WILL Ali Akbar Hashmi’s hard-hitting speech in the National Assembly on Independence Day cause our parliamentarians to rethink education in Pakistan? Hashmi is a student who shed light on the plight of out-of-school children living in poverty.
IN South Asia’s patriarchal societies, writings by women giving their perspective on sociopolitical issues in the early 20th century are not easily available. Diaries are even rarer. Happily, we now have a valuable addition to this genre. It is a diary introducing us to the views of a 24-year-old woman from Hyderabad Deccan, who went to England for further studies. It was my privilege to have a trained preforming artist, Shama Askari, read it out to me.
A HEFTY sum of over a trillion rupees has been earmarked for education collectively in the federal and provincial budgets for 2021-2022 that were announced in June. This amount has been growing over the years. But this massive financial investment in human resources has not produced the impact that could have rationally been expected on the learning outcomes of children in Pakistan. This has been confirmed year after year by Aser (Annual Status of Education Report).
RECENTLY I received a call from Ali Mohammad Goth (in Jahoo Tehsil, population 40,033) in Awaran, Balochistan. Jahoo Tehsil has only two high schools for girls. Scores of students from one of these schools had demanded books to read. This message was conveyed to me by their headmistress Ms Sabar-un-Nisa, courtesy Shabir Rakhshani, the education activist of Awaran. This made me jump up.
UNESCO’S constitution in its preamble declares: “Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” In the feminist context it should read that the defences of women’s rights against patriarchy need to be constructed in the minds of the women who are the most oppressed and exploited. That should be the immediate goal of the feminist movement in Pakistan.
The fact is that the state of women reflects best what author Kazim Saeed titles his book, Dou Pakistan. We have had a female prime minister, a young girl as a Nobel laureate, female pilots, mountaineers, millions of women teachers and highly qualified doctors and so on.
A REGULAR event from the pre-pandemic age that I miss a lot is the Children’s Literature Festival spearheaded by Baela Raza Jamil. Held regularly all over the country, it was designed to unleash the power of the mind.
From the treasure trove of memories I have of the festivals, there is one that never fails to delight my heart. That was recorded at the Children’s Literature Festival held in Turbat in 2018. It was the theatre session in which a bunch of inhibited, shy and reserved youngsters comprised the participants. The resource person was Atif Badar, who struggled to overcome the language barrier with the help of two Balochi teachers. There was also the challenge of drawing the boys out of their apparent reticence.
Atif was directing a play that was to be presented before the chief of army staff. Sociocultural barriers also made the actors nervous as they were required to deliver a dialogue that to many of them must have appeared to be mumbo jumbo — Urdu not being their native language. Then something happened. With prompting from their teachers and the excitement of entering another world, the boys perked up, demonstrating confidence. Atif, who is always encouraging and reassuring as a good teacher should be, got these youngsters to perform a wonderful play, projecting the importance of storytelling and reading. The impromptu actors were wonderful and received a loud ovation from their audience.
Above all, the performers enjoyed the new experience. That is the magic of theatre. That has always attracted Atif to theatre in education which he believes is important to teach children the skill of communication and improve their confidence. He acquired his own skills from Sheema Kermani’s Tehreek-i-Niswan whose contribution to theatre in Pakistan is unmatched. Although he has been teaching theatre for 10 years in some prestigious schools in Karachi, there are few who really appreciate the value of theatre in education. At the most, theatre is equated with the annual play performed on Parents Day in schools. It is not a regular subject used as a tool of learning. Article continues after ad
IN her poem Children Learn What They Live, Dorothy Nolte writes that if children live with hostility they learn to fight and if they live with acceptance they learn to love. What parents, teachers and all in a position of power need to know is that they must protect children from exposure to violence and trauma if they are to be peace-loving and tolerant.
Are we doing that? Not really. Look at what television shows its viewers, or worse still what is circulated on WhatsApp or posted on social media, and you will understand why we are becoming so belligerent. Even the much-touted Single National Curriculum prefers silence on this issue and the words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘rawadari’ or ‘amn’ figure nowhere in the eight files posted on the federal education ministry’s website.
TODAY is the anniversary of our freedom from colonial rule. Aug 14, Independence Day, is traditionally celebrated with much fanfare with messages from the top leadership. It is the same this year. Why should we not celebrate? After all, under the British Raj we were denied many freedoms. If the East India Company had not been given a charter, the course of South Asian history would have been different. But this is no time for speculation, for there are so many ifs and buts to be considered that it is best to put them aside.
M.H. ASKARI, my colleague in Dawn and an Urdu short-story writer of eminence in his youth, wrote about his experience of joining the Anglo-Arabic School in Daryaganj in the late 1920s. On the first day, his principal asked him, “Will you study Sunni Deeniat or Shia Deeniat?”
Not being aware of the sects, Askari went home and asked his father Mirza Mohammad Said, an outstanding scholar who was widely acknowledged and had been Patras Bukhari’s teacher at Government College Lahore. Prof Said promptly replied, “My son will not study any Deeniat at school.”
IN tandem with Islamabad, the Sindh government has announced that the students who were scheduled to sit for their Grades IX to XII Board examinations this summer will be promoted to the next class without being tested.
In the absence of an alternative, this can be deemed to have been a sensible step. Moreover, the fact is that the exams we have been holding for the last several decades are no less than an ‘immaculate deception’. They are rife with corruption, and candidates resort to unfair means while massive sums change hands to manipulate results.
As a consequence, the real learning outcome of the students is appalling. Education in Pakistan is exam-oriented and these exams are a farce, leaving no incentive for the students to study. For them, it is a paper chase for the certificate/degree.
Now is also the time for the government to come clean on its failure to educate the children of this country as it is required to do under Article 25-A of the Constitution. The pandemic lockdown and the disruption it has caused are a blessing in disguise. The government should now rise to the occasion to bring about radical changes in our education system.