Inequality kills

By Zubeida Mustafa

OURS is an unequal society. The more unequal we become, the more fiascos will visit us as we have been witnessing lately. How correct was Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court when, many decades ago, he famously said words to the effect ‘you can have extreme inequality or you can have democracy — you cannot have both’. We love to delude ourselves with the belief that we have democracy in spite of inequality.

Today, the world’s attention is focused on the issue of inequality which has become a major subject in the global economic discourse. In 2015, the UN Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which states that by 2030, governments will progressively achieve and sustain the income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average. Continue reading Inequality kills

Textbooks — the real culprit

By Zubeida Mustafa

ALTHOUGH many factors affect the quality of education in Pakistan, textbooks are a major culprit. It is rightly said that children learn what they experience in the classroom. The two agents of learning at this stage are the teachers and the textbooks.

In my last post I had drawn a gloomy picture of the teachers whose impact on the young child’s mind is profound. What about the textbooks?

They can be described in a single word — appalling. More can be said about them. They are gender biased. They are anti-peace. They promote prejudice, anger and hatred.  Above all they do not promote tolerance and love or teach children to think critically as good books do. Numerous analysts, agencies such as Unesco and educationists have pointed this out.

Two years ago, a National Party Senator created a furore in the Upper House when he read out a passage from a textbook being taught in the colleges in Punjab and Sindh. In this the Baloch were defined as an “uncivilised people who remain busy fighting and killing”. He told the house that in another book, it has been written that the “Baloch were those people who lived in the desert and looted caravans.”

Wouldn’t children reading this start hating the Baloch? What an unwise and irresponsible thing to write when the Baloch are already under siege in Pakistan.

Then there is the gender bias that permeates our text books. Unesco, in a study that included 194 textbooks from four provinces of Pakistan for six subjects found that “the national curriculum reflected a significant gender bias towards males in at least three of these subjects.”

The report added, “In the analysis, only 7.7% of the personalities in the textbooks were found to be female, with most of them relating to Muslim history, and the rest were male. In the textbooks on the history of the subcontinent, only 0.9% of the historical icons mentioned were females.”A sentence very often quoted as an example of misogynist writing is: “A hundred sons are not a burden but one daughter bows our heads.”

All this no doubt reinforces the patriarchal tendencies in boys and accentuates gender disparity in society.

Our religious identity is another aspect of our national life that finds strong mention in our textbooks. The approach adopted is summed up by Tahira Abdullah in a review of KP textbooks as one that glorifies war, ‘otherises’ non-Muslims, takes a uni-dimensional view of reality, distorts history and stereotypes women.

This is not a positive style of writing on any sensitive issue, least of all for students who imbibe quickly what they read. These examples make clear why we should not surprised that militancy has taken root in Pakistani society. This has been promoted by a nexus between the “militant, extremist, jihadist and pro-ideology” elements who have come to dominate the education sector in all provinces.

As a result, efforts to revise and reform the curricula under American pressure in the post 9/11 years have yielded no result. Violence has also been used to drive away progressive forces from the reform process. Take the case of Bernadette Dean, a liberal educationist working on the revision of textbooks in Sindh, who  was forced to flee the country when banners and posters came up overnight in Karachi declaring her to be “wajibul qatl”  (worthy of the death penalty). She fled the country when the IG Police told her that he couldn’t guarantee her safety. A few weeks earlier another non-Muslim woman educationist had been attacked by militants.

Article 25-A speaks of compulsory education for all children 6-16 years of age. The need of the hour is not just to make education accessible to all children in Pakistan but also to ensure that the textbooks teach them what they need to learn.

The elections are the right occasion to ensure that textbooks receive the attention they deserve.

Source: Alif Ailaan, Taalim Do

Pakistan’s elections bring hope and uncertainty

By Zubeida Mustafa

Last week’s elections in Pakistan yielded predictable outcomes, which could take the country in an unanticipated direction. Preliminary results announced Friday by the Election Commission of Pakistan give the victory to Tehreek-e-Insaf (also known as the PTI, or Justice Party) of the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. Although his party missed a clear majority in the National Assembly, it should be able to easily woo a few independents to its side to form a stable government.

If there is an unpredictable factor, it is the reaction of the major mainstream parties after their emergence as the losers, especially the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his daughter are now in prison after being found guilty of graft in a property case. A multiparty conference of the main losers (in which the Pakistan Peoples Party did not participate) has rejected the results of Wednesday’s voting and demanded new, transparent elections. Will they pay the PTI in its own coin by staging sit-ins to disrupt life in the country, as Imran Khan did in the years following the 2013 elections?

Even prior to last week’s elections, it was widely alleged that the “Miltablishment”—-the country’s military leadership—was creating conditions that improved the prospects of the PTI. Khan is viewed as the darling of the generals. The military establishment’s move to selectively push graft cases against his rivals on the pretext of accountability while turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Khan’s cronies was seen as a one-sided attack on the corruption pervasive in Pakistan’s politics.

In the weeks preceding the elections, there were protests from the media as well as from some members of the judiciary against interference from “hidden hands.” What seems to give credence to these charges now is the preliminary statement issued Friday by the EU Election Observation Mission. While praising the Election Commission’s role in the conduct of the polling, the statement categorically said that the “electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.” It spoke of the playing field not being level and of “lack of equality of opportunity” for all contestants.

The U.S. State Department shared the EU observers’ concerns and questioned the fairness of the voting. Pointing out flaws in the elections, the State Department spoke of constraints placed on freedom of expression and on association during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Khan has promised the people a naya (new) Pakistan. His victory speech, delivered even before the results were officially confirmed, was widely hailed as a statesmanlike and conciliatory piece of oratory.

The 65-year-old prime-minister-to-be said all the right things in a calculatedly correct tone. This was refreshing after the vitriolic outbursts from all sides during the election campaign. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to corruption and the collapse of governance, Khan promised to rebuild all national institutions and root out graft. He assured the nation that he would create a welfare state to lift up the poor and the underprivileged. He promised to try corrupt officials and apply accountability across the board.

This was music to the ears of the people of this country of 208 million, ruled for decades by status-quo forces that have failed to pull most of them out of poverty. But such promises have been made before. The only difference is that the PTI is at the helm for the first time.

What is significant is the refrain one hears from political observers and analysts: We must wait and see whether the promised reform will actually happen. Skeptics are abundant, but the young, savvy and educated who hold privileged positions are euphoric and say the new leadership should be given a chance.

Many people are tired of the turbulence and violence that often occur when political parties stage protests and rallies. Near the end of the campaign for this month’s elections, three suicide bombings killed three candidates and 180 people. Then came another bomb attack on election day, killing 31 people in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

What should interest foreign powers is the line the prime minister-elect will take on foreign policy. In his victory speech, Khan spoke about that policy ambiguously. He didn’t mention his views on defense and security, which could have stirred controversy. He was vocal about bringing peace to the region—without saying how he will treat militant elements, some of which he has expressed admiration for in the past.

Khan mentioned his goals regarding six other countries, but he adopted such an unspecific, broad stance that he succeeded in not stepping on any toes, including those of Pakistan’s defense establishment, which is firmly in control of foreign policy. He said he would seek to:

• Strengthen relations with China
• Bring peace in Afghanistan (to help bring peace in Pakistan) and have open borders between the two countries
• Develop mutually beneficial relations with the United States
• Build stronger ties with Iran
• Help Saudi Arabia resolve its internal tensions
• Improve relations with India, if its leadership agrees; end the blame game between Pakistan and India; stop human rights violations in Kashmir.

The speech was a safe statement of intent; it called for no specific commitments that might be controversial. But a closer look at some of Khan’s previous statements shows him to be anti-U.S., to have reservations about China’s economic practices, to be more pro-Saudi Arabia than many Pakistanis would prefer, to be a hard-liner on India, and to have a soft spot for militants—be they in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir. Weave into this narrative the military’s own concealed agenda and you will be left guessing as to what the future might hold.

Pakistan, especially its army, has had close ties with China since the 1950s. Islamabad and Beijing have provided each other with unequivocal support—military, diplomatic, economic and political. Sino-Pakistan friendship, said to be as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Indian Ocean, has benefited both nations in their conflicts with India. Pakistan has used its relationship with China to neutralize the U.S. when the need arose. Today, a time when Pakistan is in deep economic crisis, China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, with its promise of $900 billion infrastructure aid for 65 nations, is a boon for Pakistan, which has yet to become self-reliant.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have seen ups and downs since the war in Afghanistan began, but they have never before reached the current low, demonstrated by President Trump’s 2017 announcement of his “fight to win” policy in Afghanistan, a declaration in which he accused Pakistan of providing havens for terrorists. Then, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “had given it [Pakistan] more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

Trump also strengthened the hawks in the Pakistan army when he invited Pakistan’s historical enemy India to “help us more with Afghanistan.”

Islamabad’s relations with India have worsened since 2008 when terrorists suspected of coming from Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The previously intermittent dialogue between the two countries remains suspended.

Many believe that in the coming months the new government will make compromises to get everyone on the same page. Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan, a television presenter, said in an interview that Khan was known for his “U-turns.” Others—with less of a personal history—agree. Najam Sethi, the editor of The Friday Times, a political weekly published from Lahore, wrote, “Imran Khan … is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.”

The only conclusively reassuring feature of these elections is the failure of the numerous candidates from terrorist groups. Not one of them won. That was the people’s verdict.

Source: Truthdig

 

The new mandate

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Election day is over: Homage first to the dead – victims and martyrs of our political and institutionerrors – and then thanksgiving for that abiding commitment to home and country apparent in the collective spirit of Pakistan’s people. Provincial governments bicker in the Council of Common Interests; power-accreting centralists fiddle with demographics, delineations and more – yet people in the injured unequal units converge and concur in a quest for good governance and a democratic determination of the way to it. Continue reading The new mandate

The double disadvantage for girls

ONE of the worst blows the state has inflicted on the citizens of Pakistan is to deny education to a huge chunk of them. For girls this has been a double blow. They have suffered on two counts. First, the state’s apathy has resulted in the non-availability of accessible, affordable and quality education for all. Secondly, girls have also suffered because of society’s gender prejudices that have made education out of reach for many girls. Continue reading The double disadvantage for girls

Digital dilemmas

By Zubeida Mustafa

EARLIER this year, WHO classified video-gaming as a disorder. It is defined in the draft Eleventh Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as a mental health condition. Understandably, controversy has erupted round this move as many experts believe that sufficient data doesn’t exist to support this drastic diagnosis. Besides, the symptoms defined are too broad to be applied to one particular area of engagement. Thus a person may have a strong preference for any activity that he enjoys to the extent that “he does not stop even if there are negative consequences, the compulsion strains his life, health and relationships” — WHO’s definition of the gaming disorder. Definitely more data is needed. Continue reading Digital dilemmas

Elections and elections

 

by  RifaBy By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 ON the brink of the 2018 elections, first time voters are probably so caught up in making their own electoral history that they are more liable to be dismissive than mindful of the past. But for older more seasoned voters, sobering recollection of other elections is inevitable.

Elections-1969 foundered on the curious logic of the majority being labelled ‘secessionist’. Bhutto, though also politically guilty, heroically salvaged morale in what was no longer West Pakistan but merely Pakistan. The rebound to ten years of Ayub’s dictatorship was not just a push for democratic rights and the emergence of fresh civil political alternatives. Ambitious politicians had recklessly exacerbated nationalisms and exploited political alienation in pursuit of personal and party empowerment. Continue reading Elections and elections

How children learn

MARIA Montessori, the best educationist the world has ever produced, based her philosophy on her understanding of the human mind. She was Italy’s first woman physician, and derived her knowledge from her study of medicine and more so from her observation of the young children whose education was entrusted to her. In her opinion, children have an inborn capacity to learn from their environment and develop their own cognitive and mental skills. Hence Montessori’s use of the term the ‘absorbent mind’ to describe a young child’s mental growth process.

According to Montessori, the educationist is just required to provide the right environment and a little guidance to the child to allow her to grow at her own pace. Continue reading How children learn

Teachers who do not teach

By Zubeida Mustafa

When I was working on my book The Tyranny of Language in Education I would visit Orangi quite frequently to study the methods of pedagogy in the schools there with reference to the language of instruction. Those were the days when there was much talk about ghost schools.

One day I requested Abdul Waheed Khan, the founder of Naunehal Academy in Baldia, and a very fine man who was shot dead in 2013, if he could show me a ghost school. He agreed willingly.

The very next day he took me to a Peela School, as government schools are referred to. Their buildings are painted yellow. It appeared to be huge with a big compound as most public sector schools in Karachi are. The gate was bolted from the inside. Waheed knocked and banged on the gate till someone came and let us in. To my surprise the place was deserted. There was not a single child to be seen on the premises though it was mid-morning when we landed there.

On enquiring, we were informed by the person who had received us that the children were not there but the headmaster who was taking a shower would soon receive us. We strolled around as we waited and it became clear to us that there was no evidence of the school being functional.

When the headmaster made his appearance with a towel round his waist, he informed us that the children had gone home. I was intrigued by the absence of furniture in the school. The upper storey was occupied by the headmaster’s family as we could make out from the curtains fluttering from the window. I didn’t think it appropriate to inspect his home though I was certain that some of the missing furniture would be found there.

The headmaster had the temerity to ask me for a donation! It seemed to be a cruel joke. How could anyone cheat little children of their right to education, I thought? Later, I saw in the Sindh school census report (for the year 2010) that Sindh had 9,000 such institutions. Other provinces also had their share of ‘dysfunctional’ schools, to use the term the government preferred.

In Sindh the phenomenon of teacher absenteeism was also dubbed the visa system. It meant that the absent teacher had succeeded in getting a job abroad and had left the country subletting his position to a junior not qualified for the job.

In another case the headmaster had been sent on deputation to mind the kitchen of the local wadero (landlord). One feature common in all such cases was the connivance of the education department. Without its cooperation, no teacher can take the liberty the teaching staff is known to take.

For long the erroneous belief was that teachers have been degraded — they are poorly paid, they don’t enjoy any respect in society and are not properly trained. But these are myths. Hefty pay increases — most who have long years of service earn six digit monthly salaries — quick promotions and their jobs being conditional on teachers’ training should have given them the status in society they have always yearned. That has not happened.

The fact is that most teachers in Pakistan lack motivation. Corruption is rife and inefficiency is the norm. The good teachers are in a minority and are overshadowed by the incompetent majority lacking integrity.

One may well ask how they get away with it. The fact at the heart of this greatest farce of education is the government’s concern for the teachers’ interests. The rulers care for the teachers not because they care for the education of the children. Rulers only care for themselves and in this age of democracy when teachers do election duties they are the favourites of the rulers. They count votes. They guide the voters. They can make or break governments.

Demands have been made in the past that teachers should not be engaged in election duties.  But no party has made the move to end the practice. Stakes are high. Even rules barring the transfer of ‘reliable’ teachers during election times to sensitive areas where they can be trusted to safeguard their master’s political interest have been violated with impunity.

Training is another problem. Facilities are not adequate in quantity and quality. Training facilities are needed not just for teachers of the future. The existing lot also need in-service training. If teachers are not improved the students’ output can never be improved. With so little support from their homes — nearly 80 per cent of the parents of low-income students are illiterate — the workload of teachers is indeed heavy. So is their responsibility.

Source: Alif Ailaan Taaleem Do