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”
I WAS first introduced to the term ‘life skills-based education’ at a forum of the Indus Resource Centre a few weeks ago. The term was used freely but it was not elucidated sufficiently, at least not for novices like me.
The IRC, which is doing very good work by promoting education in Sindh, had just completed its Reproductive Health through Girls’ Education project and we had gathered for an independent assessment. This was basically a population venture funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation but fitted into IRC’s agenda since it sought to change the mindset of girls vis-à-vis reproductive health issues. This was expected to impact on the galloping population growth rate of the country — one of the most serious concerns of the day. Continue reading “What is LSBE?”
EIGHT years ago, a young woman from Khairo Dero (Larkana district) was so touched by the plight of her people that she decided to work for their uplift.
She had been fortunate to receive a privileged education abroad, was doing a lucrative job and had all that one could wish for in life. Today, she has renounced these privileges to work for her people. .
Going by the number of education policies announced in Pakistan since 1947, the volume of reports produced by commissions on this issue of direct concern to human development and the statements issued by government dignitaries pledging their commitment to universalising education, one would have thought that by now Pakistan must be heading the world education league.
What is the reality? The UNDP, which compiles the Human Development Index using schooling as one of the criteria, tells us another story. In its 2015 report, Pakistan is categorised as a Low Human Development country and ranks 147th out of 188 states. The mean years of schooling for children is 4.7 years and only a third of the population above 25 has had some secondary schooling. Continue reading “Keeping them illiterate”
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”
The pronounced lack of interest in the public health system in Pakistan is not difficult to explain. Public opinion in a country as stratified and uninformed as ours, is created and moulded by the so-called privileged classes, comprising those members of society who have the means to pay for private health care. Hence they are not affected by the abysmal state of health care in the public sector on which the poor depend.
The general attitude is: what is the role of the poor in our society? They are useful only for domestic labour in the homes of the rich or for menial work in public places and factories. And, of course, to vote at election time. A higher birth rate among the impoverished ensures there is never any shortage in the labour force. If they fall sick, they are easily replaced. With limited skills and training, none are really indispensable. Continue reading “A Global Conglomerate of Oppression”
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?”
LAST week Karachi hosted the Teachers’ Literature Festival — an innovative experiment — to introduce an alternative discourse in education.
Here a lively session on language in learning was held. That teachers should be interested in this is understandable. The issue impacts their work directly. The fact is that the language used in education determines the learning output of students. Their poor performance in independent assessment tests such as ASER actually reflects on the quality of pedagogy they receive. That in turn is a clear measure of our teachers’ skills and professional standards. Continue reading “Language myths”
THE Sino-Pakistan friendship has stood the test of time. Although the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that has been underpinned with 51 agreements and MOUs has been generating controversy in abundance, one cannot blame the Chinese. We have the innate capacity of not doing the groundwork for any project we launch. Inevitably, it sparks a dispute.
One positive outcome of the flurry of activity that has come in the wake of the economic corridor is the move by the medical associations of the two countries to set up a ‘medical corridor’. This collaboration resulted in a joint MedCong that was held in Karachi in early January. It was attended by an impressive 40-member Chinese delegation led by Prof Keqin Rao, vice president and secretary general of the Chinese Medical Association. Continue reading “Learn from China”