Category Archives: Children and Youth

To read or not

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE tenth annual What Kids are Reading Report released earlier this year in the UK got educationists worried. After surveying a million primary and secondary schoolchildren, the author of this document concluded that the country faced a persistent problem of getting young teenagers “to read challenging and age-appropriate books”.

It is now suggested that the secondary school pupils should benefit by having 15 to 30 minutes of time for independent reading integrated into the school curriculum. Continue reading To read or not

Please follow and like us:

Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain

 

Anya, Sonia and Etienne (in front) to whom this book is dedicated

ZM: You have had a diverse career — teacher, artist, publisher, activist and writer of children’s books. Which of these roles have you enjoyed and cherished most? Which gave you most satisfaction?

 

Rumana Husain: At the very outset you have posed a difficult question! J

However, if I have to choose only one of these roles then I would say writing/illustrating children’s books has always given me the most satisfaction. And I have consistently done it for thirty-two years now.

 

ZM: Are you satisfied with the book publishing industry in Pakistan? Especially children’s books. Please elaborate.

 

RH: The answer is “no”, because there are very few writers or illustrators of children’s books to begin with, and by that I am not referring to school textbooks. When I co-founded the Book Group back in 1988, it was prompted due to a dearth of good Urdu books for children. Although the situation is slightly better now, it is still far from satisfactory. In my personal experience of doing over sixty children’s books, none of the publishers have made it financially worthwhile; be it small publishers or large publishing houses. I have done it for the love of it, but monetary gains have always been negligible. Therefore why would people bother about writing books for children? Continue reading Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain

Please follow and like us:

No hope is suicide

By Zubeida Mustafa

ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds worldwide. It has also been reported that the incidence of suicide has been on the rise in Pakistan. WHO put the figure at an estimated 13,337 for all ages in 2012. It would certainly be higher today.

Only recently, this paper reported three students killed themselves in Chitral after receiving their examination results, while another survived. The Human Rights Programme’s chairman reported that 40 to 45 people commit suicide in Chitral (population 447,362) every year. Continue reading No hope is suicide

Please follow and like us:

Fighting harassment

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE theme of Tehreek-i-Niswan’s fourth Peace Table held a fortnight ago was sexual harassment. This was very timely. #MeToo has made a controversial debut in the country with no consensus on the issue. As a television actor aptly said, “Women in our society remain united when it comes to keeping their mouth shut, and are divided when they speak up.”

The country now has a law in place, Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace. Yet women are hesitant to step forward and speak of their personal experiences. Our patriarchal culture, a flawed law and a weak machinery for implementation put women on the defensive. While some respond meekly, others give vent to their anger (usually on social media) to lash out at their oppressors. Continue reading Fighting harassment

Please follow and like us:

To cling or go?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SPEAKING at a seminar, a medical professional once described the changing relationship between patients and physicians. He recalled the time when for centuries, physicians had the upper hand by virtue of their superior knowledge and their ethical standards.

Then the parties achieved a balance in their relationship as public awareness about health issues grew and patients could question the physician’s diagnosis and treatment. They also got more space to decide on the options for treatment available to them. Continue reading To cling or go?

Please follow and like us:

Child at the centre

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE discourse on education in Pakistan has focused invariably on higher education. Whether it is about textbooks, deficiencies in teachers’ training, curricula or language, the starting point of most activists is college or university. The closest they get to school education is when they argue about numbers.

It surprises me how little is said about primary education or even early childhood education. There is not even a hint of an understanding of the roots of the problems that policymakers and activists talk about. They lie in the malaise that grips our primary education sector. Our society is not at all child-centric. It is time we started looking at educational issues from the child’s point of view: how children learn, what interests them and what motivates them. Few policymakers would have read William Wordsworth’s words, “The Child is father of the Man”.

And fewer still would have pondered the report published in this newspaper a few weeks ago that a study in Karachi found that 58.5 per cent of students aged 14-18 years nursed suicidal thoughts.

In this context, it was instructive to talk to Baela Raza Jamil when I dropped in to see her on her return from the UN General Assembly session with another feather in her cap. She has been co-opted to the Platform for Girls’ Education — a British-Commonwealth initiative. A word about Baela for the few who don’t know her well enough. She is a dynamic driving force in the education sector who is also the CEO of ITA (Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi), has been a commissioner in the Education Commission (a global initiative seeking inclusive and quality education with innovative and adequate financing) and is the founder of the Children’s Literature Festival that aims at unlocking the power of the child’s mind.

What ails our education system?

What ails education in Pakistan, I ask. She is very clear-headed in her answer. “Pakistan faces a crisis of learning and the problem of 23 million out-of-school children.” I will not quibble about numbers. Even if it is 3m, it is bad enough. The real challenge is to put these children in school and resolve the learning crisis (that in effect means improve the quality of education).

This is a very profound observation. What use is it to put all children in school but teach them nothing? The political and bureaucratic will to achieve this is missing. One must ask why are millions of children not going to school? After all, Article 25-A has made education compulsory and free for all children of five to 16 years of age. It is simply because the schools do not exist for them or their standard of education is so poor that no one wants to go there. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17, there are 164,300 primary schools in the country with 21.6m children on their rolls. Once they complete Grade 5 they try their luck and seek admission in one of the 77,420 middle and secondary schools which accommodate a measly 10.5m students — a whopping dropout rate of 50pc.

This is further accentuated, in the case of girls, by the quadruple discrimination against them on account of gender, poverty, disability and conflict/displacement. For those from the minorities, faith becomes an added factor.

The immediate need is to expand the primary and secondary sectors keeping the ratio in view. This is important because a majority of the out-of-schoolers are girls and the worst sufferers. This programme of upgrading needs to be accelerated. There is no shortage of funds because the budget allocated to education is not even fully utilised. Charity begins at home. Foreign aid follows in normal course.

The other issue — poor learning outcomes — is interlinked. It drives children out of school and instils no motivation in them; it also has a negative impact on the standards of education. I have observed personally how untrained teachers with no motivation themselves fail to create any enthusiasm in the students. Teachers training programmes when undertaken seriously and consistently can make a difference.

Baela also suggests that innovative strategies such as adopting inter-sectoral approaches, the use of new technologies and imaginative teaching methods would not only attract more children to school but also retain them there.

These have been tried in other countries, but at random in Pakistan. They include school lunch programmes, monthly allowances for girls who enrol and health check-ups for all children. They certainly help provide incentives to parents to send their children to school. But they should be consistently implemented. Also it is important that the ‘learning crisis’ should be addressed concurrently by trying innovative teaching methods using new technologies.

But all approaches should be integrated and tried concurrently on an equal priority basis. For instance, providing lunches or snacks to school children without giving them good teachers to enhance their learning outcomes is a waste of educational funds.

Source: Dawn

 

Please follow and like us:

Whose girl is she?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh police are under fire, which is not something unusual as its performance can hardly be described as satisfactory. It is also alleged to be notoriously corrupt.

A fortnight ago, the Sindh chief justice rebuked the defenders of the law for their failure to recover 22 children who had been missing for several years. An NGO, Roshni Helpline, had filed a petition in the Sindh High Court on behalf of their parents.

In spite of the directive, the police had not set up a team to look into each case. Continue reading Whose girl is she?

Please follow and like us:

No magic wand for education

By

As we enter the ‘Naya Pakistan’ age with high hopes, it would be pertinent to ask two questions about the proposed education reforms that are on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) agenda.

Does the PTI government have the vision to bring about the right changes in the education sector? If so, how will it realise its vision?

Clearly, no one has a magic wand that can be waved to transform the state of education in Pakistan. The malaise runs deep and this is an area which has never received any serious thought.

Education comprises many sectors and sub-sectors, and even the best educationists in Pakistan fail to understand the close correlation among the various areas. These champions of education invariably become advocates of their own areas of expertise, which is of no help. If one is drumming the cause of university education without addressing  the problems at the primary level, nothing will change. If another is  more down to earth and focusing on primary schools, but has no understanding of the need for a child to be taught in their mother tongue, that will make no impact either. A comprehensive approach is  needed.

Listening to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden address to the nation, I felt he has the vision but no strategy. He seems to understand some of the basic issues which are:

• Need for access to affordable and good education for all.

• Importance of  upgrading government schools.

• Regulating the private sector.

• Madrassa reforms.

• Investing bigger sums in the education sector.

One believes Imran Khan still has to chalk out a strategy to achieve the proclaimed goals and  that is not going to be easy.

Here, I will point out some key areas in which action could be taken to set the ball rolling.

Learning rote-style: Students at a madrassa.

The first step should be to clarify the area of jurisdiction. The impression one gets is that the leaders seem to have forgotten that education is a subject that was devolved to the provinces by the 18th Amendment of the constitution in 2010.  Since 2013, when the People’s Party — the main champion of provincial autonomy — lost power over  the federal government, there has been a quiet struggle behind the scenes by  Islamabad to regain its control over education in bits and pieces. The mechanism of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference was employed to draft a new education policy and draw up a new curricula. Sindh never participated wholeheartedly in this process.

Imran Khan has been talking about  education’s myriad problems and has promised to rectify them. He may succeed, to an extent, in Islamabad, KP, Punjab and Balochistan because the first three are under the PTI, while Balochistan is governed by a coalition. However, Sindh, with the worst record in the education sector among the provinces, is not under the PTI. Mindful of this, Imran Khan qualified his statements by stating that he will act in cooperation with the Sindh government.   

An indicator of things to come is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)’s strong reaction to this stance. MNA Nafisa Shah, the information secretary of the PPP, reacted   by saying that PM Khan was clueless about the provincial rights guaranteed under the Constitution. “It seems he doesn’t know that governance is a multi-layered subject,” she added. She reminded the prime minister that “to reform the health and education sectors he will have to talk to the provinces which, in fact, give effect to policies.” Another constitutional battle in the province is the last thing Sindh now  needs to raise the standard of  education.

The large number of out-of school children in Pakistan – approximately 23 million by the government’s own count – has been noted by the prime minister and it is a relief that he understands the gravity of this issue. I hope he is aware that a huge chunk of these are girls. In this case the gender factor will have to be carefully addressed. Not only do girls need better access to schools, but also  educational institutions with boundary walls, toilets, electricity and drinking water near their homes. The societal barriers are tougher for girls than for boys and society’s patriarchal mindset has to be taken into consideration. Although the education of girls has gained more widespread parental acceptance, it still has to be pursued vigorously. Misogyny continues to abound.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has been speaking of innovative initiatives  to expand the school network. Before embarking on any venture, he should visit some schools in the backwaters of Pakistan to understand that school structures are not the only thing we need. Trained teachers, good textbooks and rational  management, which includes monitoring  and a meaningful exam system, are also needed to make these schools functional and useful. Quality is as important as quantity.

Expansion of schools has to be a planned process. For instance, a stupendous number of schools are only one or two-room structures with one teacher.  Neither is it logical to have 150,000 primary schools and only 49,000 middle schools. This results in  a high dropout rate, since many children after passing their primary level, have no place to go and their education ends abruptly at age 10.

Since school education  is the state’s responsibility under Article 25-A,  attention is inevitably focused on schools. And there has been criminal neglect of this sector. The state has never taken ownership, despite its constitutional obligation to do so and, hence, it has emerged as a public-private partnership sector. Academic quality has been provided by the private sector with the support of affluent parents. The public sector has tried to cater to the needs of the huge majority, but quality has been sacrificed as funding has been measly.

Imran Khan has recognised this basic flaw in our system and has promised to address the education in the public sector, so that more children move back to the public sector schools that have gradually been drained of students.

There is also a need for social regulation of the private sector  that is necessary to remove the disparity and anomalies  that have fragmented our education system. With so many systems operating in the country concurrently, socio-economic fissures have appeared which have made us one of the most unequal societies in the world. The gap between the rich and the poor keeps growing – in large part it is directly related to the quality of education received.

If we could have the same system but of a higher standard with equal opportunities, it would benefit the country considerably. What we have at present are a handful of high quality elitist institutions catering to the needs of the wealthy who control the reins of power to govern the poor, illiterate, underprivileged  masses who are denied good education.

If school education is steered in  the right direction, higher and professional education will become  easier to manage. A system of public-private partnership in tertiary and higher education  may work better. Unlike school education, it would call for more diversity  and would have to be closely linked to the market and the academia. In the absence of disparity, merit would be the main criterion for admission to universities and to employment.

All this calls for increased funding of this sector. But it must be transparent, because the education sector is notorious for rampant corruption. Moreover, the increase in funding must be planned and coordinated with the capacity created. If that is not done wisely, pumping money randomly in this sector  will lead to corruption as has happened in recent years.    

These questions are all important,  but there are two  issues that are overarching and affect every sector. One is language in education and the other is religious instruction. They have profound implications  for  education as well as society itself.

We are a country which has still not been able to decide in which language we should teach our children. The elite and their hangers-on, who benefit from them, want their children to learn English and also to study all their subjects  in English as well. They are anglicised and want their children to be the same as that gives them a special status socially  and many advantages, both economically and politically. The underprivileged also want their children to be taught in English, even though the teachers are not familiar with the language. This is undermining our education system. The indigenous languages are being destroyed. The children, by and large, have no proficiency in English and their cognitive  thinking is stunted. As a result the majority derive no benefit from their English-based education while the small elite minority, because of their better education, move on and society is further stratified.

Another major point to ponder is, how religion should be taught to Muslim students. If the aim is to inculcate true Islamic values in them,   there is need to rethink the pedagogy adopted for Islamic Studies. Instead of addressing this issue, policymakers have periodically been increasing  the religious content in the curricula on the false premise that this approach will resolve the problem of intolerance and extremism.

In his maiden speech, the prime minister spoke about the madressahs, another challenge governments in office have faced since these institutions proliferated in the Zia years. Imran Khan spoke about reforming these institutions so that they develop the capacity to produce engineers, doctors and other professionals. How he does it is the moot question, given the fact that previous governments failed to even get the madressahs to modernise some of their curricula and disclose their sources of funding.   

A concerted effort is needed to change the state of education in Pakistan. Issues must not be prioritised. All issues have to be addressed concurrently if any impact is to be made. 

Source: Newsline (Sept 2018)

 

Please follow and like us:

Language myths

By Zubeida Mustafa

A MAJOR debate on education has been sparked by an announcement from Islamabad that a uniform curriculum for the country — from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Karachi — will be introduced. Given our national obsession with conformity and aversion to diversity, such a move should not surprise us. But that does not detract from its unconstitutionality as former chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani has correctly pointed out. Under the 18th Amendment, curriculum-making was devolved to the provinces. Continue reading Language myths

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us: