Ronald Dore (1925-2018) became a legend among educationalists already in the late 1970s. Everyone who had opinions on basic education issues, philosophy of education, policy and planning issues, comparative and international education, and just about everyone in social sciences and politics, including students and young academics who had been part of the ‘1968 student revolution’, had to mention Ronald Dore, and his most famous book, ‘The Diploma Disease: Education, Qualification and Development’, discussing the foundations of education. Its first edition was published in 1976, at a time when people were eager to debate issues of change in the world, including in education at schools, universities, and adult education centres, in industrialised and developing countries, and how equal relationships could be developed in and between the countries. The debate was again revived when the second edition of ‘The Diploma Disease’ was released in 1997.

In the late 1990s, though, many people had become less keen on leftist change in society and education. People in the West and beyond have since the 1990s focused on how education can benefit themselves, even at the expense of other people and countries. Politicians and education planners have emphasised bookish education for exams and formal competences, sometimes termed the ‘credential inflation’. It stresses paper qualifications rather than real qualifications, geared towards employment. Conservatives were the first to advocate this type of schools, but later, most politicians, even quite far to the left, agree to the conservatives’ arguments.

Ronald Dore wanted us to focus on the fundamental issues of how to live, learn and think; the skills and certificates for work should come later, sometimes in schools and sometimes at work, and in combination between the two in lifelong education processes. He warned against measuring and grading students, at entrance and completion, making education a ritualistic process of accumulating paper qualifications, exams and degrees. But since the Diploma Disease is contagious, we seem all to have contracted it in spite of the warnings by Dore and many others. In today’s language: we have forgotten to keep distance from those who advocate that the more certificates we have the better educated we are; we have forgotten to wash our hands when we have met the technocrats and accountants and their way of thinking, ignoring the wisdoms of ordinary village folks and thinkers without degrees; and we have forgotten to wear ‘ear masks’ so we wouldn’t listen to the capitalists dance around the ‘golden calf’, ignoring the basic needs of all human beings, born equal in God’s image.

Schools should be for educating children and youth, for developing minds and character, for moral education, for learning values and human rights, for caring for others, working together, and for reading poetry and prayers—all that our mothers wanted. Today, since the world has become so technocratic and technical, we have come to believe that it is the schools and universities that must certify what people can do, grade and rank people. Some of this is needed, but it mustn’t become the purpose of education. Today, that is very much the case, not only for secondary and tertiary education, but even for lower levels; grades and overcrowded bookish curricula, sometimes even from pre-school children of four or five. This all stands in the way for real learning, for exploring, having fun and making the days pleasurable at school.

Sadly, for many children, maybe the majority, school is a burden where they are forced to go for a decade or more, and later comes a working life for 30 or 40 years, also that being a burden for many. It should be joyful and pleasant, and lifelong learning, directly related to one’s job or something entirely different should be offered. Experts keep saying we may need to re-educate ourselves during life. It is probably true, but it is also true that there are many basic things that never change, and we must not be so technocratic that we don’t see that. We must indeed understand the things Ronald Dore talked about, and what I have focused on in this article, are fundamental. I hope politicians and education planners realise this in Pakistan and everywhere else when we plan for the future, including when the Single National Curriculum gets into the schools in spring next year.

Ronald Dore drew lessons from and compared different education systems in ‘The Diploma Disease’ and his several other books, especially Japanese confusion education, and the history Kenyan education, where almost all children go to school, taking advantage of the modern, competitive education system, which Dore and I are otherwise critical to, but there are also positive sides to it. He describes the success of education, especially at the time of the 1971 JVP youth insurrection, if you remember that, and also, how well Sri Lanka does in education today, and Pakistan can always borrow a leaf from what it has achieved; more recently, Bangladesh has also done well.

When I give prominence to the British educationist and philosopher, well, on paper a sociologist and Japanologist, it is because all countries should listen to his deep thoughts and advice, and also study his empirical data. Dore himself came from humble backgrounds, the son of a cleaner who later became a fireman at the railways. He did well at the Eleven Plus Exams (since long abolished) and he was awarded a scholarship to attend grammar school in spite of his class background; his parents thought he might get a job in a bank or something like that. And then, maybe it was the values and education in his home and village in Bournemouth that actually took him to his heights—as it may have been, too, for the new Japanese Prime Minister designate, Yoshihide Suga, who was introduced this week. The media said he came from ‘nowhere’, having grown up on a strawberry farm in the north of the land, near Yokohama, without the Tokyo political, economic and university networks that are so important in his country and most other countries. Again, we must learn to value the real things in life and education, not just what looks good on paper and in class photos.