Change: at all costs?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

guest-contributorIT is time we stopped taking the easier choice of setting out to scrap a faulty political setup and system and focused on laboring to better it: That means allowing it to function and, in that very process, rectifying its deficiencies. For what is the innovative alternative?

We have tried both parliamentary and presidential democratic modes. We have undergone four varieties of military dictatorship. We have framed and discarded more than one constitution. We have journeyed from centralising West Pakistan’s provinces into one unit, into the mysterious provincial autonomy of the Eighteenth Amendment to the 1973 constitution. Continue reading “Change: at all costs?”

Keeping them illiterate


news1By Zubeida Mustafa

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.

At home, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2015 is even more damning. Although Article 25-A of the constitution that was enacted in 2010 makes education free and compulsory for children between five and 16 years of age, nearly 20 per cent of those who should be in school are not. The performance of those who are enrolled is also a matter of profound concern. According to ASER, which focuses mainly on the rural areas, its surveyors found that 45 per cent of grade five children could not read a grade two story in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto. They were worse in English; 51 per cent of the same students could not read English sentences of grade two level.

What explains this dismal state of affairs? Basically it is the absence of political will in the rulers to invest funds and expertise in a sector that is important for the uplift of its citizens. This attitude of indifference has existed traditionally since the early years when the importance of education was not recognised and it received minimal attention. The Macaulay mindset carried into the post-colonial state. A handful of educated people were considered to be enough to run the government machinery and for the management cadre in business and industry. A highly educated population was never regarded as an asset. Consequently, it was not felt necessary to spend on this sector. On an average, only 2.5 per cent of the GDP has been spent on education in Pakistan over the years, with substantial amounts coming from the private sector.

Politically, an uneducated population has suited the powers that be. People who cannot think do not ask uncomfortable questions. They are unaware of the modern concepts of human rights and the working of democracy. Remaining mired in poverty, such a population has to struggle to eke out a living and make ends meet.

The establishment found it enough to pay lip service to education while doing nothing about it in practical terms. Setting up commissions, issuing reports and drawing up education policies that were never implemented were enough to keep up appearances while maintaining the status quo. Since December 1947, when the first education conference was held in Karachi, 10 initiatives have been taken to introduce new guidelines for education. Some took the form of reports by commissions, while others were formal policies – at least four of them in 1972, 1992, 1998 and 2009.

However, what is remarkable is that nothing changed on the ground except for the restructuring caused by the nationalisation of schools and colleges under Z.A. Bhutto in 1972 and the pronounced thrust towards Islamising the curricula, first under General Zia-ul-Haq and later his protégé, Nawaz Sharif. Both these moves proved to be detrimental to education in Pakistan.

It needed 9/11 and pressures from outside to force the government in Islamabad to take measures to reform education in the country. The general belief was that lack of education and the prevalence of the madrassah culture had made Pakistanis extremist and militant. General Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ was supposed to counter this trend. In 2006, the curricula were revised and supposedly re-designed to make Pakistanis more tolerant – not more educated.

The last policy announced in 2009 could not be acted upon, as it was overtaken by constitutional developments. The 18th Amendment adopted by the National Assembly resulted in the devolution of power to the provinces. Unfortunately, the provinces have proved to be equally tardy in addressing the issue of education. A right to education law had to be adopted to translate the provision for free and compulsory education into practice. The provincial assemblies – beginning with Sindh in 2013 – proceeded to do that, but dragged their feet when it came to enacting the rules of business  to make the law effective.

SNews2een against this backdrop, the disclosure in August 2015 that Islamabad was working to formulate a centralised approach to education evoked mixed, though limited, reactions. One school of thought welcomed the move on the ground that the provinces will be shaken out of their lethargy. Others feared that this was a device to bypass provincial autonomy and give education the ideological complexion Islamabad has generally favoured. The route adopted was that of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference (IPEM-C) which is working on a new education policy that will be applied uniformly across the country. It had been promised that the new education policy would be announced in January 2016. It has yet to be announced. What was worrisome was the direction the new policy would take. As the textbooks of the different provinces show, the “ideological” content of education varies starkly from province to  province. While Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has a minister from the Jamaat-i-Islami and its books are blatantly anti-India and pro-Islamisation in character, Sindh’s textbooks have been revised in an attempt to somewhat cleanse them of their hate and war content. However, Sindh has not been too regular in attending the IPEM-C and one cannot be sure if the Islamist elements will get a walkover in policy-making.

As the nation waits with bated breath for the outcome of this exercise, what has come as a breath of fresh air is the timely intervention by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA), under the dynamic leadership of Baela Raza Jamil. Consequently, the government agreed to give civil society a voice in the policy-making process. It was thus that ITA, along with the Pakistan Alliance for Independent Schools (PAIS), ASER and Right to Education Teams, got involved. ITA arranged a number of consultations all over Pakistan to allow people to articulate diverse opinions.

ITA has compiled its recommendations in a report titled, National Education Policy 2016 Pakistan: Voices of Citizens and Youth. Some significant measures suggested are worth taking a look at.

The report says that Early Childhood Education (ECE) should be made compulsory for children at the ECE age and specialised teachers must be trained for it. The importance of media campaigns to create awareness has also been emphasised. The “catch ‘em early” approach may be controversial but in our situation, where as many as 80 per cent of the mothers have no education, it might pay if children are brought under the tutelage of trained teachers to provide them early guidance. The moot question is: Can we train a sufficient number of teachers in the right methods to be followed? This could prove to be a tall order.

Similarly, the recommendation for upgrading all primary schools to accommodate all children between five and 16 years may not be easy to do right away  since the physical facilities are already in short supply. The sharp drop in the number of middle and secondary schools as compared to the strength of primary schools is, to a great extent, responsible for the exorbitant drop-out rate after grade five. Again hiring trained teachers – and subject teachers for secondary classes – as recommended may, at best, be defined as a goal for which the government should strive in the coming years.

Another important recommendation is in respect of mainstreaming madrassahs. It speaks of monitoring and regulating these institutions and introducing in them life-skills based education imparted by trained teachers. Given the failure of earlier efforts to bring the thousands of madrassahs in Pakistan under a uniform system, any skepticism expressed on this count is not misplaced.

Another important issue that has been taken up is that of language and medium of instruction. The recommendations speak of Urdu/mother tongue being the medium of instruction at the primary level and English being the medium at the secondary level. Still having doubts on this score, the authors write, “The chronically unresolved issue of language and medium of instruction can only be resolved through a national commission on languages.”

A beginning can thus be made on this complex issue. It has a direct impact on the quality of education and has social implications as well. A valid question asked at the Teachers’ Literature Festival in February was, “Will this policy apply to private schools too?”

The problem lies in the stratification of society and language has emerged as a key marker in this discourse. If quality education has to be imparted to all, it is important that it should also be pegged to equity. If good quality education in private elitist institutions is to be provided to the rich while dismal quality education is to be the lot of the poor, the basic purpose of education will be defeated.

Source: Newsline April 2016



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Continue reading “Keeping them illiterate”

Textbooks of hate

Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016
Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016

By Zubeida Mustafa

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”

A Global Conglomerate of Oppression

Noor Zaheer


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”

After freedom what?

Sohail Fida-- a year after he was released
Sohail Fida– a year after he was released

By Zubeida Mustafa

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?”

‘Asering’ education


By Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE 2008 the Annual State of Education Report (Aser) has emerged as an annual exercise which is impatiently awaited. Mainly focusing on children’s learning levels in school in the rural areas, Aser is now recognised as a fairly accurate assessment of the quality of education in Pakistan.

This year Aser records an overall ‘improvement’ under many heads by using the 2014 results as the benchmark. Our policymakers are bound to seize this indicator to go into self-congratulatory euphoria. But the fact is that an improvement of one or two percentage points in some areas is not really progress. The overall picture remains bleak.

A country where one-fifth of its children aged six to 16 remain out of school should hang its head in shame. This is what we have to show five years after our Constitution was amended to make education free and compulsory for the five- to16-year-olds.

The overall picture of our schools remains bleak.

Continue reading “‘Asering’ education”

SIUT’s philosophy: a rare creed

By Zubeida Mustafa

imagessiutI DISCOVERED the SIUT in the 1980’s when the private sector had begun to invade the healthcare system in Pakistan in a big way.

My quest was for an institution that could meet the health need of the masses at a time when the government was stepping back from its basic responsibility of providing citizens their fundamental right to health.

Of course the SIUT was not known by this name then. It was the Urology Department of the Civil Hospital – a public sector health institution. But even then it was so distinct from its parent body in its working and approach to issues of health and disease that one could not fail to take note. Be it its impeccable hygiene or the atmosphere of kindliness radiated by those who took care of the patients, this institution stood out for its uniqueness. Continue reading “SIUT’s philosophy: a rare creed”

‘Seedy’ business

By Zubeida Mustafa

COTTON growers in southern Punjab are facing a serious crisis. Their crop production has shrunk drastically. The reasons stated, among others, are poor quality seeds and severe pest attack.

These factors can be addressed, provided the will exists. Poor seeds and pest attacks that are interconnected have a causal link with the rapid spread of genetically modified organisms (GMO) that have begun to shake public confidence the world over.

The tide is now turning as demonstrations have been held against GMOs, which shot to fame when they were promoted as the miracle seed to eliminate hunger. But the fact is that hybrid plants in which genomes from different species are mixed are too new and untested a technology to win universal acceptance. Continue reading “‘Seedy’ business”

Learning from CLF

By Zubeida Mustafa

Poster designed by Fauzia Minallah
Poster designed by Fauzia Minallah

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”

Sick to the teeth

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contFortunately, not everyone is sick to the teeth of the democratic process; however, far too many are of the electoral process. Pakistanis have been subjected to ceaseless blustering repetitive electoral campaigning for more than two years.

The last national election took place in 2013. Losers complained: Probably a probe would have revealed some irregularities; but far from a general outcry about extensive rigging there was public relief that the verdict was being respected:

People have unhappy memories of caretaker governments and military intervention precipitated by agitational politics. Does the PTI think that deterrent apprehension has faded?

There has been general acclamation of the electoral transition from one democratically elected government to another. The emphasis has been on the completion of the previous government’s mandated term, The PTI did not set itself apart by rejecting the mandate in its entirety. It contented itself with demanding a probe into a handful of seats. Continue reading “Sick to the teeth”