Social cohesion is the feeling and manifestation of unity and solidarity among various social groups. According to this concept, people feel they are part of one community where they face same challenges, share happiness and sorrow, and are bonded in a linked network. Traditionally education plays a paramount role in fostering social cohesion by generating collective conscience and increase the sense of social responsibility. Education systems have a huge responsibility of forging social solidarity.
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 because of the biased nature and unequal structure of educational provisions deliberately designed by the powerful interest groups within a state. Education systems in the developing world have frequently failed in fulfilling their responsibilities adequately, resulting in repeated breakouts of civil strife. Pakistan is one such example where education has failed to promote social cohesion as proved in a recent study.
In a quantitative research conducted by this author in district Swabi of KPK, a comparative study of educated and uneducated youth, aged 16-29 years, was carried out. Social cohesion levels of youngsters of both these categories were measured to see which group performs better. The purpose was to see if education has impacted social solidarity positively or negatively. A total of 120 respondents, with 60 males and 60 females equally distributed between the categories of educated and uneducated, were surveyed for the comparative analysis. Questionnaire and face-to-face interviews were employed as research techniques in order to collect data, later to be analyzed using SPSS.
For the purpose of the research, uneducated means someone who cannot read and write anything while educated means those who have been to public or private educational institutions of any level. Private institutions also include madrasas, mosque schools and foreign institutions, apart from local schools. In order to measure the level of social cohesion, the respondents were asked questions about their habits and perception of law abidance, festive and political participation, helping others, receiving help, exchanging gifts, feeling of oneness, shared values, strength of parallel relations, personal sacrifice, and befriending varying individuals despite dissimilarities.
The result of this research is quite unexpected indeed; the educated youngsters have a lower level of social cohesion as compared to the uneducated ones. Not just the social relations, the educated youngsters have lower political participation in comparison with the uneducated ones. Moreover, the educated persons were far behind in trust and reciprocity. Therefore, it is inferred that education in Pakistan is eroding social cohesion.
The findings of the 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 behavior. 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.
In Durkheimian terms, we can argue that in Pakistan, the educated youth have a lack of "collective conscience” and common normative foundation. The educated youngsters also have weaker social ties, diminished sense of shared identity and lesser feelings of belongingness and inter-connectedness. To borrow from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the education system is also involved in "social reproduction” of institutionalized inequalities in the form of haves and have-nots, reducing mutual social integration. The resulting low cohesion situation applies to not just the research universe but to the whole country, as the causing factors of divisive nature and unequal structure of education are found throughout Pakistan.
The once high social solidarity in Pakistan has been laid to waste through exclusivist education, religious intolerance and ethnic separatism. Education has been unequally dispersed and the curricula have seriously distorted national history. This has fueled frustrations upon lingering educational deprivations, as well as religious hatred, eventually leading to the breakdown of social cohesion. A divided and polarized society has come into existence wherein those youngsters receiving education had in fact lower social integration than their illiterate fellows.
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. It 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 behavior 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 radicalized 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.
The above findings, although dismal, are merely a mirror of decades of ensuing governmental negligence of the colossally vital sector of education. Social chaos experienced by the nation is much to the credit of the educational system. This can only get worse if federal and provincial education authorities do 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 and is inescapable for progress.