0707-Crisis of Knowledge and Education

Lecture by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. for postgraduate students at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine Universiti Malaya on Friday 13th July, 2007



The intellectuals and the broadly-educated are marginalized in the material-driven industrial society in favor of people with narrow and specialized technical skills who are considered economically more productive. Technical education although vital does not cater for all needs of the society. The technically-educated without a broad education can be a danger when they work as a cog in machinery without the ability to understand or appreciate the consequences of their activities on the welfare of society and the environment. Teachers are no longer respected as important members of society; their leadership position has been taken by politicians, businessmen, and technicians. Teachers are despised and are among the lowest paid professions in the community. There is little respect for scholarship. Contempt and not prestige is the label of intellectuals. Wealth and power are considered more important that scholarship. The consequence has been migration of the brightest and most competent from educational institutions to politics and business where their efforts will be appreciated more.



Empirical sciences are studied but not with the spirit of mastery, use and further development by research. The aim of the student is to get some facts, pass some examinations, and get a certificate that opens the door to lucrative employment. These students have skills but no vision or mission and they end up serving only their personal interests. There is no urge to research and extend the frontiers of knowledge. Home-grown technology is little and has little encouragement or prospects in the near future.



General education is suffering from the impact of incoherent and contradictory sources of knowledge. There is a dichotomy in the education system: traditional vs. imported. There are competing and contradictory world-views. The consequence of the various forms of duality is confusion in the minds of students and intellectual schizophrenia of the elite and society’s leadership. Integration of the 2 systems has failed or has been difficult in several countries because it has been mechanical and not conceptual.



Knowledge dispensed at great expense in many educational institutions is not relevant to the contemporary needs of society and can play no role in meeting the challenges. Irrelevance can be seen in the use of models and textbooks that are not relevant to the local problems.



The education system aims at producing a technically-competent person who is not educated in the full sense of the word. The technical person may be a factory worker who carries out work in narrow and specialized areas and need not relate his activity to an integrated whole system. The technical person may not understand or appreciate the moral dimension of his work. De-emphasis of morality is responsible for the increasing unhealthy lifestyles. The youths are taught that values are relative and that there is no absolute evil. The criterion of judgment is anthropo-centric ie what the human likes, prefers, enjoys, or finds more comfortable of convenient.



There are two types of brain drain. Some educated people move to Europe and America where they can get better facilities for their work and where they enjoy physical amenities and feel secure from any threats. Such people become very productive in their adopted countries and are a net loss. Some migrate away from their academic pursuits but stay within the country being engaged in business or politics. There are no attempts to reverse the brain drain by understanding the push and pull factors and doing something to reduce their effects. The main push factors are: no recognition of scientific work, being isolated from interaction with other scientists, poor or inadequate research facilities, and a poor socio-economic environment. The pull factors are largely the same as the push factors but working in the opposite direction.




Public Health started as a social reform movement in the 19th century. By the start of the 20th century it underwent a major paradigm shift when it became a science with the discovery of bacterial causes of disease. Since the discovery that chronic diseases were lifestyle dependent, public health returned to its previous social reform paradigm of working to change society and the individual. We have today sufficient technical knowledge to prevent most human disease. The only barrier is human will and human behavior. These can only be changed by education.


Social movements that succeeded in creating a permanent impact had the following characteristics: spread of knowledge among the masses, leading the masses to gain a new understanding of their social reality resulting in changes of attitudes and behaviors, mobilisation/organisation of the masses, change of social behavior, and maintaining continuity.


Social reform movements that failed dealt with symptoms and not the root problems; were reactive and not pro-active strategies; and failed to educate a critical number of the masses for successful change.


Knowledge is the missing dimension in social reform movements. Social reform movements unguided by correct knowledge and understanding will falter and fail or will be deviated from its original path. Real and permanent change must be from the bottom. A weak bottom leads to a weak top. A weak top has no inner ability to lead a revival. The bottom can only be mobilized and strengthened through knowledge. The top requires knowledge to create a vision and plan for its realization.


Reform requires knowledge, ideas and action related by the following mathematical equation: tajdid = idea + action. Action without knowledge and guiding ideas will not lead to true change. Ideas without action are not change at all. Reform requires and is preceded by a reform in knowledge to provide ideas and motivation on which to build. Reform starts with a change in both the methodology and content of knowledge.


A social change requires changes in attitudes, values, convictions and behaviors of a critical mass of the population. Attitudes, values, convictions, and behaviors are determined by the knowledge base. Good knowledge will lead to positive changes. Bad or inadequate knowledge will lead to negative changes. Societal changes without underlying change in knowledge and thought will be temporary and will soon lose sense of direction.


In the past knowledge change and transmission could occur in the informal sector. Today knowledge is transmitted by the formal school system. Efforts to change or reform knowledge must translate into efforts at reforming the school system.




The vision of the knowledge strategy is an upright balanced person who understands and fulfils his role in creating a healthy society and a healthy environment. He participates actively and positively in building society (socially, culturally, and technologically). He understands that development activities must find a just equilibrium between material and spiritual, control of nature and preservation of the environment, technology and humanity.



The mission of the knowledge strategy is conceptual transformation of the education system from kindergarten to post graduate studies to provide knowledge, values, and attitudes necessary for healthy living.



The goals of conceptual transformation of knowledge are: to identify and eliminate parochial aspects of the basic paradigms of the disciplines of knowledge and reconstruct paradigms on the basis of objectivity and universality, to define objective research methodology for development of new knowledge, and to guide use of knowledge for the good of humanity and the environment. The goals of practical reform of the education system are to: abolish duality of education system and to make sure that traditional knowledge is integrated with scientific knowledge.


The desired system of knowledge will have the following characteristics. Everybody must have access to knowledge without discrimination based on gender or social class.  Learning must be free/affordable and continuous. Personal relations must exist between teacher and student so that morals are transmitted at the same time as knowledge.


Learning is an obligation for all. Essential knowledge is what each individual adult must know to live a healthy life. It is an individual obligation to acquire this knowledge. Communally obligatory knowledge is what the community as a whole needs to know in order to live healthily.


Teaching is an obligation. Those who have knowledge are obliged to teach and disseminate it. Useful knowledge must not be hidden from others but must be taught. Harmful knowledge should not be suppressed but should be known only to those able to handle it and not become confused. If it is completely suppressed and in unknown by anyone of the good people it may come into the community secretly and confuse the less educated. Some useful and correct knowledge should not be taught to the less educated who may be confused by it.


Goals of the school: Children are born in a state of purity. The way they are educated and brought up determines whether they will be good or bad. The scope of the school is wide and includes faith, intellectual, moral, social, and practical skills or attributes. Health education should emphasize critical thinking, reasoning; substantiation; observation of the world, and critical analysis. It should discourage blind following and rote learning.


Socialization: The school is a socializing agent. It is a laboratory for reform of the total society.

ŠProfessor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. July 2007