at least the modern versions of it. The presence of a religiously observent muslim triggers a guilt and outcaste complex in the indulgent elite youth. Guilt because s/he isn’t following Islam despite being muslim and outcaste because s/he ideologically does not subscribe to the orthodox doctrines and practices of Islam. That creates a tension between the two groups. It is tension which is the result of the simple fact that the ‘caretakers of Islam’ have not rigorously and critically dealt with modernity and tuned the religion. Instead they have harked back to some pure Prophetic form as a knee jerk defense against some perceived attack of modernity, which has some truth to it. Modernity does owe a lot to the French revolution and the idea of separation of church and state.

    I think the Prof will get a great handle over “the mystery” if he could educate himself on the intellectual history of Islamic ideologies. I’m sure he will find it most illuminating.

    • srean Says:

      “It tends to be overtly or covertly missionary, at least the modern versions of it.”

      And in what way would that be any different from other mainstream organized religion ?
      Hinduism has so far been an unorganized force without an united “church”, but the VHP/RSS and its ilk are trying their best to change that.

      It is customary to call hindu’s the more illimunated and reformed. But if one traces those reform movement, particularly to bengal rennaissance and Rammohan Roy, a lot can be traced to muslim scholarships in the muttazil tradition.

      “the result of the simple fact that the ‘caretakers of Islam’ have not rigorously and critically dealt with modernity and tuned the religion”

      Going by the fact that the hindu right still continue to endorse honour killings to atone inter-caste marriages, I would argue that neither have the self appointed caretakers of hindus.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Srean: You are new to the blog so let me welcome you to it. At the same time, I would like to reiterate the house rules. We try very hard to focus on the issues and the arguments and to avoid turning the forum into a match between Us and Them.

        Professor Schweber has raised a number of issues that I find worth discussing. I would point to the following for the moment:

        1. The ability of college students at the leading Pakistani university (the equivalent of the Ivy league in the US) to analyze and discuss issues critically in the context of a history of ideas (Western, Oriental or Eastern, it does not matter), say for example, What is secularism?
        2. The social gap between a self-designated elite and the majority of the population and its implications?
        3. The relations and discourse amongst sections of the elite that subscribe to different ideological positions and its implications?

        In thinking about these issues, it would not help us much to be sidetracked into comparisons with either the lack of knowledge of the average American student or with the internal disjunctions in Hinduism. I feel the issues in elite education in each country in South Asia are of such importance that we should stay focused on them and not be sidetracked into competitive analyses.

        On the other hand, comparative analyses can be very useful. If we determine that similar issues are prevalent in other South Asian countries we might conclude that the problem has less to do with religion and more to with other shared factors. Our search would then be directed to identifying these other factors.

        • srean Says:

          Thanks for the reply. Just to clarify my intention was not to provoke a Us vs Them discourse. Rather it was quite the opposite, that in some fundamental ways people (and in a separate thread, that organized religion) are no different.

          Professor’s was indeed a stimulating article, but could have been even better sans the diversion by way of shades of Europe/ethno-centrism. But then ethnocentrism is a trait that affects us all, one can only strive to recognize and eliminate it from oneself.
          I am not much of a blog reader anyways but it seemed to me some of the peripheral aspects of the article needed to be grounded.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            srean: Thanks for staying with the blog and the discussion. Ethnocentrism undermines arguments when it is unconscious or arrogant. The author was quite frank in stating that he would be charged with ethnocentrism but felt that the point was important enough to make it nevertheless. Personally, I feel he was right. I don’t think we can disagree that the leadership of a country needs be aware of the world and the major currents that have shaped it and will continue to shape it in the future. It would be myopic to say that we don’t need to be knowledgeable of these because they are not part of our history or because graduates of Harvard and MIT might not know of Mughal history.

            The contribution of the blog would lie in exploring all those aspects that we feel need to be grounded and to ground them to our satisfaction. The article provides a great opportunity to discuss a subject of vital importance and that is the way we should look at it.

          • Vinod Says:

            I’m often asked why I question decisions in whose effects I have no stake. There seems to be a pervasive idea that a disinterested observer or an observer who has no stake in a situation somehow has no ground to offer an opinion and if s/he does then it deserves to be discarded simply because s/he is an outsider.

            Sen, in his Idea of Justice, refers to Adam Smith’s work to talk about the importance of such ‘critical outsiders’ in the chapter on objectivity. He makes very thought provoking points there.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod: Two thoughts come to mind. First, your stake may not be direct or immediate but you could be affected by the long-term consequences of the decision if it has a negative impact on the well-being of the society of which you are a part. Second, in addition to the value rightly pointed out by Sen, there are issues where the opinion of neutral observers is deliberately invited as in arbitration. A disinterested perspective seems to be such a valuable input in so many situations that rejecting it makes little sense.

          • srean Says:

            Replying to South Asian. For some reason there wasnt a reply link there.

            “It would be myopic to say that we don’t need to be knowledgeable of these because they are not part of our history or because graduates of Harvard and MIT might not know of Mughal history.”

            “myopic” is putting it mildly, its as good as intellectual death.

            My point never was to imply that “we dont need to know”, just that such ignorance, though highly unwanted, is common and perhaps not the most distinguishing aspect of LUMS. There are other deeper stuff going on and the author pointed to those.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            srean: That was also my feeling. The comments attempted to discredit the entire piece by picking on what was perhaps the most trivial aspect, the knowledge of facts. This allowed an escape from the much more significant points that deserved attention.

    • Lalala Says:

      “I think the Prof will get a great handle over “the mystery” if he could educate himself on the intellectual history of Islamic ideologies. I’m sure he will find it most illuminating.”

      By the sword?

  5. Uttara Says:

    The author is being ethnocentric-he himself recognises this. I arrived in the UK as a student to find that my peers knew next to nothing about Britain’s colonial history. It was always WW2 privileged in their history lessons. So this is a worldwide problem, of not establishing historical connections.

    In India too, one will many find students relying solely on Wikipedia for answers, even in some of the best institutions. Lecturers sometimes dictate notes instead of teaching, and these have to be regurgitated in the exams. A huge premium is placed on learning things by rote, in schools and colleges. That said, there are also students and teachers who do not do this, who read, compare, analyse…however, there is much scope for improvement.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Uttara: I agree that the knowledge of facts is spotty everywhere, in some places more than others. My interest is more in assessing the ability to reason, to place a topic in the context of its origins and evolution, to structure a coherent and persuasive argument, and to look at issues from multiple perspectives. My ideal experiment would be to take a set of social science students from the best institutions in South Asia, set them a topic (say, what is secularism, or the rise of religious fundamentalism, or the right to self-determination), give them an hour without access to any external aids, and see what they come up with. My sense is that this ability is not becoming more prevalent over time as it should have been; and it may very well be eroding given the pressures of the job market.

      My other concern is that if one starts, say, with the most prestigious institutions in the US there is a finely graded continuum that is quite deep. In South Asia, if one goes beyond the handful of centers of excellence, one really falls off a cliff. So, when one looks at the student body at LUMS one is really looking at the national intellectual leadership of the future. And if that leadership is lacking some skills of critical analysis, it should be a cause of immense concern. When I look at the nature of public discourse on talk shows in South Asia, it comes across as a red flag to me.

    • Vinod Says:

      SA, I’m inclined to agree with you. BBC radio 88.8FM has some awesome discussions in it on issues all around the world. The quality of that discussion far surpasses any that I’ve ever seen on Indian TV channels.

  6. SouthAsian Says:

    Anand Mahindra has gifted $10 million to the Humanities program at Harvard University. It is useful to read the discussions supporting the announcement:




    (Links courtesy of Uttara)

  7. Vikram Says:

    I am a bit surprised at the comments made here, there are perceptive observers made here by a very learned observer who seems to care deeply about the future of South Asia.

    In particular the observation,

    “In addition to being uncomfortable with abstract concepts, these students and their families seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of knowledge that is not justified by an immediate practical application.”

    needs to be discussed more. From what I can tell, this is almost certainly the case with most Indian students. The ‘Institute of Technology’ higher education culture that has proliferated the country results in even otherwise curious students being deprived of an environment where they can ask critical questions about their society and themselves.

    Holistic higher education seems almost non-existent in India. Some remedial action is needed in the short term, along with longer term initiatives to build better higher education centres.

    • srean Says:

      I wouldnt put the blame squarely at the university’s or IIT’s feet. If you look at the thinkers and scholars of our times, or the well rounded average Joes, they are hardly ever the product of a curriculum. They are a product of a desire to acquire knowledge and skills that they care about. The desire to seek those skills is something that gets assimilated from your peers, surroundings and most importantly from home. The primary contribution that an university makes towards someone’s education is not through the classes but the peers that they bring you in contact with.

      It would be an error to think that universities or institutes serve as the primary means to an education. Even if they claim so in their brochures, it is not there job to shape a well rounded educated person. There is not enough hours in a typical class schedule for that. By the time you have entered the university, for the most part, it is already too late. The functional purpose that universities serve is as a specialized resource, a limited time window, that supports other means to get educated and the primary one would be home. I would even argue that universities and institutes can at best make you literate, not educated. The latter is essentially a self driven process. The university might force you to read Iliad but cannot make you appreciate it or seek out Odyssey.

      Having been schooled in one of the IITs as well as in an Indian university outside of it, I would profoundly disagree with the broad unipolar characterization of an IIT student thats popular in the press. This also draws from experiences of family members from previous generations who have been there. The stereotype makes for entertaining movies, books and theatre but as is the case with any stereotype, it isnt representative. The IITs live more in the hostels rather than its lecture halls.

      But at the same time I will not dismiss the criticism, a chunk of students do fall closer to the stereotype than away from it and there seems to be a worrying trend in that direction. I am yet to find a satisfactory explanation for that. One that I have heard is the changing demographics of the students. The argument goes like this: In the previous generations they came from middle and higher middle classes and had the luxury to be not so urgently focused on instant professional gratification. I am ambivalent towards such explanations unless I see believable numbers. More often than not such claims draw from an entirely human tendency towards ethnocentrism. I argue that the Prof Schwebber’s article is partially guilty of that too.

      The damage, if you will, was not done at the higher universities but much earlier when students decided, or that it was decided for them, that doctors or engineers (now MBAs) is all that you ever want to be. Public perception drives policy(or it should). In India its is the middle and lower who vote but the elected mostly represent the middle and upper (Mayawati or no Mayawati). The middle class is perfectly at peace with IITs as it has served them well, or they perceive a promise to be served well.

      I understand the pressures that drive the choice of a profession so. For a long time they happened to be the most secure and viable professions. You can see the same pressures and the resulting frustration here in the downturn affected US. The new buzzword is how much does your university degree increase your employability index. It is a function of the economic weather, you have it both ways. With India doing arguably better, students are going for disciplines different from the holy trinity.

      If one wants wholesome education, university and institutes are a red herring, the target should be primary to higher-secondary schools.

      At the end it is essentially a resource allocation problem. The crux of the argument is this, if you have a severely limited resources, which may be human, financial as well as infrastructural, do you spread it around all over or collect them in a few pockets and drive traffic there. Both will be up for criticism.

      Public funded higher education centers have always been an convenient whipping boy in any country. For a fair critique of them, we should have at our disposal the tools to measure their direct and indirect impact. I dont think we do a good job of acquiring or using them.

      Rather than dismantling them (a rhetoric that has a seasonal variation in the press) more attention should be paid towards the distribution of its costs.

  8. Raza Says:

    The article is a cheap shot at Pakistani students and society. I wonder What are American students all about when they cant even spot Washington DC on a map. Students from developing countries are more informed and enlightened then their American counterparts.

  9. Kavita Says:

    I doubt if critical thinking in students is a deep concern for most Universities in Asia. I think the ability to read whole books, then locate, summarize and express their central arguments and fallacies are truly alien to many in Universities, colleges and governments. We are a fast food world – take in semi masticated food, regurgitated, half baked information, so that we don’t need to chew on conceptually difficult material. Why bother when guides for everything are available? What value would anyone see in the laborious ploughing through of densely written books that eventually get torn to shreds by better wits?
    I sense that the world is no longer the known world, and knowledge is no longer the tool that shapes the future. Ideology is.

  10. Peace4All Says:

    Dear all,
    I am a student of LUMS for the past 1 year and my major is Accounting and Finance. I hail from a middle-class background and come from a school constituted of different strata of society. I may be able to help you all in understanding the Pakistani students at LUMS a bit more.
    1. When I joined LUMS in 2009, i came there with only one goal: to graduate with an excellent CGPA. But over time, i realized that course studies aren’t the only important thing in life. I felt an urge to study other religions, political science, history, and scientific research. This urge was due to the fact that I came across people of diverse views, cultural background, ethnicities and religions at LUMS. Without having proper knowledge of other’s basis of view, i felt that there was an invisible wall in-between. I started to seek knowledge of the modern scientific ongoing researchs, the history of the different areas in the world, different religions and above all; my own religion, cultural heritage and the political system of my country. After one year, i have transformed from an autocratic thinker to a democratic thinker who listens to and respects everyone’s ideas, even if they contradict mine. I think of it as a big achievement and a step forward in my life. You might think that this fellow is an exception among many more exceptions. But what LUMS has inculcated in me, is the power to THINK and there are numerous of my fellows who have the same opinion as mine. The credit goes to LUMS that despite being an Accounting and Finance major, i know the significance of the French Revolution, World War 1, the Scientific Revolution, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and modern Science. I am aware of the influence of Marx and Locke and many other people from history.

    2. Mr. Scweber has made an acute abservation regarding “the critical skills” of the students at LUMS. He is right. The reason behind this is the sorry state of affairs at secondary schools. A question like “comparing and contrasting” isn’t common in the exams of the Pakistani examination system. Although people who have done O/A levels are well aware of it.

    I will try to illustrate the remaining issues later.

  11. Sikandar Says:

    Dear Sir,
    This is with reference to the beautiful words and thoughts you have expressed about my university. But at this point i am seriously amused but not surprised as you like other American citizens have clearly misunderstood us Pakistanis.At this point in time, I am quiet very much confused where to start commenting but still i will try my level best hope you won’t mind for my expressions and usage of English as a medium of language for this post.
    At first, You know what first of all i would like to notify you that we all are proud of our great institution which people abroad see as an elitist university. Well to remind you that this is the only university in Pakistan despite of worst economic conditions. You must be proud to make such exaggerated claims about LUMS as an institution. Well let me make an interesting case for you just imagine you were a local faculty member or a local Pakistani who would have read the same article as you have written i am sure he must have been impressed with you kind expression of your thoughts as you seem to be very authentic source of guidance in the eyes of some people but with great due respect i would like to notify you you indeed being the wisest have seriously disappointed me at-least i cant say for whole of Pakistan.You clearly made biased claims using unrepresentative sample of just 40 students to make you world trade center building of your views about pakistani students. Well is it really fair well i am not a Phd but i do know this for a fact that in the eyes of of people claiming to be PHDS its clearly flawed. Well its is some thing equal to if i randomly select a small bunch of people walking across New York street doing all sorts of crimes which you can ever think of. So would it be fair to connect those people with whole of America. I am afraid no Sir. Well now coming back to the caliber of the students. Well just to remind university has currently more than 3000 students enrolled out of that you were given just 40 so that doesn’t even make a 10% best estimate. To remind you one most important fact most of the retakes are usually taking summer just to improve their grades with a desire to improve their respective GPA so that answer you most important question about highly grade conscious students. Now honorable faculty like you clearly boast with the success of USA that USA has clearly higher standards of education well even if i assume this correct due to existence of some great institutions like Harvard( Sorry i am not calling your name), MIT, and many more so whats the big deal. Just imagine LUMS is trying its level best keeping in view how worst conditions under which Pakistan has been suffering for last 10 years due to terrorist attacks, depleting economy and many thanks to same old friendly alley of Pakistan which people of the world view as super powers, USA.
    To remind you a great thought Pakistani students hold a significant proportion in your own universities in US holding GPAs up to 4 so would you call those student as well lacking caliber. Its some thing like availability of an opportunity who ever gets it he or she excel in it.Yes We do lack in Pakistan with some of the basic need like better education but is it fair to shake the identity of being a Pakistani as calling you find “Pakistani students” as what ever conclusion you made. Well i am afraid no Sir. This is even violates some of the basic laws of United Nations.
    No matter what the whole world say at least i do love my country because i am not a mean guy who after getting all the benefit from the same mother land later on explicitly mourn over this fact what my motherland hasn’t given it to me. Though i too got offers from top ranking universities in UK but i prioritized my family obligations over this desire but it doesn’t mean i am lacking some caliber.
    ” I am Proud to be what Pakistan and LUMS has given me and i am seriously disappointed but why should i be after all you are the same old American making similar claims like government control channels like CNN ,BBC do. Americans had their more than 100 years and we are still just 50 years old new born infant country”
    Last but not the least Sir don’t mind at all its like i got very emotional and still what you think i do respect as you are my elder and being wiser according to principles what this mother land has taught me and i really wished i would have taken that course just to proven your misconception. Have a good day Sir with all your future endeavors

  12. Sadia Says:

    I’ve studied in the Pakistani ‘elitest’ educational system (and by this I refer to O and A levels) and I can attest to all the arguments you make though I will not agree completely with them.

    It has been my personal experience to be frustrated with the lack of emphasis on analysis and critical thinking in most classes – whether social sciences or natural sciences. The reason is not just the syllabus and the system, but the students themselves. There is not a default idea of curiosity and attaining knowledge and education is seen mostly, simply as a means to get to that end of a stable career. Which isn’t a bad thing, because why would you not want a stable job, but I do think that it matters what processes you go through intellectually before reaching that end, because education cultivates more than just the required ‘resume’ skills.

    At the same time, I want to point out that though this might be the case for the majority of the students, it is not so for ALL of them. And by this I don’t mean just a handful few but a substantial amount, even if a minority. I have known people who were interested in what was taught outside the class, who had a wider and deeper knowledge than only what was in textbooks and who engaged in intellectual, relevant and contextual discussions outside of their studies; who are familiar with Marx and Machiavelli and who could tell you the significance of the French Revolution or WWII or Vietnam or just what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    I think it is important to recognize that such a sector exists and that part of these people will constitute the country’s future leadership because stating otherwise points to an absolutely hopeless future and I do not believe that that is entirely where we are headed.

    As far as the problem itself goes – even where students are well-read and well-versed with more than just their present affairs, I’ve noticed that it is usually due to a curiosity that stems from within themselves rather than it being a value instilled by the educational system. And so yes, I do think that if we want to increase the number of full rounded students, the education system in Pakistan needs to be drastically changed. Even when teachers realize this they usually succumb to the requirements of the board and there isn’t a lot of flexibility regarding how the courses are taught and approached because the primary importance is given to grades and exams and careers. Again, the idea of viewing education as a means has undermined what it should really stand for. The high standards of elitest schools in terms of admissions don’t help matters either – a certain institute, for example, will not take you in unless you have less than 8 As at O Level. A student is measured by his/her grades and the ways of achieving this grade are based on how well you can master the answering techniques or how quickly you can ‘rattofy’. So students are increasingly focused on bettering their grades rather than thinking of the bigger picture, which although is important, isn’t done in through the method it should.

    So yes, while I do maintain that all students don’t subscribe to such a view – I will agree with the greater of your argument. You are right in that it is extremely hard to classify Pakistani students into a single category, but I would not mind that as much if all these different categories merged into a group of open-minded students all of whom could think for themselves and be capable of holding an opinion outside of what is required by the professor. Sadly, I think that will only happen with a redefinition of the education system’s values and methods and a spreading out of equal resources which does not leave students fighting each other academically to get to the top and earn the better $$$$.

  13. R. M Says:

    This instructor instructed a 100-Level course titled ‘Introduction to Western Political Philosophy’. He taught roughly 40 people, consisting mainly of Freshman or Sophomores. His ethnocentrism and generalization leads me to wonder how he was able to taught at such a prestigious institution, rather, at any institution anywhere in the world. I am shocked to know that this ‘professor’ was exposed to university going youths, and can only shudder at the kind of racism that lingered all along while he was teaching and its possible effects on the students. While he seems totally ‘shocked’ to know that none of the LUMS students knew anything about general world history (Too many fallacies in terms of generalizations for me to even bother to point out), can he actually vouch for even 1% of the ‘American College Students’ knowing everything about South Asian History? This is Imperialism at its worst. I hope that such an instructor is never ‘caught’ teaching at LUMS. Expect your reputation to be duely soiled, Schweber.

  14. Ahsan Jamil Says:

    I took a course from him.. He was real stud.. a great teacher in fact… I should not say this.. but! applause.. tajwar!! you suck!!

  15. Syed Asim Bokhari Says:

    I am to say the least apalled by Mr.Schweber’s over generalization. In the short span of time that he did spend here I think hes being a bit too harsh on the students at LUMS. Agreed many might be unaware of the some western philosophers that have shaped modern thought but then again how many of the Arab mathematicians and philosophers from whom the Europeans initially learnt the art of science remembered today in American colleges?
    The beginning of Renaissance was the end of Crusades. Its a known fact that the Europeans learnt much from the Arabs. I wonder why we hear of Pythogaros and Archemides in our science books but rarely of an Arab who did much more in the field of science.
    My point being knowledge of “Locke and Rousseau, Machiavelli and Madison, Cromwell and Marx” does not mean we “lack of cultural literacy.”

  16. lpj Says:

    An ethnocentric and arrogant article, for sure. But I do agree that most Pakistanis lack critical thinking and yes it IS because of faulty secondary education but also because traits like critical thinking can only be afforded by nations who are well fed, well clothed, and in pursuit of higher motivation. Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. Google it.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      lpj: Maslow’s theory makes a lot of sense but in this case there would appear to be three qualifications:

      1. The students at LUMS should be the most well fed and well clothed in Pakistan and should be engaged in the pursuit of higher motivation. So, either your claim that most Pakistanis lack critical thinking excludes students at LUMS or, if it does not, then Maslow’s theory does not apply here. The problem, as you assert, might well be in the secondary education.

      2. The quality of secondary education has declined over the years and this decline is not related to the country getting poorer – the most common explanations refer to Bhutto’s nationalization of education and Zia’s Islamization of it. So again, Maslow’s theory cannot be used to explain what has happened in Pakistan.

      3. It can be argued that critical thinking is not a luxury in the sense that Maslow’s theory characterizes luxuries. In fact, critical thinking is a necessity without which survival is endangered. Only the well fed can afford to neglect critical thinking. So we might be having the paradoxical situation in which the poor are much more ‘street smart’ than the rich but are handicapped because they are deprived of the benefit of good education. Which leads to an even more paradoxical conclusion: Are the wrong people being educated in Pakistan?

      • Vinod Says:

        Are the wrong people being educated in Pakistan?

        Or perhaps it’s the result of the interaction between education and the people being educated. Education is making pig headed individuals who lack imagination.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: Both factors could be at work. The vast majority of the country which includes very talented individuals is deprived of a decent education. The tiny minority privileged by birth is getting trained but not fully educated. That is why there can be the paradox of a society producing both an Ajmal Kasab and a Faisal Shahzad. This could be a hypothesis worth exploring. Students have to demand a good education as a right because the state is quite happy to discourage questioning and inquiry.

  17. Hammad Khan Says:

    Being a part of both systems of education (Pakistani and Western), I can relate to this article. I was surprised by my lack of knowledge of ancient civilizations and philosophers. Pakistani culture is too submerged in Islam, which distorts the real values and concepts our societies have been founded upon. We are taught that everything has to do with religion and we have forgotten to draw the line between the state and religion. The result is that our students do not aspire for a society based on democratic or socialist values, but they believe in an ‘Islamic’ state. The form of government hardly matters to those concerned with religion. The shifts from ‘deformed’ democracies to dictatorship have been numerous without any real enmity towards any form of government. I am not trying to say that democracy is the best or any form of government for that matter, I am trying to say that state and religion should be kept separate. Pakistan was build as a welfare state. We have molded that purpose into an Islamic state. Today, Pakistan has no real unique identity. We recognize ourselves as the enemy of India, yet we have no political ideology. We have to stop finding excuses and taking the blame away from ourselves by satisfying our puffed-up egos that the West doesn’t know about our philosophers or historians. We have to let go of the colonialist mentality by excelling ourselves just for the intrinsic nature of excellence, not out of competition with India or the West. The time has come where we let go of our egos and accept the fact that the West dominates the world, India has achieved wonders and is recognized worldwide, while we have still not figured out our political ideologies. Many of us still prefer military dictatorship over democracy. We have to reform our educational system with access to education for all. Even if education is provided to every single citizen of Pakistan for free, we would still face many problems that we are facing today because the current education system has failed us. Even after 63 years, we have not let go of the colonialist mind. We have made the mullahs authorities of Islam while relinquishing ourselves of the responsibility of understanding and interpreting the religion ourselves! Pakistan may be facing challenges to its very existence, but the answer lies not in military dictatorship, theological government, bloody revolution, or in Talibinization, but it lies in the reformed education for all.

    • Vinod Says:

      Well said, Hammad. Truly, Indians too could use what you recommend. Indians too are in a huge denial about the external influences that have shaped India and the following misguided claims of cultural exclusivity.

    • Mira Says:

      This is a very logically based response and very well stated. I totally agree and when stated to other Pakistani leaders they fall back to post colonial solutions and compare India’s problems to Pakistan’s problems. The world is not worried about India succeeding but the world is concerned about Pakistan’s education system because of its negative ripple effects across the globe. The phase on defining the best models of education are still undefined and they cannot come to consensus about the model of education that fits each province which is a failure. It seems they are concerned about scalability but if they cannot create one custom built educational model internally how do they expect to create 30,000 schools? They have to try to pilot a few and then scale. The mindset in Pakistan leadership is too filled with setbacks and post colonial baggage.

      • Mira Says:

        Also, if the white American missionaries can create successful education systems in foreign lands in Punjab pre-partition in 1800s without knowing a drop of the language or culture and they can create the curriculums and financing and work with local govt to launch it and fund it, then why can’t Pakistanis create their own educational systems at various levels,in Pakistan. The issue is mindset in Pakistan is not industrious and bogged down with excuses.

  18. Vinod Says:

    I think many of the commentators are missing some key aspects of the Prof’s article –

    (i) it is not about the common college student or any average Pakistani citizen. It is about college students in a top brass university in Pakistan. Comparisons with the average American student is misplaced

    (ii) it is not merely about how much they don’t know about other cultures. It is about how much they don’t know about the major factors of modern history that have shaped current day Pakistan and the world political setup itself.

    Many commentators have interpreted the Prof’s writeup as simply pointing out the lack of awareness of cross cultural history.

  19. sameer Says:

    Author is little bit being eurocentric and he himself is admitting about it. Someone correctly pointed out student in Subcontinent should know about French revolution since it was reason for Pakistan being nation state. However there were also some thing in India, China and Muslim world, who had a tremendous effect on West in term of knowledge. For eg in India, concept of zero was born. I doubt most of student in West know about

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Sameer: It would be a pity to reduce the issue to a contest about who knows more facts about the other. Facts are not all that relevant in this age of information overload and access. Anyone can Google ‘zero’ and learn about its history when the need arises. It might perhaps be a bit more relevant to ask how much students know of the history of their own countries and how objective is the history that they know. But what is most important is the judgment and the ability that is needed to question what they are told and to be able to independently assess the credibility of the various versions? This is not an ability that one is born with; it is an analytical skill that is learnt at school through exercise and practice and it requires a skeptical attitude. The argument is that this is an area where Pakistani education is weak and getting weaker because the questioning of authority has been discouraged particularly since the time of Zia and teachers have begun to censor themselves to avoid getting into trouble.

  20. Saqlain Says:

    Genrealisations based on two months through interactions with a dozen.
    I think I would have had enjoyed your course, bonne chance.

  21. eman Says:

    well. . may i know dear instructor what is so upsetting that most lums students will end up in arranged marriages? why are you imposing your own ideas of how a person ought to get married on us? … and what is with beethoven’s 9th symphony? have you read iqbal or ghalib? this is what edward said calls orientalism. .no? you are viewing pakistani students through the lens of your own culture with an implicit assumption that your culture or the arts that you enjoy are superior to pakistani culture. it would have benefited you a lot had you not formed judgments about pakistani students based on your own cultural and intellectual biases.
    and i do not understand what you found so ‘mysterious’ about ‘deeply religious students’ and their relationship with the admin and their fellow students? there is peaceful co-existence on campus as you saw it. what is making it a mystery to you? most pakistanis do care deeply about religion and you saw that reflected on campus. outside lums there are no religion vs secular dichotomies in the larger pakistani public.
    and why does it sound ‘dissonant’ to you? i am from what you would classify as an ‘elitest institution’ and i also happen to be ‘deeply religious’ by your standards but i don’t find any clashes within myself or at lums! please please please stop thinking in imaginary binaries!

    • Hammad Khan Says:

      Excel for the intrinsic nature of excellence, don’t pursue it as a necessity which rises from competition.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      eman: I am surprised by the following claim that you have made: “outside lums there are no religion vs secular dichotomies in the larger pakistani public.”

      Religious shrines are being bombed and people are being murdered inside houses of worship. There are severe dichotomies within religion what to speak of between religious and secular perspectives. People are afraid of advocating secular perspectives for fear of violence. When variations of opinion cannot be resolved through discussion and debate and violence becomes the only way to resolve differences, the reality should be faced and not dismissed. It is a sign of the failure of reasoning and discourse that the article has pointed to. The failure to acknowledge a problem is also part of the problem.

  22. Arun Pillai Says:

    To the students of LUMS:

    It is great to see your voices in print. This blog is meant primarily for students in South Asia but you (and others) never seem to participate in the various discussions taking place. I hope you (and others from the subcontinent) speak up and a genuine conversation with many participants emerges.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Arun: The response to this post is atypical. It is triggered by the fact that the post was specifically about a particular institution and the students of the institution have felt motivated to respond. In general, the blog has failed to achieve its objective of providing a forum for students to discuss topics of general interest that are not sufficiently explored in schools and colleges. Without feedback from students or teachers it is difficult to determine what exactly are the weaknesses that have contributed to the failure.

  23. SouthAsian Says:

    Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008 he taught a three-week course to a co-ed class at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. His observations of his experience provide another data point for consideration in this discussion:


    A more general discussion of issues related to education in Pakistan is available here:


    A summary of the issues is available here:


  24. Komal Says:

    Great post.

  25. S.G Says:

    Agreed that people of Pakistan are to a certain extent more focused on courses like medicine and accounting and so on but that is also due to the fact that Pakistan is a developing country and it requires people or students who can build it and not just argue on different theories!i agree that such critical thinkin is essential but this nation is what 60-65 yrs old.

    Most importantly, if these students have such a one tracked mind and are not meeting the standards of american students then please someone make me understand thayt large number of these very students are studying in IV league schools and that too in fields such as maths,science,law,business. From what i understand, these are the most competitive fields and require very dedicated and sharp minded students who can think outside the box! If we take the learned professors word on the education system and lack of analytical ability of the students then isn’t he really tellin us about the low standard of education of the american univeristies?

    In addition, why do these very students score distinctions in their courses when they r enrolled in the highly prestigious world renowned IV legue universities and the universities in the United Kingdom!I personally know students who have breezed through these universities because they can handle the stress levels!And from what i understand the curriculum of lums is designed in such a way that each student is required to hv certain units from other areas apart from their actual major, such as SS,CS,Maths and so on and so forth!Also every student like any other student in the world has their strengths, some are good at english and some are good at maths!

    I do agree that there are students who lack these abilities but then u get good and bad students.You cannot generalise the whole institution on handful of students!They go through the same education system and infact a harder one when thet sit their O and A’ levels and when they sit their SATs!These are assessed by examiners abroad and it is they who grade these students on a higher assessment scale than their home students!How many of their own home students have a good command over the english language?How grammatically correct are they?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      S.G: Let me attempt to respond to your questions:

      1. Pakistan is graduating a lot of very good doctors and accountants but the country is not being built. In fact, it is being undone – half of it is already gone and there is a virtual civil and religious war in many parts of the remainder. This is because a country is not run or managed by doctors and accountants and the people who do run it need to be very good at understanding and arguing the theories that you tend to dismiss as unimportant. Critical thinking is not a luxury that one acquires at the end of life; it is an essential ability that is required for survival and development. As for the country being only 60-65 years old, this logic would be convincing if critical thinking had been improving over time. In fact it is declining. Just look at the quality of national leadership and compare it with what it was in 1947.

      2. Being highly skilled and doing well on tests does not correlate perfectly with the ability to think critically. Take a highly qualified professional and ask him about the causes of Pakistan’s decline and more often than not you will get a one-dimensional answer like we need a strong man to rule us with a stick. This inability prevents civil society from contributing to the discussions and debates that are needed to craft policies that are appropriate for the country.

      3. This is not to say that there is no one who can think critically in the country or do well outside. But keep in mind that this is a very, very tiny minority in a country with a population of around 170 million people. Outside of a handful of institutions like LUMS, IBA, AKU, NUST, and GIK that graduate professionals, the standard is very poor. Even the bulk of the aspirants for PhD programs are agitating to be exempted from the basic GRE examination.

      4. This is not an issue of genetics or national honour; it is a simple one of pedagogy. It is not what one is taught but how one is taught. If you do a controlled experiment you will probably find that second-generation Pakistani students who have been educated in good elementary and secondary schools abroad will be achieving more distinctions in their field than those who have been educated in schools in Pakistan.

  26. Sidra Says:

    Dear Professor Schweber,

    Its nice to see an honest commentary on your experience teaching in Pakistan, but I have to raise a couple of objections.

    Being a LUMS student myself, I felt at times embarrassed, indignant, and even angered by some of the impressions that you’ve taken away from us. Its interesting that you brought up the issue that most LUMS students you encountered did not seem to know much of the world outside Pakistan, historically and otherwise. I disagree. As a LUMS student, I very much do know what the French Revolution is, and all the other examples of world history that you mentioned. Although, yes, history taught in elementary and secondary school in Pakistan does focus on Pakistan, I did receive historical knowledge of the rest of the world too. I felt that this was quite unfair.

    Furthermore, you stated that you did not feel that LUMS taught a critical way of thinking. I am now in my senior year here, and I can safely say that LUMS has opened up my thinking and knowledge in a way I didn’t know was possible. Perhaps I have never had the experience of studying in an institution abroad, so I cannot compare, but I do know that the LUMS experience has been worlds away from my schooling, or even my Cambridge-provided curriculum from my O and A Levels.

    Coming now to my third objection, the way you seemed, in your article, to be fascinated by the existence of religious students at the university. It also felt to me like you made us sound very small-minded and intolerant. I cannot speak for my fellow students, but I speak for myself when I say that I have never had a problem with either religious or non-religious people. I myself am not religious, I am a Muslim by birth, but not by practice. I realize that the whole religious aspect of Pakistan is a pervasive concept, one that visitors are often most intrigued by due to the rife its created, but as a LUMS student and a Pakistani, I must say this: religion is not, and never will be, a defining concept for me. I wish you would have spent more time in different circles in Pakistan, so you could have taken away more than what you just did, which I felt to be superficial and at-face-value judging by your article.

    Thanks for your time, I really hope you read this comment and maybe get back to me, I would love to hear what you think.

  27. baikash Says:

    i think what the instructor had observed is quiet right.. most of the pakistani student know about important history events. some people commented that american students also don,t know about asian history then why one should complain of asian students..that,s true but it,s also a fact the we are following the western trends, we inclined towards west and also following their political ideologies..and so, it is then necessary for pakistani students to know all the basic history facts and events that shaped those ideologies.. from the comments it,s also evident that we are lacking the courage to bear the truth.. the instructor just share his experience(that i think much fair) and we made an issue of it..

  28. Hammad Khan Says:

    I do agree that there must be geniuses at LUMS and most of them would know about Marx and Machiavelli etc. However, the problem is the ‘critical thinking’ part. They may know about them, but most of them wouldn’t know the teachings and the impact these people had on the world. It is not a contest of who knows more about the world, it’s about correcting our flawed systems. But to do that, we first have to acknowledge that they are flawed in the first place, which most of us are refusing to do (apparent by the comments of most of the people). The lack of focus on philosophers and ideologies have made us lacking in critical thinking skills. This makes it hard for us to critically examine our own personal beliefs and concepts. This makes us indignant and the total denial of our deficiencies follows. The point is, there must be people at LUMS who are better than the rest of us, however, the general student body is lacking in thinking skills and the knowledge (not education).

    I don’t see any reason for anyone to get offended. Even if you think that this article is biased or whatever, the Professor is fully entitled to his beliefs. I don’t see any intention of insult and malice behind this article. This article shows that the Professor was concerned enough for Pakistan and especially for LUMS, that he took out time and put in a lot of effort to make this study.

    It’s easy to get angry and label something as biased and then just totally ignore it, but try to learn something from everyone. Don’t let your national zeal and ego distort the reality. These are the emotions which run free in our country and we get too caught up in them to see the real face of our society and the values we should be pursuing! We haven’t even established a political ideology yet, for God’s sake!

  29. eman Says:

    dear south asian
    i gather that you donot live in pakistani and are forming your judgement from what you see on tv or read in mainstream media. there are thousands of shrines in pakistan and you are giving the impression that they all are either being bombed or people are being stopped from going there. well the reality is starkingly different. the problem that you are talking about is an external one. it has nothing to do with the pakistani public. please come and visit pakistan and interact with common people both whom you might call religious and non religious by your own imaginery dichotomies…

    and i would like to know your response to my other objections

    • SouthAsian Says:

      eman: Your other objections were addressed to Professor Schweber and it is for him to respond to them. My intervention pertained to a comment you made that I felt was not an accurate reflection of reality. In my view the general consensus is that both the level of religious fundamentalism and religion-based violence have risen sharply in Pakistan. You may attribute this to an external cause but that does not take away from the fact of its existence. Perhaps you consider this level of violence to be normal. Personally, I believe that even the destruction of one shrine is one too many. There is a failure to resolve disputes through civil discourse or political mechanisms. The recent violence in Karachi is just another example of this phenomenon.

  30. eman Says:

    south asian: how do you define religious ‘fundamentalism’? is it the same as ‘religious based violence’ or are they two different and mutually exclusive? or they mix into one another?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      eman: I see them as different. Religious fundamentalism pertains to the belief that life ought to be ordered according to the fundamental principles stipulated by the original texts or practices of a religion. This ordering of life can include, for example, the dress code for women or the legitimacy of music. As long as this belief is limited to the life of an individual or group there need not be any violence associated with it. Religious-based violence occurs when one group becomes convinced that its interpretation of the fundamentals is the only correct one and needs to be imposed on other groups even against the latter’s wishes. As examples one can cite cases of women being harassed for not wearing appropriate clothes or students being murdered for listening to music. The violence can extend further when one sect declares another to be heretical. Christianity went through a terrible period of religion-based violence in Europe that ultimately led to the separation of church and state so that religious coercion is now an offence against the law. In Pakistan, it is the general consensus that religion-based violence has been on the increase.

  31. eman Says:

    south asian: does anything called ‘secular fundamentalism’ also exist?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      eman: You explain what you understand by the term and I will let you know if I find the explanation convincing.

      • massi Says:

        Don,t you think that we are still in a nourishing stage and a lot of things would fix with the passage of time??

        I think we had enough discussion on this issue now we should put full stop here..

        • SouthAsian Says:

          massi: This analogy can work both ways. If one takes the wrong diet in the nourishing stage a lot of things would go wrong with the passage of time. So, the critical item to examine is the diet.

          I would have more faith in your hypothesis if things had been improving with the passage of time, but have they? What kind of objective evidence would you use to argue this point?

          As for enough discussion, what is the urgency to put a full stop here? If there are others who feel like continuing, what is the harm? Individuals always retain the option of moving on to something else.

  32. Saira Says:

    first of all, let me tell u that it was quite an interesting article. Not just because it exposed us to different views on our educational system (in particular LUMS) but also because it gave us an opportunity to erase the misconceptions prevalent in the minds of foreigners.
    secondly. i’d like to identify few weaknesses in ur piece (or in ur observation):
    1. you taught about 40 students. quite a small number, isn’t it? can u generalize observations then? critical thinker would say No!
    2. it is not necessary that every student at LUMS would be of same intellectual capacity. i understand its one of the best institutions in the world (and yes, im proud to say that) but that doesnt imply that every student is at par with others in terms of critical thinking skills. So, if those 40 and more importantly freshman students were a little scared of critical thinking, that doesnt necessarily mean that a senior student at lums would also be at the same level. that ‘scared’ feeling is partly because matriculation system in Pakistan doesnt leave much room for critical thinking. and LUMS polishes these skills not overnight but in several months. So obviously it takes time for students to develop these skills. Just to add to it, let me tell u i ve seen several examples of students at Harvard and MIT lacking even the basic knowledge of their own history, let alone asian history and its impact on them.
    3. its shocking that a professor as respected and professional as you are gives importance to speaking english and looks down upon students who can’t speak and write english. You forget its not our mother tongue and not a god-sent language either which we would wish to excel in. I admit LUMS is an english medium institution but we are all Pakistanis who speak their native languages and so its neither important nor easy for us to excel in english without it being the subject in which we are interested. LUMS is known for its cultural diversity all over Pakistan. Students are not just tested on english but more importantly on their knowledge. A student should make it to LUMS if he is brilliant at the subjects of his interest and which he want to pursue further rather than english writing. Instructors need to be supportive of these students who lack english writing skills because they have not been made comfortable with english during their school years.
    4. what was that about arranged marriages please?! a little out of context really. Pakistanis have their own set of values. we cherish them and are proud of them. they do us no harm but only serve us all become better beings.
    5. critical thinking is really difficult for even some doctors. freshmen and sophomores are too immature to do it perhaps because our national system has flaws, as u identified. would it do any harm to an instructor to guide students a little on ‘compare/contrast’ questions. tell them once and im sure they ll do it better than the students in America. a huge claim, i know. but atleast give it a chance and test. we know our system has flaws but lets try to make up for them and change the system rather than identifying them for the sake of belittling and insulting students, their institution and their country. Im currently enrolled in many political science courses at LUMS. trust me each starts with aristotle, locke, rousseau, mill, marx , weber and goes upto many contemporary authors. i ve even taken courses which are SOLELY based on critically analysing each of the above mentioned authors. agreed, there is a lapse in our educational system but ofcourse LUMS has no magic potion. it transforms students gradually.
    6. It was about one summer, wasn’t it? more time is needed to understand educational culture of an istitution.
    7. If LUMS students lacked, they would not be competing and winning in international events including World Model United Nations. im sure all that could not be won with just memorizing things.
    8. Mullahs are not an issue within LUMS really- just like u mentioned with your own experience. these scary narrations are given coz the mullah culture outside LUMS is associated with terrorist attacks which have transformed the views of people towards bearded men. However, within LUMS, diversity is cherished and also maintained due to strict policies of our institution.
    9. being grade conscious is actually good. incentivizes us to do good and to gain more from each course. i agree that the main aim should not just be a good grade but then a good grade comes with a deep knowledge of the subject.

    Finally, i’d like to thank you sir for teaching at LUMS. your article did appeal on a lot of things. Problems with our educational systems do prevail. denial mode will be dangerous for us. However, i’d like to say, very humbly, that LUMS is a step forward to transforming this education system into a better one from which this whole country is and will benefit.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Saira: I hope Professor Schweber responds to your questions but till such time as he does we can try and benefit from a conversation among ourselves. I feel that while the article provides an opportunity to erase the misconceptions prevalent in the minds of foreigners, we should keep open the possibility that an outsider might also see some things we might have missed because we are too close to them. Would you agree that such a possibility can exist?

      Your comment raised some questions in my mind and I will record them in the order in which you have made them:

      1. You feel that a sample size of 40 is too small to generalize from? What size do you think would be adequate?

      2. You are quite right that students exhibit a range of abilities. However, LUMS is the most competitive university in Pakistan and even the weakest student at LUMS would have had to be amongst the highest scoring in the country to qualify for admission. So, this could legitimately be considered a sample of the highest performing students in the country. What Professor Schweber is saying and what you agree with is that the high school system is weak in certain areas. Lack of knowledge of facts or history is not the same thing as weakness in critical thinking. In fact, only critical thinking would alert the individual that there are gaps in his or her knowledge.

      3. Learning takes place through language so it is essential to be fluent in some language to fully benefit from the reading and writing that is involved in the learning process. Some LUMS students may not be fluent in English but are they fluent in some other language? For example, given an assignment to compare and contrast the positions of Hobbes and Mills on the balance between liberty and equality, in what language would they best be able to write their answer? This, like almost all the points in the article, is not a judgment on individual students. It points to weaknesses in the system of education that students can enter a university without being fluent in any language which is a serious handicap to learning.

      4. This, like other points in the article, points to the existence of contradictions in Pakistani society. Can we deny that there are contradictions in Pakistani society? What are the values we cherish and are proud of and that are leading to a better society?

      5. Why do you feel that doctors should be good at critical thinking? Does critical thinking depend on professions and on maturity or is it a way of thinking that has to be introduced early in life? Once again, the article points to a weakness in the school system that has to be corrected. Why do you consider the observations to be belittling and insulting to students, their institution and their country? Why react to rather than reflect on the observations?

      6. You feel one summer is not enough to understand the educational culture of an institution. How much time do you feel would be needed?

      7. Could it be that LUMS students are very good at some skills and not so good at others? Would it hurt or help to identify the weaknesses, if any? You have already agreed that there are serious flaws in the national system of education. How do those flaws manifest themselves? And are they all overcome after a few months at LUMS?

      8. The article also mentioned the same phenomenon and asked why does the contradiction exist? Why was the outsider warned by people inside the institution to be careful when the problem does not exist? Does this mean that stereotypes prevail that are divorced from reality? If so, is this an issue that needs to be addressed?

      9. Does a good grade really come with a deep knowledge of the subject? In Pakistani education the focus is overwhelmingly on the answer which is matched against the answer in the text for purposes of grading. Deep knowledge, however, comes from asking questions not from reproducing answers. Would you agree that this remains a weak point of the system?

      The bottom line I feel is to be clear on the distinction between thinking and critical thinking. Everyone thinks but not everyone thinks critically. To give the shortest possible definition, critical thinking is thinking about thinking. How does one realize that one’s thinking is not muddled or confused? How does one identify that different strands in one’s argument do not lead to contradictory conclusions? How does one know whether the assumptions on which one’s argument is based are valid or not? When one becomes comfortable with such questions one makes the transition from thinking to critical thinking.

  33. SouthAsian Says:

    Another foreigner but one asking a question of his own tribe. An interesting other way of looking at some of the same issues:

    So: let me ask – you’ll have seen this one coming – if we asked a bunch of literate university students today what they had read, what they had all read – what would be the answer? I suspect the answer would be: Nothing. Not that young people don’t read, but they don’t read together. They haven’t got, as we had, a common culture: books to devour and discuss and be formed by.


  34. Sheema Kermani Says:

    I know I am entering late into the discussion but I just had a few things I wanted to add to all that is being said. First of all I feel that we do not need to always react by comparing the situation in one country with another – so to me it does not matter how little or not American students know about Indian history. What we are talking about is what Pakistani students know about the rest of the world and specially what little they know about the Arts- music, dance, drama – subjects that lead towards another kind of knowledge of oneself and the world. The other point that the Professor raised about abstract concepts – well I totally agree with him. Our education leads us towards very linear approaches in all aspects of life and thinking and combined with a total lack of any kind of cultural and artistic exposure we grow up with the same approach – thus the mind and sensibilities do not allow for any provocative appreciation which in turn leads to the non acceptance of artists and creative individuals.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Sheema: The tendency to react rather than to reflect is itself a part of the problem that needs attention. The distinction you have added regarding the tendency to linear thinking is very valuable and one we should explore in more detail. If you could give some examples of linear and non-linear thinking, it could get the discussion off the ground.

      Music and arts remain a puzzle. There is a lot of awareness and enthusiasm for a particular type of music (and dance, though that is more problematic). So, it is not a case of a blanket disapproval or non-acceptance of artists. There is a lack of acceptance of those who don’t conform to the prevalent norms, whatever those norms might be. This could link back to linear thinking. I would be interested in your views on this aspect.

  35. fyst Says:

    what can i say; we are a practical people :)
    practical sciences attract us more than the rambling of gents like Machiavelli and Rousseau

    • SouthAsian Says:

      fyst: How supremely ironical then that our practical output is so abysmally poor and our behavior so intensely Machiavellian!

      • fyst Says:

        of course it is; that’s part of our grand plan; we are exactly where we want to be

        ‘ignorance is bliss; knowledge corrupts;
        philosophy is the devils art and history is a bitch”

      • Hammad Khan Says:

        “our behavior so intensely Machiavellian!”

        I’d like to know that how could you relate Machiavelli’s teachings to ignorant, egoistic behavior?

        • fyst Says:

          c’est tout relative

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Hammad: I can, because I don’t believe that the behavior is entirely ignorant or egoistic. I think a part of the behavior is purposeful or end-directed and to achieve the ends people don’t refrain from political expediency or unethical practices. Look at the officials, bureaucrats, representatives and rulers – they were the students of yesteryears. Also note the significance of the fact that people in Pakistan now greet each other with ‘kya chakkar hai’ as often as they do with ‘salam alaikum‘.

          • Hammad Khan Says:

            I don’t disagee with you there. However, I am still not sure how are you relating this behavior to Machiavelli?

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Hammad: The term ‘Machiavellian’ has now entered the language as a generic characterization of unscrupulous purposeful behavior marked by expediency and dishonesty. You may consider it a loose usage and interpret it accordingly.

  36. batool Raza Says:

    There isn;t a particular kind of history that we should or should not study. When you’re studying history you can’t discriminate as such, since all of it is a lesson for the present time. Yes the average American college student won’t know the first 4 Mughal Emperors but a history/political science/international relations student would probably know. I completely agree about the secondary school system, while most of us might have done O and A’levels, we still leave without knowing much. I was teaching A’level sociology in one of the best A’level institutions in Karachi and was shocked to find out the students did not know who Karen Armstrong was. I mean she’s not just a white historian, she is a Muslim historian. And students didn’t know what secular meant. I mean one or two did but not all. Knowledge can’t be spoon fed and can’t be forced. An environment fostering the yearning for knowledge needs to be established in order to enable young minds to thrive.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Batool: You are right; it’s not about what you know or don’t know. It’s about how you think about what you know or don’t know. If what you know is always right and what you don’t know not worth knowing, there might be cause for concern.

  37. Ali Says:

    The writer surely seems to be blinded by his inflated ego,which has made him overlook the challenges we face as developing nations,as well as the abnormalities of the western system of education.

    First and foremost,most of the points highlighted by the professor relate to the system and the general outlook of the whole college experience, so why does the professor give the title “what are pakistani college students all about”?.Is he unable to summarise a point of view in a phrase in the correct manner and in context?.

    Secondly if he surely did feel that the students could not comprehend certain language or aspects of working,isn’t it his responsibility as a professor to understand much about different cultures and communication barriers one might face while interacting with people from a different society.Is he that myopic that he gets lost in the jargon and instead of reaching a common ground with students start nitpicking their shortcomings as “Pakistanis”, “Mullahs” “Careerists” and Manipulators”?.

    Talking about the elite culture,what does the American college culture of sororities and fraternities imply? Why is being at Harvard,Standford,Carnegie Mellon such a great feat,such a distinction,such a mark of ARROGANCE? Who is it that started the MBA program as a mainstream course at a time when Social Sciences were running the world? Why are there so many incidents of shooting sprees and killings by university students in the west? Is it because there is equality> Or are they bullied for being black, or fat or poor?.

    My only request is, that while forgetting the fact that his society went through much more barbarism not too long ago (wars with Red Indians,gold rush,industrial revolution,colonialism) and considering the present state of western education and the society (the fraternity culture,the ivy league snob,the frustrated student doing the killing spree, and the much coveted MBA costing a fortune),that he may quit labeling us for our shortcomings.

    This reply however does not mean that we negate the we have shortcomings, it is just to state that the tone and the attitude that the professor has resorted to will just result in criticism and a negative outlook,rather than an improvement of any sort.It will also result in a bloated self image for the west which will also result in them falling prey to the very same things we are being criticized for.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Ali: Let us focus on what is important. In your conclusion you agree that we have shortcomings. What exactly are these shortcomings and what have we done to overcome them? And if we have not yet done anything meaningful, should we not be grateful to someone who has reminded them of their existence and serious implications? Why should we get distracted by the tone and attitude and forget the real issue?

  38. Hamza Says:

    You seemed pretty shocked about the marriage statistic because it conflicts with what you see. I think when it comes to marriage, we’re in the middle of a shift. The newer generation cares about equality and understands it’s important. But marriage isn’t a contract between two people, rather between two families, which means parents who haven’t necessarily grown up in a culture that says equality of women when it comes to divorce rights is important. So right now, that statistic would hold true, because of the previous generation’s influence. In a few years though, that should change. It’s a quiet revolution, really.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Hamza: You may be right. At the same time one should keep in mind the fact that the transition in Pakistan is complex and has strands that are moving in contradictory directions. Those born during or after the Zia ul Haq period are not able to realize fully the extent to which Pakistani society has become more conservative and the implications of this on aspects related to gender. We can ignore whether this has been a good or bad development while acknowledging the fact that women have gained in some dimensions and lost in others. In order to get a better sense of what is happening we would have to spell out the quiet revolution in more detail.

  39. SouthAsian Says:

    College students in South Asia can follow this interesting discussion in the US on whether “college makes you smarter”:


    All the contributions are worth reading but the one that most supports the position of The South Asian Idea is the following:


  40. Noor Says:

    Many of the responses i have read here talk about the adequacy of the O and A’level system.

    However, having gone through both, i can assure you all that they too are structured along religious and nationalist lines.

    In Pakistan Studies, for example, only Indian-Muslim history is touched upon. Chandragupta or Asoka are not part of “Pakistani” history (whatever that is). Also, no emphasis is made upon exploring trends and concepts. Nationalism is a force is not sufficiently explored, nor is the enduring legacy of colonial rule ever discussed. It seems like the course is designed to pander to the views of the Educational institutions who fulfill the role of civil society quite well: propagation of a specific culture and a specific mindset.

    Islamiyat too is focused on one-sided History and textbook rules. There is no attempt to study Islamic History through the critical lens or too study Islamic mysticism. It becomes nothing more than mere indoctrination.

    All this means that what little traces we have of the Humanities in our secondary school education are polluted with Ideological agendas and a narrow world view.

    So when one enters into University, he does so with preconceived notions and strict beliefs: An underdeveloped mind.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Noor: I agree with you. The difference between elite and non-elite education is not really related to openness towards alternative perspectives. At least not any more. It would be interesting to think of an experiment to empirically confirm this assertion because it would be immediately disputed by the recipients of elite education.

      • Noor Says:

        Indeed, looking at the text books issued by state government boards and the O and A’level administrating authority (The University of Cambridge no less), one would find them drenched in nationalistic indoctrination.

        But then again, which educational system does not engender nationalism in its pupils? Does Britain tell its students about its role in the opium wars in China? Is Ibn Khaldun taught to students of the humanities in the west despite his obvious contributions to a plethora of disciplines? I think not. The problem is not specific to South Asia. Dr Schweber seems to be looking at one side of a coin but i still maintain that problem with school curriculum in developing nations should be rectified. The concern voiced by him is nevertheless valid.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Noor: Re your point: “which educational system does not engender nationalism in its pupils? Does Britain tell its students about its role in the opium wars in China?” My sense is that in many countries one would find a two-tier system. There is debate on such issues in the elite institutions like the Ivy League universities and Oxbridge while the second-tier institutions would skip the nuances. The end result is that the ruling elites are quite aware of history while the rest constitute the fodder for the nationalistic propaganda. The difference in Pakistan is that even in our elite institutions no real knowledge is conveyed and our second-tier institutions don’t just rely on absence of information but actual indoctrination in falsehoods. This makes for a lethal combination.

          • Noor Says:

            When talking about nationalistic indoctrination I was referring to the secondary school systems and not the higher education institutions. All respectable higher education institutions in Europe, America as well as South Asia focus heavily on an unbiased approach to history and the humanities. The secondary schools and sixth forms of all these regions however do not, be they private schools or state schools. As Dr Schweber states, the problem lies in secondary school education. My argument stands that it is not exclusive to South Asia and that his hierarchy of knowledge is markedly Ethnocentric, whether he states so or he doesn’t.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Noor: You are right but will probably agree that the existence of bias does not translate to a situation of equality. The degree of bias matters a great deal and in my experience I have yet to see (at least among the countries with which Pakistan should want to be listed) the extent of bias that exists in the Pakistani secondary school curriculum. To take the case of the US today as an example, one will often come across a biased teacher but rarely against a grossly distorted textbook. Add to it the fact, that Pakistan does not offer the opportunity at the higher education level to undo the earlier damage (comparable to what you mention exists in other countries) and the situation becomes doubly dangerous. When the leadership is itself indoctrinated what hope can be held out for the future?

            It is a coincidence that in the comment immediately preceding yours (but on a different post), I linked the curriculum of a elementary school in the US to illustrate the difference in the approach to teaching. Many private schools adhere to some variant of such an open approach. You can see it here: https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/from-elsewhere/ (See Item #4)

  41. SouthAsian Says:

    A companion piece about one of the best-known liberal arts colleges in India:


  42. Muhammad Nouman Qaiser Says:

    I am very doubtful if Pakistani way of life or the general student behaviour could be more generalized as it appears in the text. I agree to one point, Pakistani students are different from Americans, maybe because they have gone through an entire process of life that contrasts how life and education systems work in Pakistan.
    Some of your points could be considered right. You might be in a better position to access and compare critical thinking skills but still LUMS is much more then you have explored in a small amount of time. We certainly need improvement.
    About the religious issues talked about, I have been at LUMS for a fairly long time, I really never found about the two ‘Mullah’ groups you talked about. I would also doubt if calling some student with a beard ‘mullah’ is okay in US but that is a separate discussion. I can not make sense how you safely concluded the existence of ‘Mullahs’ and their existence of groups and their leader instructors without ever experiencing or interacting with any of them.
    Pakistani system of values is different, how priorities in life are arranged in different parts of the globe vary significantly in every region. The comment ” Go back to prayer because these things are not important..” feels like a thoroughly racist, abusive, biased against religion and worthy of being reported as academic misconduct to the most secular person you would find in Pakistan. Not because students are fundamentalist or what you call ‘Mullah’, this statement takes away the right to be free in belief and practice, which is a what defines LUMS and its life.
    The sample you have been exposed to is very limited, and hardly representative of how life goes on at academic institutes in Pakistan and how good students at these institutes compare to those abroad.

  43. KTShamim Says:

    Excellent piece! JazakAllah.

  44. Faraz Hussain Says:

    nice article!

  45. Tayyaba Raza Says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this. The title seems to be slightly misleading because it’s based on LUMS student body only, that too during summer semester. Generally it is students who want to improve their GPA or those wanting to kill time that stay on campus during summers, which might mean they have a ‘laid-back’ attitude about studies or are less competitive than a non-summer semester. Hence, there is a possibility of a selectivity bias. It’s interesting to read Dr. Howard Schweber’s observations and I agree with him to a great extent. I only spent two years at LUMS during MSc, as opposed to most students who are there for undergrad and hence spend double the time at LUMS. Four years is a big chunk of one’s life. Earlier, LUMS was considered an ‘elite’ school, that only the very rich could afford. Thanks to the National Outreach Programme and scholarship-rewarding organizations, students from middle and lower income classes are also able to study at LUMS. However, I feel that as a society, we have internalized the inferiority complexes to a great extent. Those belonging to high income classes consider themselves a superior, not in an obvious way, but in a very subtle way. Those belonging to the lower income backgrounds, most of the times accept these unwritten norms and rules as they are and try to fit in. They try to be how they think they should be.

    However, it is not only about the financial background. Anything and everything is gauged in a certain way by the student body in general. If it is cool to talk about Marxism, people will do that. If it is cool to support Imran Khan, they will do that. If it is cool to dance to a particular music, people will do that. If it is cool to be a part of AIESEC, people will do that. We like to think of our-selves as the non-conformists but we so aren’t. We don’t think things through. It’s like a mad race.

    Societies at LUMS are more like a clique. LUMS Adventure Society is considered the most ‘elite’ because a very exclusive category can join it. AIESEC has more acceptance for people with a certain social profile. LUMS Religious Society is looked down upon by almost 70% of the student body and so are it’s members, with all kinds of rumors going around. How and why students perceive LRS to be what they do is indeed very complex. The Photography and Culture society, I think, have a good reputation in general because of it’s executive body. These are only some insights.

    It’s disturbing to see that an institution like LUMS also, the social segmentation prevails at this level.

    About the following paragraph, I think this is because most of us follow the popular culture. We watch certain movies because everybody talks about them and we don’t want to feel out. We do anything that becomes ‘cool’. As far as the history is concerned, there is a general lack of value for history. We were brought up that way. I know of French Revolution only because I was taught about it in an American High School and was made to watch a documentary that I still remember. In Pakistan, I have only heard of French Revolution through political figures who talk about bloody revolutions.

    At one point I found myself confronted by a room full of students who had an exhaustive knowledge of the movies that were Oscar candidates last year but among whom the vast majority had never heard of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. In general, students had no idea – not even a wrong idea! – about the significance of the French Revolution or World War I, the history of nationalism and empires, the contents of the Book of Genesis, the Scientific Revolution or the Renaissance.

    As for the writer’s point about the question of ‘compare and contrast’, I don’t agree with him entirely. May be it was this particular course. I think Pakistani students, specially the student body at LUMS, are generally good with these things. I don’t understand why the students would be confused or startled by a question that’s phrased that way. The only explanation I could think of was that students probably just made up this weird excuse so they could get the submission deadline postponed and procrastinate a little more. Professor Schweber may have failed to ‘understand’ the conspiracy.

    This is a very hap-hazard email, sorry about that.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Tayyaba: Most of the points you make can claim validity. This is really the way to respond to a critique – by engaging with the arguments on the basis of logic and not by attacking the integrity of the writer.

      You are right that the writer has generalized from LUMS students although he did mention that this was the elite of the student body in Pakistan. I don’t think it follows that the rest would necessarily be less enlightened. It could well be that the elite might be the most decadent and alienated from its own culture. This requires a larger sample.

      You are also right that the writer’s sample was restricted to the summer semester which could definitely introduce a selection bias. And you are also correct to surmise that that the writer may not have been aware of how the students might try and con a foreigner by pretending to not understand what he might be asking them.

      I agree with your observations on the sociology of class differences, the internalization of social prejudices, and the social conformism. These are not all that different from other places. In fact, the conformism might actually be more in a place like the US that makes a fetish of individual choice in the abstract. One can just look at the ads that are targeted by gender to very narrow age groups.

      The teaching of history in Pakistan is indeed a disaster and the ignorance of the past is a contributing factor to the viciousness of the present. One can presume any narrative that suits the needs of the moment.

      This is a useful discussion that needs more input.

  46. Umbrella Says:

    Excellent article. Colleges don’t just train engineers, they train citizens and future leaders.” This is the problem in Pakistan. They aren’t trained to feel social responsibility. If you grow up rich in Pakistan you are around a homogenous set of people who are just like you and they develop tunnel vision and lack of perspective in terms of diversity. I found Pakistani elites the hardest to engage with as compared to other elites but because they were shy and closed off. The Indians were much more affable. I am glad you picked up the lack of comparing and contrasting skills as that was hard for them because in the west that is the first thing you do and debate on it openly. This shows the lack of critical analysis skills. This is why the educational system in Pakistan is not great. I am sure they are great at math but the social sciences sounds poor.
    I am glad you noticed the outright mistreatment of other people and racism. They have been mentally trained to behave this way. To me some are a mystery as well. I found them narrow minded but innocently because they are products of their environments. They dehumanize the poor, the minorities and women. It seemed like a lot of identity issues and post colonial baggage.

  47. Umbrella Says:

    I found this to be true on arranged marriage for Pakistanis youth can be strict but that is why they are in university to get a good match. But happens in Indian culture too, when I met Pakistani Muslim female friends at work events some opened up about getting married too young at 19 and sounded depressed by telling me because I was a single professional female and that seemed appealing. Pakistan is a wild nation because their are secret societies such as the elites, gay population who are so removed from real Pakistan.

  48. Critique on, "What Are Pakistani College Students All About?" by Howard Schweber - University Academia Says:

    […] Link to the original article […]

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