In much of human history, education was never a commodity. During the time of Socrates, around 300 BC, his method of education involved gathering people, especially the youth, at marketplaces or other locations and asking them philosophical questions. People would respond to Socrates’ questions according to their knowledge, and he would listen attentively to their answers, eventually offering his own perspective on the truth.
In this manner, Socrates made philosophy more accessible in his era. Importantly, Socrates never charged any fee for his teaching.
During the time of Socrates, when the pursuit of knowledge was in vogue, there were also scholars who taught philosophy to wealthy individuals in exchange for money, Socrates referred to such people as Sophists or merchants of education and made fun of them.
When Socrates’ disciple Plato established an educational institution called the Academy, there was no tuition fee. However, Plato observed whether his students had a love for knowledge and wisdom. The young person who developed a taste for philosophy became a student at Plato’s Academy. In this process, the student’s financial condition held no significance.
The history of Hinduism is said to be over five to six thousand years old. In the early days of Hinduism, there was no specific caste known as Brahmin. During that time, Brahmin referred to individuals with spiritual abilities, particularly those capable of interpreting and explaining divine texts. These individuals would typically renounce worldly affairs and focus on the promotion of religion and religious knowledge. The society regarded the life and nurturing of knowledge among Brahmins with gratitude, considering it their sacred duty to fulfill the extremely minimal needs of Brahmins.
Even in the early days of Islam, knowledge was a sacred entity, and there was no compensation for its dissemination. However, as a result of conquests and population growth, a phase emerged necessitating the establishment of Madrasas. Monarchs and kings demonstrated their love for knowledge. Instead of making education a state-controlled entity and imposing royal authority over it, they kept education free.
It was in this manner that vast tracts of land were dedicated to educational institutions. These lands were used for cultivating crops, and the proceeds from the sale of these crops were used to cover the expenses of educational institutions, including the salaries of teachers. This tradition of endowment still exists in some form in the Muslim world today
With the establishment of modern states, the responsibility for providing education fell on the shoulders of the state. Initially, the state took on this burden with diligence. However, in our era, in many states, particularly the ruling elite in countries like Pakistan, have outrightly rejected taking the burden of education.
As a result, education at the school, college, and university levels in many cases has become privatized, and the issue is that most private educational institutions do not view education as a sacred duty but as a business.
It can be inferred from the fact that some educational institutions in the country refer to themselves not as ‘schools’ but as ‘companies.’ They address their students not as students but as ‘customers’ or ‘clients.’ In these educational institutions, teachers are not teachers but rather service providers or caretakers of the students.
This is why, in some private schools the teachers forget about physically reprimanding students, the teacher cannot even scold them. And if a teacher does so, they are dismissed from their job. Not because they scolded or physically harmed a student, but because they caused harm to the ‘company’s’ ‘customer.’
Obviously, in the private sector, one of the objectives of establishing a school is also to generate profits. However, now, even the ‘also’ part of this statement has disappeared, and it has been replaced by ‘only.’ Without this, no one can consider their educational institution as a ‘company.’
Some people might say that a few educational institutions indeed refer to themselves as companies. Certainly, that’s the case. However, most private educational institutions don’t explicitly refer to themselves as ‘companies’, but the reality is that they function like one. This reality tarnishes all the sanctity, honor, and noble purposes of education. In essence, it turns students into customers and teachers into servants of students.
An estimate of the commercial aspect of educational institutions can also be deduced from the fact that the cost of an educational institution is often indicative of its quality. However, this is not the case in most instances. Instead, more often than not, the situation resembles a high-priced shop serving ordinary food.
As a result of the commercialization of education, it has become a means for the majority of parents and students to achieve material objectives. Just as people obtain employment through bribery and then, having secured the job, engage in corrupt practices themselves, similarly, expensive education has tainted the minds of most parents and students, making them inclined to seek more financial benefits from their education than actual learning.
Another horrifying consequence of the commodification of education is that the question of competence and qualifications in educational institutions has become secondary. Competence and qualifications have become synonymous with wealth. Those who have money are in school, in college, and in university. Hence, they are considered competent and qualified, and they are the ones who are considered educated.
In a society where 70% of the population earns less than two dollars a day, the implications of educational commercialization become even more apparent. When I completed my MA from the University of Karachi in 1990, the semester fee for the University of Karachi was a mere 350 rupees. Today, this fee has skyrocketed to tens of thousands of rupees. Looking at this fee, one can’t help but think that if such fees were prevalent during our time, many of us, including thousands of students, would not have been able to afford an education at the University of Karachi.
We should remember that in the long journey of human history, the vast majority of geniuses have emerged from the middle or lower middle class, and the geniuses that came from the upper class, their intelligence and knowledge were unrelated to wealth.
However today, without a doubt, to pursue advanced research one needs to have a lot of wealth, but advanced research can only be possible when the basic education system is not based on finances but rather on competence, qualifications, and passion. With competence, qualifications, and passion, a student can excel and become extraordinary even from a humble school, otherwise, even Cambridge and Harvard cannot rectify anyone’s inadequacies.