I recently asked a group of my students why they wanted to become doctors. They were initially hesitant, probably because they had never been asked this question before but after some coaxing, they came up with the generic answers. Some said they wanted to help people, others said their parents had made the choice for them. The point of my discussion that day was to invite them to reflect on who they were, what they were doing in life and most importantly: Why? From this question we then moved on to the general question of what education is and what is its essential purpose. Is it to impart a particular set of ideas or skills such as medical knowledge? To my surprise, while they agreed with all of this, they came up with some innovative answers. One boy said that the purpose of education is to inculcate a love of learning. A girl said that the main purpose of education is to teach them how to think rationally and critically. The reason I was surprised at these answers (and the reason I initiated this discussion) was that the previous day, I had come across a post by a former graduate of our university in which she had expressed an opinion about our institution. Since the university is my alma mater also, I had read her opinion with interest and found it so accurate and incisive that I shared it on my Facebook where it got more than 200 ‘likes’ and several dozen comments (and counting). It is worth quoting in some detail: It’s a good medical school because it accepts students with the highest scores every year. The students are already adept learners, and the atmosphere of competition among them pushes them to excel. However, the infrastructure is terrible. Some of the professors are great. Some are horrible. Most shouldn’t even be teaching. First two years you basically end up going from one class to another, without really learning anything. The university basically throws you into a crumbling teaching and learning system and expects you to learn by yourself.4th and 5th years are way better. You get better teachers, ….. clinical side is pretty great. You get access to a vast variety of patient cases, they let you practice on them, you develop doctor and social skills….Don’t rely on the university to foster any interest in innovative medicine though: Most of the comments on my Facebook from current and former students completely agreed with this and the reason I shared it was because it was so true to my own experience as a medical student in this same institution some thirty years ago. Today, the same infrastructure is even worse than it was thirty years ago (some decent additions not withstanding), the same teachers teaching in the same way designed, it appears, to foster a lifelong hatred of learning, the same manner of treating Pakistan’s best, brightest students as almost an afterthought. Many of us fall into despair because we feel that what we are doing is making no difference in the world. What we often forget is that change need not to be huge. The smallest ideas can make a huge difference in the larger scheme of things But then, as my students and I talked, I asked them to reflect: Why blame this particular institution? Is it such a cesspool in an otherwise serene ocean of excellence and achievement? Are things really that different in other colleges and universities. For that matter, why beat up on higher education? What about schools? Everyone is aware of the state of government run public schools which has led to huge numbers of children being enrolled in mushrooming private schools. But are things all that different in expensive private schools? I know from personal experience that aside from the astronomical monthly fees charged to parents, private schools offer nothing special. The same teachers half heartedly teaching the same rote subjects, no effort to personally get to know or engage students, no effort to explore what the students might like to learn, and certainly no arrangements to teach students who have a hard time learning in this soul-killing environment. And these are the most exclusive schools in the city! Is it any wonder that when these students enter college/university and encounter the same conditions there, they are too apathetic to protest? The real surprise is that despite an education system, which from primary school to university, seems deliberately designed to prevent a love of learning, university students still value learning as an end in itself, as a goal to be achieved not just for getting a job or making money but to enhance your sense of self and to help you become a better person. Perhaps this is a reflection of the quality of students. After all, medical students are the best and brightest of their high school class. Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that most learning nowadays (more than 30 years ago when I was a student) occurs outside the classroom via technologies that did not exist 30 years ago. In fact, many of the comments on my Facebook post pointed out that if the sole purpose of teachers is to repeat what’s written in a book, why have teachers at all? You can get great lectures and learning tools on any subject nowadays on YouTube and many other resources for free. At the end of my talk, we reached a general consensus that ‘education’ meant more than ‘memorising’ or ‘getting good grades’. Most of my students agreed (with some prodding from me) that a core purpose of education is to inspire a continuing love of learning and to teach critical thinking. Many of them already felt that ‘making money’ was the least important purpose of getting an education and, I hope, many of them started at least thinking about why they were doing what they were doing and what they hoped to accomplish after they became doctors. This is usually how most of my classes go and the reason is that I learned the same thing from some of my best teachers. While all of them were pretty good at teaching their chosen subjects, the best ones forced us to think about things we would never have paid attention to otherwise. They broke us out of the traditional boxes we had put ourselves in as we had half heartedly gone through school and college. They gave us tools and skills that we continued to carry with us long after we graduated and that we still carry in some form. They were more than teachers or even educators. They were mentors in the true sense of the word and many of them are still around to offer a word of advice if I need it. Many of us fall into despair because we feel that what we are doing is making no difference in the world. What we often forget is that change need not to be huge. The smallest ideas can make a huge difference in the larger scheme of things. Whenever I feel discouraged in front of another class of students, I remind myself of something that Faiz Ahmed Faiz said in an interview: “ …every word which we utter…in our ordinary everyday language, we communicate some idea, some thought, some opinion to others, which influences them to some extent, and even if just one person is influenced, I believe that a small part of the world has been changed. If you bring about a minute change in someone’s mind with expressing just one thought, then you have brought a change in the system of the world to that extent.” If that is truly the case, we are all, every one of us, changing the world all the time. We just need to be cognisant of whether we are changing it for better or worse. The writer is a psychiatrist practicing in Lahore. He taught and practiced Psychiatry in the United States for 16 years. He tweets @Ali_Madeeh Published in Daily Times, March 17th 2018.