ReflectionsThe pursuit of knowledge is a duty on every Muslim [Archives:2003/642/Culture]

June 19 2003

By Sadaf Shah
Al-Mukalla, Yemen
For the Yemen Times

“Keep up the supplication: Lord, bestow on me an increase of knowledge”. (Holy Qur'an 20:115)
Have you ever seen children carrying cardboard boxes selling cheap items like scouring pads, sponges, or hair pins on the streets of Sana'a, Aden, or Mukallah? Indeed there are many children on the streets in Yemen selling, and so many others begging. Many poor families in almost all underdeveloped countries view children as miniature adults who should be placed in adult society as quickly as possible so that they generate a source of income whereby the family can survive. Most of these children are malnourished and uneducated.
The importance of education and knowledge cannot be over-emphasized. In this high-tech, ever-evolving world we live in today, a good education has always been a profitable investment. Children are impressionable; especially the adults close to them make them aware of their rights and opportunities, whether they are parents, relatives, or teachers. However, this task is useless if the adults themselves are not willing to invest the time or resources for the benefit of children. Islam has placed much importance on the acquisition of knowledge because knowledge is empowering, and children must be instilled with a thirst for knowledge from an early age. This is where the Ministry of Education has an important role to play, in terms of making education accessible to all. A Minister of Education, Mr. Abdulsalam Al-Jufi, has been given the extremely difficult task of not only reforming, but also actually revolutionizing the ministry and its practices. This all-important government tool to promote education in the country is plagued with corrupt officials who regard bribery and extortion as part and parcel of their duty. Most observers, including myself are anxiously waiting to see what Mr. Jufi will do in order for the officials working for him to handle their affairs and carry out their honorable duties in a most orderly manner. Highly qualified teachers should be recruited, because therein lies the secret of a student's desire to learn. It is the teacher who can help students realize their potential, and make them believe that everything is conquerable with the right attitude coupled with knowledge and skills. Teachers do have the ability to inspire their students, as did mine and I will never forget my English teacher, Mr. Chet Marlett, and my Biology teacher, Mr. Darryl Pollock. Both of these extraordinary men had an incredible impact on my learning experiences in high school in Canada. Mr. Marlett had a strict instructing tone which was really intimidating at first, but as we got to know him better, we were to find him a really enthusiastic teacher who took joy watching his students attempting to understand a metaphor in a poem, or an obvious irony in Shakespeare's Hamlet. I owe him all my successes at writing research papers in university.
My Biology teacher was a genius. He taught us not to be afraid of science by telling us funny stories that made biology not only fun, but also so easy to learn. He was always patient with our many questions on the complex intricacies of the way the brain works, or the heart pumps blood, never did he embarrass any one of his questioners, but always said, “That is an excellent question!” Mr. Pollock passed away about ten years ago. He had cancer. He will always be remembered, may god rest his soul.
Mr. Marlett and Mr. Pollock were only two of my best teachers, of course there were many others in university as well like Dr. Glasberg, and Margo Husby-Scheelar, both of whom were always encouraging us to never accept anything at face value, to always question. There are people who were a source of inspiration for all of their students. This is how important a teacher's role is in a student's life. Their job is not only to stand in front of a classroom and release information. They also have to work at home to prepare lesson plans structured in a way that corresponds to a student's understanding. Teaching style has to be innovative employing all available resources to maximize a student's interest in learning the material, thus allowing the student to apply the learned material to life. Mere memorization is not important, as it does not allow imagination to flourish. I remember Mr. Marlett repeatedly telling us before an exam that the length of our answer to a question has no bearing of the correct answer. The important point was to answer the questions in a short, cohesive and direct manner so that our understanding was visibly evident in our writing. My point in relating my learning experiences is directly parallel to my worries of the standard of education in Yemen. From all the advertisements in local newspapers, private schools seem to be doing well in terms of providing quality education, however most parents cannot afford to send their children to such expensive schools. Moreover, private schools are only located in major cities like Sana'a or Aden. Yemen's population is dispersed, with uts18 million people spread over more than 100,000 localities. The task of making basic education accessible to all seems impossible. Yemen's illiteracy rate has remained high, particularly among females and in rural areas. About 49 percent of people age 10 and over are illiterate. (Central Statistical Organization 2001) A very difficult task lies ahead for the Yemeni government and the Ministry of Education in particular. They have to support illiteracy eradication programs, and especially encourage female education in urban and rural areas. Islam has placed so much importance on education; government officials should regard that as their first priority, at least in the honor of their faith and their and their people. I would like to end with a saying of the Holy Prophet of Islam: The pursuit of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, men and women.