Category Archives: Books

An opportunity?

By Zubeida Mustafa

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.

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Review: Etienne and the Angry Dot

Etienne and the Angry Dot

FOR all the children of the world – be they in the West or the East, in Pakistan or in the US – the pandemic lockdown has been a trying time. Their lives have changed drastically. They cannot go out and play as they have normally done.

 Those who are young can’t even understand what is happening and why. Even those who are old enough to read books or listen to stories from their mothers are at a loss because this new phenomenon has not been written about much and definitely not from the point of view of young readers.

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Posthumous works

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE world would have been denied the richness and scholarship of some of Franz Kafka’s literary work — especially The Metamorphosis — had his friend and executor, Max Brod, not decided to ignore Kafka’s instruction in his will to destroy the unpublished manuscripts he left behind. Kafka died young in 1924.

Other writers have generally been pragmatic by not leaving a will. There are quite a number of them though we hardly note it. Albert Camus’ A Happy Death as well as Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder saw the light of day when the authors were no more.

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How we survive

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN these trying times of lockdowns, I have found relief in books. Currently, Michelle Obama has brought me the comfort I was looking for. America’s former first lady’s memoir, Becoming, grips your attention with its lucid style. It also gives you a graphic insight into the life of the African-American community, whose struggle has fascinated me since Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech more than 50 years ago.

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Those festivals

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his keynote speech at the recent Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), historian William Dalrymple spoke of the litfests that have mushroomed in South Asia in a “fantastic” way. There is no denying that these literary events are crowd-pullers. Dalrymple estimates that India, which initiated the trend with the Jaipur Literature Festival — the most well attended in the world — in 2004, now has 60 litfests a year. He spoke of 10 being held in Pakistan, though I am not clear how he arrived at this figure.

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Digital vs books

By Zubeida Mustafa

FIRST it was television. Then came the internet. Our old and familiar friend — the book — has had many detractors. When television made its debut in Pakistan in the mid-1960s it was generally said that the idiot box had pulled away readers from their books. Now this charge is levelled against the digital medium. But the fact is that Pakistan has never been famous for its reading culture.

This has been my observation of decades that our society has an aversion for the printed word as testified by our high illiteracy rate. Ask any librarian, bookseller or publisher and s/he will confirm it. The only books that sell are textbooks and the key/guide books, that should actually be banned. What would teachers do then? Believe me, they are the ones who depend on them more than the children.

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The miseducation of Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Seldom does one come across any good news about the state of education in Pakistan. In July this year, a UNESCO report stated that one out of every four children in the country do not complete their primary education. Additionally, the government revealed that 23 million out of 55 million children (40 per cent) are out of school.

Unfortunately, those who do attend school are not much better off, for the quality of education imparted at institutions is abysmal.

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Living library

By Zubeida Mustafa

WITH only 42 libraries for a population of 16 million, Karachi can well be said to be starved of food for the mind. It is a different matter that not everyone is interested in nourishing the intellect. Boutiques and shops selling exquisitely designed fabrics and dresses outnumber bookshops. The libraries, though in inadequate numbers, have a vacant air.

Hence, it was a brilliant idea of the organisers of the 60th Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), held recently in the metropolis, to include a session on ‘Popularising Libraries’. It was sorely needed. The organisers claim that nearly 25,000 children attended the festival, which was initially launched nine years ago, with the idea of introducing books to children. And libraries are an integral part of creating a culture for books and reading. It would be interesting to know if any of the schools that were in attendance considered it worthwhile to introduce some of the ideas that were discussed in the hour-long session.

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Books are fun

By Zubeida Mustafa

RECENTLY I decided to have some fun with books and children. Isn’t that a paradox? We are perpetually told that our children do not read books. So how could I even think of combining the two and call it fun? But believe me, it was fun. I decided right away against any boring imposition on the children. No speeches on how wonderful books are. Let them discover this for themselves.

My friend Farida Akbar, a trainer of Montessori teachers, and I held a session during the summer programme of a school for underprivileged children where I teach English to Grade 9 students on a voluntary basis.

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An uphill drive

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.

The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen into decay.

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