Social cohesion is the feeling and manifestation of unity and solidarity on a social level. According to this concept, people feel they are part of one community where they face the same challenges and share happiness and sorrow, and are bonded in a linked network. Education plays a paramount role in fostering social cohesion. Education systems have a huge responsibility of forging social solidarity. Education can generate collective conscience and increase the sense of social responsibility.
Governments can use education for either promoting or eroding social solidarity, both of which have occurred worldwide. Warring countries were successfully turned into strongly knit nations with the help of education. On the flipside, nations living in peace for centuries came into turmoil. It was because of the biased nature and unequal structure of educational provisions deliberately designed by respective governments.
One of education’s most important functions is to provide social cement to hold the society together, but with the rise of education, the Pakistani society is getting fragmented. In the modern age of the 21st century, heterogeneity in societies all around the world as well as in Pakistan is on the rise. This growing diversity can be captured ethnically, religiously, denominationally, socially, culturally, demographically, politically, historically and economically.
Owing to such variability in the social fabric, it is essential that a common ideological underpinning is provided to all the people of the state through education or else conflict could result. Parts of the world ranging from South Asia to East Africa to the Middle East have had a bloody history of civil war due to little tolerance and peaceful co-existence, based on flimsy ethnic, religious, sectarian or political grounds. In these instances states themselves were implicated in fanning underlying historical tensions, through divisive curricula. They also rekindled hostilities through reproducing not just educational but also socio-economic inequalities, by means of unequal distribution of the educational opportunities and resources.
It can be inferred that such societies lacked the fundamental social cohesion required to hold them together in peace and harmony, to which education systems should have contributed adequately.
Where to bring such essentially needed cohesion from, which could prevent further miseries inflicted upon humanity? The best and most overlooked social institution for this purpose is none other than ‘education’! Education can promote the democratic norms required for building a pluralistic, tolerant, peaceful, harmonious, cooperative, inclusive, and morally rooted society.
Education can promote a healthy culture of dialogue and negotiation, encouraging young people to overcome their differences through the use of language and communication rather than physical violence. It can shape pro-social behaviour of students who have the potential to become responsible citizens of a democratic polity. It can nurture greater inclusion and cohesion at all levels in the society, through fair and non-discriminatory institutional practices.
Education has the power to bring erstwhile acrimonious communities closer together and moderate their radicalised feelings, or add fuel to the fire through inflammatory textbook contents like the classic examples of Sri Lanka and Bosnia. In short, education can make or break a nation depending on how well it brings about social cohesion.
In the third world countries particularly, education systems have not been fulfilling their responsibilities adequately, resulting in repeated breakouts of civil strife. Research has been carried out, primarily in the Western world, on the cohesion issues caused by education and its consequences for the youth and the nation at large. Reason being the fact that the West itself is now facing social solidarity problems caused by increasing heterogeneity. However, as indicated earlier, lack of social cohesion due to education is still the issue faced most gravely by the third world. Therefore, it is important to understand the link between education and social cohesion in Pakistan.
In a quantitative research study conducted by this scribe (a Sociology graduate from the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad), in district Swabi of KPK, a comparison was made between educated and uneducated youth of Pakistan, ranging from 16-29 years in age. It was discovered that the educated youngsters had a lower level of social cohesion as compared to the uneducated ones. The former were less likely to have social relations. They also had lower political participation in comparison with the uneducated respondents. Moreover, the educated persons were far behind in trust and reciprocity. Therefore, it is inferred that education in Pakistan is eroding social cohesion.
The once high social solidarity was laid to waste through exclusivist education, generating religious intolerance and ethnic separatism. Education was unequally dispersed and the curricula seriously distorted national history. This fuelled frustrations upon lingering educational deprivations, as well as religious hatred. It resulted in a breakdown of social cohesion. A divided and polarised society came into existence wherein those youngsters receiving education had in fact lower social integration than their illiterate fellows.
The findings of the said study could not be more shocking. Instead of the uneducated being lesser socially harmonious and integrative, it is the educated youth that is most likely to display this behaviour. They have also accumulated a greater amount of social capital than the literate group. Lower social cohesion of literate youth is the result of low quality education which has failed to fulfill its social cohesion function. Education in Pakistan is having a negative effect upon macro-level societal integration among various segments. Both the unequal structure and provocative curricula are to be blamed for this.
The above findings, although dismal, are merely a mirror of decades of ensuing governmental negligence of the colossally vital sector of education. The consequences of having mass division-producing factories in the form of educational institutions are evident.
Social chaos can only get worse if federal and provincial education authorities did not pay any attention to the weakened social cohesion caused by education, of which there is clear evidence. The right kind of education for male and female, rural and urban youth can play a vital role in a nation’s solidarity. Therefore, it is inevitable for progress.