Category Archives: Children and Youth

No magic wand for education

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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)

 

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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

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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

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Textbooks — the real culprit

By Zubeida Mustafa

ALTHOUGH many factors affect the quality of education in Pakistan, textbooks are a major culprit. It is rightly said that children learn what they experience in the classroom. The two agents of learning at this stage are the teachers and the textbooks.

In my last post I had drawn a gloomy picture of the teachers whose impact on the young child’s mind is profound. What about the textbooks?

They can be described in a single word — appalling. More can be said about them. They are gender biased. They are anti-peace. They promote prejudice, anger and hatred.  Above all they do not promote tolerance and love or teach children to think critically as good books do. Numerous analysts, agencies such as Unesco and educationists have pointed this out.

Two years ago, a National Party Senator created a furore in the Upper House when he read out a passage from a textbook being taught in the colleges in Punjab and Sindh. In this the Baloch were defined as an “uncivilised people who remain busy fighting and killing”. He told the house that in another book, it has been written that the “Baloch were those people who lived in the desert and looted caravans.”

Wouldn’t children reading this start hating the Baloch? What an unwise and irresponsible thing to write when the Baloch are already under siege in Pakistan.

Then there is the gender bias that permeates our text books. Unesco, in a study that included 194 textbooks from four provinces of Pakistan for six subjects found that “the national curriculum reflected a significant gender bias towards males in at least three of these subjects.”

The report added, “In the analysis, only 7.7% of the personalities in the textbooks were found to be female, with most of them relating to Muslim history, and the rest were male. In the textbooks on the history of the subcontinent, only 0.9% of the historical icons mentioned were females.”A sentence very often quoted as an example of misogynist writing is: “A hundred sons are not a burden but one daughter bows our heads.”

All this no doubt reinforces the patriarchal tendencies in boys and accentuates gender disparity in society.

Our religious identity is another aspect of our national life that finds strong mention in our textbooks. The approach adopted is summed up by Tahira Abdullah in a review of KP textbooks as one that glorifies war, ‘otherises’ non-Muslims, takes a uni-dimensional view of reality, distorts history and stereotypes women.

This is not a positive style of writing on any sensitive issue, least of all for students who imbibe quickly what they read. These examples make clear why we should not surprised that militancy has taken root in Pakistani society. This has been promoted by a nexus between the “militant, extremist, jihadist and pro-ideology” elements who have come to dominate the education sector in all provinces.

As a result, efforts to revise and reform the curricula under American pressure in the post 9/11 years have yielded no result. Violence has also been used to drive away progressive forces from the reform process. Take the case of Bernadette Dean, a liberal educationist working on the revision of textbooks in Sindh, who  was forced to flee the country when banners and posters came up overnight in Karachi declaring her to be “wajibul qatl”  (worthy of the death penalty). She fled the country when the IG Police told her that he couldn’t guarantee her safety. A few weeks earlier another non-Muslim woman educationist had been attacked by militants.

Article 25-A speaks of compulsory education for all children 6-16 years of age. The need of the hour is not just to make education accessible to all children in Pakistan but also to ensure that the textbooks teach them what they need to learn.

The elections are the right occasion to ensure that textbooks receive the attention they deserve.

Source: Alif Ailaan, Taalim Do

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How children learn

MARIA Montessori, the best educationist the world has ever produced, based her philosophy on her understanding of the human mind. She was Italy’s first woman physician, and derived her knowledge from her study of medicine and more so from her observation of the young children whose education was entrusted to her. In her opinion, children have an inborn capacity to learn from their environment and develop their own cognitive and mental skills. Hence Montessori’s use of the term the ‘absorbent mind’ to describe a young child’s mental growth process.

According to Montessori, the educationist is just required to provide the right environment and a little guidance to the child to allow her to grow at her own pace. Continue reading How children learn

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Teachers who do not teach

By Zubeida Mustafa

When I was working on my book The Tyranny of Language in Education I would visit Orangi quite frequently to study the methods of pedagogy in the schools there with reference to the language of instruction. Those were the days when there was much talk about ghost schools.

One day I requested Abdul Waheed Khan, the founder of Naunehal Academy in Baldia, and a very fine man who was shot dead in 2013, if he could show me a ghost school. He agreed willingly.

The very next day he took me to a Peela School, as government schools are referred to. Their buildings are painted yellow. It appeared to be huge with a big compound as most public sector schools in Karachi are. The gate was bolted from the inside. Waheed knocked and banged on the gate till someone came and let us in. To my surprise the place was deserted. There was not a single child to be seen on the premises though it was mid-morning when we landed there.

On enquiring, we were informed by the person who had received us that the children were not there but the headmaster who was taking a shower would soon receive us. We strolled around as we waited and it became clear to us that there was no evidence of the school being functional.

When the headmaster made his appearance with a towel round his waist, he informed us that the children had gone home. I was intrigued by the absence of furniture in the school. The upper storey was occupied by the headmaster’s family as we could make out from the curtains fluttering from the window. I didn’t think it appropriate to inspect his home though I was certain that some of the missing furniture would be found there.

The headmaster had the temerity to ask me for a donation! It seemed to be a cruel joke. How could anyone cheat little children of their right to education, I thought? Later, I saw in the Sindh school census report (for the year 2010) that Sindh had 9,000 such institutions. Other provinces also had their share of ‘dysfunctional’ schools, to use the term the government preferred.

In Sindh the phenomenon of teacher absenteeism was also dubbed the visa system. It meant that the absent teacher had succeeded in getting a job abroad and had left the country subletting his position to a junior not qualified for the job.

In another case the headmaster had been sent on deputation to mind the kitchen of the local wadero (landlord). One feature common in all such cases was the connivance of the education department. Without its cooperation, no teacher can take the liberty the teaching staff is known to take.

For long the erroneous belief was that teachers have been degraded — they are poorly paid, they don’t enjoy any respect in society and are not properly trained. But these are myths. Hefty pay increases — most who have long years of service earn six digit monthly salaries — quick promotions and their jobs being conditional on teachers’ training should have given them the status in society they have always yearned. That has not happened.

The fact is that most teachers in Pakistan lack motivation. Corruption is rife and inefficiency is the norm. The good teachers are in a minority and are overshadowed by the incompetent majority lacking integrity.

One may well ask how they get away with it. The fact at the heart of this greatest farce of education is the government’s concern for the teachers’ interests. The rulers care for the teachers not because they care for the education of the children. Rulers only care for themselves and in this age of democracy when teachers do election duties they are the favourites of the rulers. They count votes. They guide the voters. They can make or break governments.

Demands have been made in the past that teachers should not be engaged in election duties.  But no party has made the move to end the practice. Stakes are high. Even rules barring the transfer of ‘reliable’ teachers during election times to sensitive areas where they can be trusted to safeguard their master’s political interest have been violated with impunity.

Training is another problem. Facilities are not adequate in quantity and quality. Training facilities are needed not just for teachers of the future. The existing lot also need in-service training. If teachers are not improved the students’ output can never be improved. With so little support from their homes — nearly 80 per cent of the parents of low-income students are illiterate — the workload of teachers is indeed heavy. So is their responsibility.

Source: Alif Ailaan Taaleem Do

 

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Education without substance

By Zubeida Mustafa

SHAN is a young man of 22. Seven years ago he would often come to me and I helped him with his school work. His mother worked for me and I had offered to help her children with their education.

One day I was teaching Shan something about the solar and lunar eclipses and the rotation and revolution of the earth. Having explained the phenomena with a globe and a lamp. I asked Shan very casually why we don’t fall off the earth when it rotates.  Without giving it even a minute’s thought, Shan replied, “Because God doesn’t want it to happen.”

I was taken aback as I hadn’t expected this answer. I tried to explain to Shan that all natural phenomena followed some rules and religion exhorts all Muslims to look for them and discover them.

Unfortunately, our education system does not teach our children to search for these answers which they must find through a process of critical thinking.

Most of our children do not think; they are not taught how to because it appears many teachers do not know how to think either. They simply ask the students to memorise what is in their textbooks. This is shocking for without having the capacity to think critically no person can really be a truly educated person. As a result the rote culture is so common in our schools. This unsurprisingly leads to plagiarism as people cannot create anything original. They simply copy what has been written by someone else.

Small wonder our education system is producing students of such dismal quality. The Annual Status of Education Report (more popularly known by its acronym ASER} that has been testing our students mainly in the rural areas since 2008 has shocking results to show.

The last ASER survey was held in 2016. It had a horrendous story to tell.  The academic performance of the students was on the decline. Only 52 percent of the children in Grade 5 could read a story of Grade 2 level in a local language in 2016.  In 2015, 55 percent had been able to do that. English reading skills were worse.  When testing students of Grade 5 ASER surveyors found that only 46 percent of them could read sentences designed for Grade 2. In 2015, the success rate was 49 percent.  The showing in arithmetic calculations were equally poor.  In 2016, 48 percent managed to solve the sums of Grade 2 given to them.  The previous year the success rate had been 50 percent.

ASER, however, found the students of private schools performed better.  But this is no consolation because at the Grade 5 level a preponderant majority of the children study in public sector schools.

To what would you attribute this weakness in our education system? The main flaw lies in the teachers. They do not receive the best training and, therefore, are not really qualified to teach. Poor pedagogy is a problem but lack of motivation is a bigger problem.  Corruption and absenteeism also take their toll.

The quality of the textbooks is another problem. The government has on numerous occasions spoken about improving the books but with no revision of the curricula the books remain in a rut. Recently some efforts were made to revise the curricula as well as textbooks but the changes that have been introduced do not seem to have gone far enough.

Ingenious solutions will have to be found. There are individuals who are trying out new ad hoc methods to give an input of a different kind to give a boost to students’ standards. There is Amra Alam who visits schools and does storytelling in her chaste Urdu to students who enjoy it and without their even realising it the standard of their language improves.

Similarly Atif Badar, a teacher of theatre and drama, uses drama, elocution, singing, music and puppetry to draw children out of their   introversion, build their confidence and make them articulate. These improve their scholastic performance.

I have tried to develop with Baela Raza Jamil a programme we call “dekho, suno, parho, socho aur bolo (See, listen, read, think and speak)”. It is designed to encourage children to think. I use pictures followed by questions to get children to think and suggest solutions to problems.

But these are value adding measures. The basic product, that is educational skills, must be brought to a certain acceptable level before the enhancing exercises will expand the students’ mental powers. I could not change Shan’s academic ability and mindset. His basic education was too poor for any other exercise to change him. This boy who dreamed of working in an office at a computer, today sweeps and mops the floor in an apartment block.

Source: Alif Ailaan/ Taleem Do

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Rape without end

By Zubeida Mustafa

OF all the crimes committed against children — especially the daughters of the poor in Pakistan — the most horrendous is the trafficking of girls. It is more agonising than rape. The sex trade amounts to torture. The girls who are snatched and taken away to be sold into forced prostitution have to live with this hideous evil night after night. Only a few lucky ones manage to escape or are rescued. Continue reading Rape without end

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Learning Sindhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOR decades, I faced a dilemma. Living in Sindh, I wanted to learn the Sindhi language to enable myself to speak to the people here in their own language. They had welcomed my parents and me when we migrated to this land of the Sufis.

In Karachi, a cosmopolitan city and home to numerous foreign consulates, I could try my hand at French, German and Persian. There are many other languages you can learn in this city. But there was no place where I could go to learn Sindhi. Teaching Sindhi free of charge should have been the job of the Sindh government’s department of culture. But it never cared. Nor does it do so today.

When the language riots of 1972 were followed by the education policy that required every student to study Sindhi and Urdu, irrespective of his or her mother tongue, I was delighted. To me it seemed that in a generation the entire educated youth population of the province of Sindh would be bilingual. To my great disappointment this did not happen. First, the nationalisation of schools — an excellent idea in principle but poorly executed with selfish intent — left our education system in the doldrums. Jobs were doled out to people who did not know how to teach. The enrolment rate never went up sufficiently to realise the dream of ‘education for all’. Secondly, the resultant influx of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations undermined the already tottering local exam system. That was also a blow to my ‘Sindhi dream’.

But I don’t let my dreams die easily. After repeated nagging by my Sindhi-speaking friends (which included the respected but outspoken PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Shah, my neighbour at one time) I succeeded earlier this year. I received an email from a wonderful friend — also the writer of the foreword to my book The Tyranny of Language in Education — Dr Ghazala Rahman, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at Szabist. She informed me that the academy planned on holding Sindhi-language classes.

There is a need for linguistic interactions to bond people.

In May we completed level 1 — nine of us who made it a point to attend the weekly class for three months. There was absenteeism but not serious enough to disrupt the classes. Ghazala and her associates Sarang and Amin worked hard on designing the course and bearing with our idiosyncrasies.

By no means do I consider myself proficient in the language — I still have a long way to go. But wasn’t it Lao Tzu who said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step? Some of my classmates picked up the language very well and I am happy to know they are the ones who are working on the ground with the people of Sindh and this linguistic addition will serve them well. But what I found so enriching about this experience was how Ghazala took us through the maze of a language so rich in vocabulary, style, dictum and literary content and, of course, its greatest asset, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

But more than that, we learnt something about the social impact of a language and how every language has its own richness. Ghazala did it by contextualising what she taught us. Even the variations in dialects, usage and accent/pronunciations were sympathetically explained without showing any contempt for the ‘other’.

This approach is so important if linguistic prejudices are not to destroy a society. They characterise not only Pakistan. Most societies have them. These prejudices sometimes go so deep that people speaking the same language but with different accents tend to ridicule those whose speech is not similar to their own. These biases have existed historically. Who wouldn’t remember the language wars between Lucknow and Delhi? But such literary bashing should not spill into everyday life and vitiate people’s social and economic standing.

At a Yale University workshop, some academics looked into the issue of ‘linguistic prejudice’ that is defined as implicit biases against people who speak the same language but with substantial variations. The workshop sought to “expose this phenomenon, describe its social consequences, and propose ways in which teachers and learners can work to neutralise its effects”.

Giving examples, one teacher explained that objectively there is no correct way to speak a language. One form may be prestigious today in a region when it was less prestigious at another time. Besides it needs to be realised that speech variations should not be the basis of assessments of people’s cognitive ability and their moral character. They should not be socioeconomically stigmatised on that count. It is important that public awareness be created about the importance of showing respect for all languages.

Hence, the need for linguistic interactions to bond people. Sadiqa Salahuddin, who was my course mate, summed it up well: “Ghazala should be given the best award for enhancing manifold our love for the land, its people and their language.”

Source: Dawn

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