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What it's like to create an oasis of higher education despite difficulties

October 2, 2014, 2:39 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1816

By riazhussain

Higher education is important for the social and economic growth of a country. Through research,  scholars of higher education add to the existing store of human knowledge. But, there are places in the world where people are struggling to get higher education due to a wide range of problems. What are these problems? UNESCO’s ‘World Declaration on Higher Education for The Twenty-First Century: Vision And Action’ (1998) points out, ‘Everywhere higher education is faced with great challenges and difficulties related to financing, equity of conditions at access into and during the course of studies, improved staff development, skills-based training, enhancement and preservation of quality in teaching, research and services, relevance of programmes, employability of graduates, establishment of efficient co-operation agreements and equitable access to the benefits of international co-operation’. This statement of World Declaration on Higher Education points to the magnitude of the problem, the severity of which varies from place to place. Better conditions for higher education prevail in developed countries. In fact, they seem to form the center of modern education from where modern knowledge is disseminated to the rest of the world.   

In developing countries, however, things look grim despite efforts made by local governments. Some of the developing countries are still struggling to improve their literacy rates because people are too occupied with winning their daily bread for their children to think of going for higher education. However, there are dedicated scholars and educationists in the developing countries who are working to improve the quality of higher education in different parts of the developing world. With their incessant struggle, they create oases of learning, quality higher education and research despite limited resources. Prof. Dr. Mamuna Ghani is one of them. PreAcquaint conducted an interview with her which is the basis for the remainder of the article below.

Dr. Ghani did her PhD under the supervision of Phil Scholfield in 2002 from the University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom. 'Doing Phd' , she says, 'was not a juvenile joke. I was studying for the top qualification at that time. I really had to work hard. We had little time to idle'. Most of her time was spent in reading theses, research papers and books and in having discussions with the supervisor about her research projects. It was an 'all work and no play' job. At last, there came a day when her efforts bore fruit. She wore the ceremonial black and red gown and got her doctorate degree. That rewarding moment filled her eyes with tears of happiness.  

During her PhD and afterwards, she would often go on sightseeing excursions. She visited France, Russia the UAE, Kuwait and other states of the Middle East. 

When she returned home, she shared her experiences and insights with her colleagues and decided to start M. Phil and PhD classes at her university in Pakistan. People tried to discourage and dissuade her but she went on with her sincere efforts.  She had to remove barriers and challenge longstanding myths authored and established by decrepit minds. She had to make personal sacrifices and singlehanded efforts. She remembers that once she was confined to her home due to a bone fracture. Instead of discontinuing her M.Phil classes, she allowed her classes to come to her home and attend her lectures there.  

She has been offering PhD admissions to students since 2003. Today, when she looks back at her career as a university teacher, after twenty-five years of service, her heart is filled with the satisfaction that she has made a tangible contribution to higher education in Pakistan. She says, ‘I did my PhD on the effects of anxiety on the learning process. So, the foremost strategy I take up as a research supervisor is to let my scholars feel at home. I have a magic wand—motivation. With this magic wand, I raise the morale of my students coming from remote areas and lacking in skills and competencies. Another thing that enhances learning is team effort and collaboration. These are the things that deepen your understanding. The result is in front of you. . .’ . She has produced around 56 M.Phil scholars and 9 PhDs within a short span of 10 years. A good number of these scholars came from the backward areas of the country. This is how she has tried to make a difference in the professional lives of hundreds of people.

She is against 'outmoded teaching methods, rote learning and spoon-feeding'. She points out that doing research these days is easier than it was in the past. Now, people do not need to go to libraries. Everything is available on their computers. She says, 'I think there should be an international movement of scholars and researchers. There should be joint programmes and there should be alliances and collaboration'. She has translated her thoughts into practice by helping her PhD students go abroad to the eminent scholars of the UK on research attachments. In November this year, she is organizing the 1st international conference at her department. 

These days, she is the chairperson of the department of English at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur in Pakistan, where she is a part of a number of academic bodies. Her efforts are appreciated by the higher authorities of the university. As an administrator, she is not bureaucratic and bossy. People do not have to wait outside her office to see her. As an educationist, she has her own vision. She has a broader view of life and never locks herself into regional contexts.

She believes that in this short life you can either work for your own personal development or for the development of other people around you. She wants to play her role in spreading education to the far flung areas of the country. She stresses that we should be aware of the problems students' families are facing these days -- inflation and rising unemployment. We have to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. These are some of the social barriers that prevent people from getting a higher education. Then, there are problems related to those who have got higher education. They go abroad for opportunities. We have to provide opportunities to tackle the problem of brain drain'.  

Despite the fact that she has spent a good number of years in Europe, she has not forfeited her own culture and native values.  She likes to spend her free time in doing charity work. When she was in the UK, she associated herself with Oxfam, 'a global movement for change' that is trying to 'build a future free from the injustice of poverty'.

Working with charity organizations in the UK and Pakistan has reinforced Dr. Ghani's resolution to serve her students. Her happiness is associated with the happiness of her daughter and the achievements of her students. She says, ‘I have seen the ups and downs of life. I have seen the world. My happiness is now linked to the achievement, welfare and growth of my own daughter Aleena and my students’.

This love is not one-sided. In fact, selfless, unconditional and parental love cannot remain unreciprocated. We can measure the respect she has won over the years at the department from the flower bouquets she gets on her birthday. She say , ‘I try to keep my birthday secret but somehow or the other the young people studying at the department and my colleagues manage to get wind of it’.

When I asked her about her future dreams, she said, ‘I don’t have any future dream. I am content with what I have'. She is happy with her little oasis of learning, higher education and research that she has carved out in the past twenty-five years. Now this little oasis is expanding-in the form of her graduates and PhDs creating their own little oases of learning at their own workplaces. This is how light travels and spreads and this is how silent edcuational and attitudinal transformation takes place. 

As her scholars complete their PhDs and go back to their native places, she tells them that they have to make things convenient for other people. They have to work as facilitators. Preacquaint.com also talked to her students. When we asked them to summarize her contribution and how she managed to build this little oasis of transformation, they said, 'Simply by going the extra mile for her students. . . by imparting edcuational excellence and human values through motivation . . .yea through motivation'. In fact, before a teacher is able to use the tool of 'motivation' he  needs to undergo a psychological transformation himself .This little oasis, then, is a product of what she learnt in her PhD--to neutralize negative effects of anxiety through motivation for education is not only a process of going through certain prescribed texts but also a process of attitudinal transformation, developing an ability to decipher the universe and a long and arduous journey towards what we call 'humanity'. It is the job of a teacher to help her or his students achieve these goals and this is precisely what our interviewee of today's story seem to effectively do.

Thus, she is among those people who are really happy despite the trials of existence, or she has found out how to become so. It does not mean she has not seen rough times in her life. They do come, but it is having the correct attitude that helps you soar above the adversities and achieve true fulfillment. Indeed, higher education requires such people who live in the higher and broader realms of human existence. 

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