ISLAMABAD-The dictionaries explain empathy as a noun - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another- and differs considerably from sympathy. You can sympathize with flood victims – meaning you feel pity and sorrow for their misfortune, however empathy is a notch above sympathy with its ability to result in constructive measures to benefit the other person rather than just feeling sorry for them. Empathy is a learned skill that all nations and societies can develop. It is easy to get started with small changes such as switching from nurturing a young generation as similar products via non-scientific, orthodox, traditional and regimented methods of teaching and learning with enriching them with critical thinking inclusive of teaching methodologies to produce solution oriented minds and problem solvers. It is indeed an empathetic attribute of the society to understand the need of the hour and be able to establish structures and culture that will enrich our set standards to come abreast with the changes the evolving global social order is adapting.

The lack of empathy dilemma is best explained by Tom Hierck, who says, ‘21st century kids are being taught by 20th century adults using 19th century curriculum and techniques on an 18th century calendar.’ While the concept of ‘Examination’ or ‘Testing’ dates back to Sui dynasty in 605 AD and its adoption by England in 1806, the sub-continent has greatly romanticized the model and has evidentially proven to have ‘loved thy neighbour’ by being influenced by China and exhibiting subservience to English ways of assessments in various fields. So much so that even until today, the grading based assessments hijack schools and colleges’ own progression regimes and the testing procedures are a mandatory pre-requisite to higher education access and employability as well.

I recall my recent visit to the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum WEF from 21st to 24th January 2020 in Davos, Switzerland, amidst the icy cold Swiss Alps, I was fortunate to have heard some inspiring personalities share some insightful revelations about empathy, authenticity, diversity and inclusion that may change dynamics of the entire testing regime on which we regulate our national education system. The most significant topic on inclusive leadership was dominated by the sideline conversation about Empathy vs Authenticity in society.

The global empathy practitioners deliberated how responsible leadership is about making business and social decisions that take into account the interests of all stakeholders – shareholders, employees, clients, the environment, the community and future generations among others. It’s “about courage, empathy and having a clarity of purpose,” said Belinda Parmar Founder and CEO of The Empathy Business. And yet, most business leaders are “not equipped emotionally to deal with that change,” says Simões CEO Global Private Banking at HSBC. This inexplicably applies to the state of post COVID-19 emergency in our country as well in context to the progression of our students in their respective grades, given the pandemic has made conduction of examination a substantial risk globally.

Given the current pandemic scenario, I have been advocating ‘while planet Earth is resting and closed for repairs, children should not be forced for testing.’ This very perspective implies that the social contract and idealization of testing needs of our private and public education provision must consider a break and revision in its moral and operational clauses. There is no harm in adjusting our sails in the challenging winds, as long as we are still sailing towards our goal. Our national curriculum, per se, could do without the ‘When’ and ‘Where’ and be constructive with ‘Why and How’ instead. For instance, instead of just focusing on ‘When and where was Pakistan created?’ we could couple the critical research and facts with more weightage to: ‘Why and how did our great nation Pakistan come into existence?’ This shall induce critical thinking and research among our children, one of the most important life and study skill to be learned.

The real principle of any democracy is choice, equity and inclusion; by echoing the populist political demand for single national curriculum, standardized exams and uniform text books, we shall sponsor a polarized nation state and shall promote one size fit all. This is far away from scaling quality, opportunity, entrepreneurship, inclusion, equity and choice. Our education and exam provision today must replace an ‘empty mind’ with an ‘open mind.’ In today’s time and age, uniformity is a ‘war-strategy’ not a ‘human capital strategy.’ Empathy based education and inclusive literacy is the first line of defence for national Security, which shall guarantee our fundamental human rights, commitment to UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, shall guarantee access to education for all as per article 25A of constitution and shall promote social security. It is the need of the hour to demonstrate empathy in our education system in contrast to exams, and thus sponsor and create alternate progression, assessment, testing and growth ecosystems to ensure a promising yet sustainable future.

–Chaudhry Faisal Mushtaq - The writer is a globally celebrated educationist, a former minister and recognized as 500 Influential Muslims of the world. He can be reached at Twitter @FaisalMushtaq18