Nadia (aged 14) is a typical victim of the tyranny of the English-language Hydra in Pakistan. Coming from an underprivileged socio-economic background, this girl is required to master an alien language if she wants to realise her dreams. Thanks to the easy accessibility of electronic media and a concerted movement for reform by concerned members of civil society, public interest in education has been stirred, and expectations are high. There are millions of teenagers like Nadia who want to acquire a good education to uplift their socio-economic status. But many are headed for disappointment. The facilities needed to educate such large numbers have not been created in Pakistan by the state, notwithstanding the growing demand. Worse still, the curricula and textbooks have not been designed to meet the specific needs of these children. Hence, aspirations and motivation will not prove to be enough to help Nadia and others like her to achieve upward mobility.
Although there are many hurdles in Nadia’s way, language − especially English −is a major one. Even though the government institutions may not be insisting on English as the language of education, their poor performance disqualifies them as trendsetters. Given the ambiguity in the official education policy, the English-language Hydra has become the driving force. This policy was announced in 2009 by the education ministry in Islamabad, as it was its prerogative to lay down the guidelines for the entire country. The policy defined in detail its vision and strategy, but it was vague about the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It was left to the provinces to decide whether they wanted to use the national or regional language in the public-sector primary schools in their jurisdiction. But it was specified that English would be used to teach science and maths in Years 4 and 5 in these institutions. Private schools were given a free rein. They generally opted for English. In 2010, constitutional amendments devolved powers to the provinces. To the detriment of all, the provincial governments chose to be equally vague and adopted an ad hoc approach to language in education. There has been no clarity in the governments’ policies ever since, on account of the policymakers’ ignorance of education and language-learning matters and their misguided belief that English promotes progress. Their failure to adopt a firm approach on the medium issue has allowed market forces, societal pressures, élite private-school owners (some with political clout) and the leverage of foreign aid givers to gain the upper hand.
A PARADOX of the modern age is that as the world shrinks to become what Marshal McLuhan termed a global village, borders that separate people from one another are proliferating and becoming increasingly impenetrable legally. This is happening in an age when mobility is on the rise and people are leaving home in larger numbers than before. Some have experienced migration thrice in their lifetime.
Generally, writers and analysts focus on the political, economic and sociological dimension of crossing borders. Attention is focused on governments’ policies of making foreigners’ entry difficult into their country, the impact migration has on the host nations’ economy/politics and the challenges of integrating migrants from diverse cultures into a cohesive society.
There is yet another aspect of crossing borders — the human aspect. Few take note of it though its impact on an individual can be poignant and generational. It is only the personal becoming the political that draws attention. Continue reading “Crossing borders”
PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.
Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.
Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading “Textbooks of hate”
FOUR years ago, on a leap day, a young man of 28 walked out of Haripur jail to his freedom. Now when he looks back at this great event in his life, he describes his feelings on the occasion as ‘confusing’. It felt surreal, he said to me, as he looked back to that day. “I was asking myself, ‘Is this really happening to me?’”
Sohail Fida was hauled into prison in 2000 when he was only 16 years. Allegedly false charges of murder were brought against him and a confession extracted by torture.
Despite his incarceration for 12 years — five of them on death row — Sohail did not lose hope. His story is one of grit and courage. It is a story that inspires. Continue reading “After freedom what?”
CAROL Loomis, an American financial journalist, who retired in 2014 as senior editor of Fortune magazine, once wrote, “Writing itself makes you realise where there are holes in your thinking.”
She added, “I am never sure what I think unless I see what I write. I believe the analysis part of you kicks in when you sit down to construct a story or even a sentence.”
This is a succinct but profound statement which, unfortunately, our education system operating in a largely oral environment does not recognise. When we cannot even understand the link between language and communication how can we ever realise the significance of articulating our thoughts accurately and cogently. Obviously, no one cares because our education is not designed to inculcate critical thinking in our students. The less they think and question, the happier are the educators who can continue to operate in their comfort zone. Continue reading “Joy of writing”
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading “Learning from CLF”
CAN we hope to hear news from Pakistan that brings some light to the end of the tunnel? It is a red-letter day when we do and one such day came recently when I read about a group of creative artists who have shown the courage to counter Pakistan’s biggest existential challenge — the indoctrination of youth by religious extremists and militants.
These artists have ventured to produce rational literature which they are disseminating among young readers to inspire some soul-searching within them. The graphic novel titled Pasban is designed to encourage the readers to ask questions on basic issues of the day and help them seek sensible answers.
This no doubt will be an uphill task considering the government’s own failure to counter the extremist threat. All it was required to do was to introduce liberal values through curricula reforms. The primary need is to teach children tolerance and Continue reading “Teacher in exile”
RUMANA Husain’s recently published Street Smart: Professionals on the Street comes as a reminder of how we are losing the city where many of us have lived and worked for most of our lives. Karachi is no more what I remember of it when I was a child.
Some categories of the blue-collar workers, as Rumana calls the people who are the subject of her book, no longer exist. Mechanisation, technology and lifestyles have made them redundant. That is change, as the new replaces the old. But the tragedy is that the street professionals no longer knit the community together as they once did. Continue reading “Save Karachi”
TALKING about prisons, the chief justice of Sindh said last Saturday that more than retribution and deterrence the main purpose of imprisonment should be reform and rehabilitation. In Pakistan, where the prison system is by no means in ideal shape — Karachi jail has 6,000 prisoners when its capacity is for under 2,000 — the need to address the moral correction dimension is conspicuously inadequate.
To step into this unsavoury situation with the idea of bringing about reform is in itself an act of courage. Saleem Aziz Khan, the founder of the Society for Advancement of Health, Education and Environment (SAHEE), has nevertheless decided to meet the challenge. Along with Azhar Jamil, he launched the four-step Criminon Programme in the Karachi jail in 2007. The two now want to expand the project as they feel they are making an impact.
Having borrowed the concepts from internationally recognised and tried projects, Azhar defends the project as being “a secular programme that teaches common-sense values”. Continue reading “Changing mindsets”
I met Moinuddin Khan, the author of In Search of Readers, in 1962 when I joined the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), Moin Sahib, as we have always called him, was the librarian at PIIA. He is mainly responsible for kindling in me an interest in libraries. Books have been my passion all my life but previously I did not see the library as anything more than a room to stock the books in. The librarian was the person who manned this room, rubberstamped dates on the inside of the back cover, and arranged the books in their places on the shelves when readers scattered them thoughtlessly on the table. He also supposedly kept an eye on visitors to ensure they didn’t pinch any volume! Continue reading “Where are the readers?”