Catch ’em young

ACCORDING to Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring Report [GEMR] 2016 released recently, only two-thirds of children worldwide would have completed primary schooling by 2030, the deadline set by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The report also stresses the need for human dignity, social inclusiveness and equity in education so that economic growth does not intensify inequalities in society but empowers everyone. For this, Unesco calls on policymakers to adopt new approaches and fundamentally change their thinking on education. Thus it hopes to create a safer, greener and fairer planet for all. Continue reading “Catch ’em young”

Going solar

Sharing the cool
Sharing the cool

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE of the promises which every government that comes into office in Pakistan holds out to the people is that it will end load-shedding. Deadlines are announced but not met. Waiting for uninterrupted power supply from the grid is like waiting for Godot.

The government continues to reiterate its pledge to provide sustainable, affordable and reliable electricity to the people and hopes to add 10,400 megawatts to the national grid by 2017. Will it? The circular debt keeps mounting and the promised level playing field is nowhere in sight. Heavy load-shedding continues to be the lot of the low-income areas. Continue reading “Going solar”

Why us?

pakistan-mpi-squareBy Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE June, the Pakistan government has been patting itself on the back. Multidimensional poverty (MP) has fallen from 55pc to nearly 40pc in the country since 2004, we are being told. Of course it is admitted that there are districts where poverty is as high as over 90 per cent (Qila Abdullah in Balochistan) today. But in Punjab only 31pc are impoverished. Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi have an MPI (multidimensional poverty index) of 10pc. Continue reading “Why us?”

Vulnerable, exploited, oppressed: Pakistan’s labour force

 

NewslineBy Zubeida Mustafa

PILER is one of those rare not-for-profit organisations in this age of neoliberalism that continues to do research, collect information and create awareness on taboo labour issues. More than that, for 34 years PILER has championed the cause of the labour movement in Pakistan though the tragedy is there are few who now care about what is happening to our workers on whom depends the success of our economy and the well-being of the people.

PILER has published five reports on the ‘Status of Labour Rights in Pakistan.’ The 2015 report was released recently and would come as an eye-opener for those who read it. The earlier reports covered the years 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014. They have all been translated into Urdu by Abdus Salam Salami, a development journalist. Continue reading “Vulnerable, exploited, oppressed: Pakistan’s labour force”

Why we failed

 

imagesBy Zubeida Mustafa

QANDEEL Baloch’s horrific murder in the name of ‘honour’ is testimony to the failure of the women’s movement to overturn patriarchy in Pakistan. Against the backdrop of the spate of anti-women violence, comes a report by Dr Rubina Saigol written for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German foundation. Titled Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Actors, Debates and Strategies, this excellent document should provide much food for thought.

The author, an eminent sociologist, touches the heart of the issue — especially in cases like Qandeel’s — when she points out that there are “silences” (neglected subjects) that surround questions of family and sexuality, the mainstay of patriarchy and women’s subjugation. These have generally not been addressed by the women’s movement and she recommends that they should be. Continue reading “Why we failed”

Tribute to Abdus Sattar Edhi

index
By Badri Raina
Dear Soul, you left your body

with no thought for your pain;

your last word was for the last man,
and  food for our fallen brain.
Edhi’s six secrets that won him people’s love and trust
1. He loved the poor which means he lived like them and among them.
2. Was humble to the core and very approachable.
3. His integrity was never in doubt yet he ensured it was visible.
4. You could call his enterprise love-&-charity-without-borders. Everyone was reached whatever be their  faith, class, age, gender or ethnicity.
5. He was the “ruler” of his sprawling “empire” yet he acted like the humblest worker  performing with his own hands what he expected his workers to do — be it to wash the unclaimed corpses or drive an ambulance to reach a scene of crisis.
And most importantly
6. That is why in his last illness which struck him in 2o13 he turned to the Sindh Institute of Urology & Transplantation — a hospital where the poor are loved and not allowed to die because they cannot afford to pay for their treatment to stay alive.
Z.M.

The Destruction of Nadia’s Dream: The English Language Tyrant in Pakistan’s Education System

9781783095841
By Zubeida Mustafa

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.

Continue reading “The Destruction of Nadia’s Dream: The English Language Tyrant in Pakistan’s Education System”

Cotton crisis

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S economy is in grave trouble. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16, it failed to meet the growth target of 5.5pc in FY2016. GDP grew by 4.7 pc. This was mainly due to the ‘major setback’ (to use the finance minister’s words) in agriculture.

At the heart of the crisis was a massive decline of 27.8pc in cotton production. It should be remembered that cotton is the mainstay of our agriculture and textile industry. The cotton crisis has emerged as a very controversial issue. Well-informed farmers attribute this disaster to the widespread use of genetically modified seeds that were formally introduced in the country in 2010 but were being smuggled since 2005. Now BT cotton (a genetically modified variety) is grown in 88pc of the cotton-cultivated area.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been challenged all over the world as some giant seed multinationals have grown phenomenally thanks to their aggressive marketing. If unchecked, they could dominate global agriculture. GM seeds will undermine biodiversity as the manufacturers ensure their monopoly in the seed sector. Being vulnerable to pest attacks, GM crops need pesticides in large quantities that poor farmers cannot afford. It is no coincidence that the manufacturers of these seeds also produce pesticides which account for a big chunk of their revenues.

Farmers are prediing another year of difficulties


Some facts are indisputable. Cotton production has not increased as promised since BT cotton was introduced. The decline is not fully reflected in the data released by the government because it has changed the measure used to determine the output, which is counted in the number of bales. Previously, each cotton bale weighed 176 kilogrammes. Since 2011 it has been reduced to 150kg. Using the old measure we know that cotton production had hit a record figure of 14.6 million bales in 2004. That figure has never been reached again and last year it was less than 9m bales (by the old measure).The per hectare yield as well as the area of cotton cultivation have been erratic. In FY2012, 2.8m hectares (about seven acres) were cultivated and the yield was 815kg per hectare. In FY2016, these figures were 2.91 hectares with a yield of 587kg per hectare respectively, which means the slight increase in acreage was offset by the lower yield.

The government blames the weather (frequent and excessive rains) and pest attack, mainly bollworms, for the fall in cotton output. In a recent notification, the Punjab government advised farmers to delay planting.

The farmers have another story to tell. They say it is the poor quality of seeds that has led to pest attacks and caused the decline in production. They are predicting another year of crisis. According to one media report this year, many farmers have switched to other crops and the area of cotton cultivation is considerably lower.

In spite of poor results, the government insists on approving GM cotton seeds. Thus in a meeting in February, the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) hastily approved the applications for nearly 100 GM seeds without following prescribed procedures. That is how Monsanto and Dupont were allowed commercialisation of GM corn without large-scale testing and biosafety risk assessment in open fields in Pakistan.

This was reconfirmed by the NBC in another meeting in April on the written orders of the prime minister. This is shocking to say the least. There has been a concerted effort to increase the private sector’s role and space in the seed market. Monsanto, an American biotechnology company, has been a big beneficiary of the changes in the government’s policies. In 2015, the Seeds Act 1976 was changed to “meet the requirements of the modern seed industry”.

Not surprisingly the pressure for change came from the US which wants Pakistan to meet its ‘obligations’ under WTO regulations and create a larger market for private seed producers. Previously, seed manufacturing and its price regulation was in the public sector. Now the private sector — mainly giant biotech companies — has entered the seed market in Pakistan.

WikiLeaks which brought into the open routine exchanges between US diplomatic missions in Pakistan and the State Department in Washington apparently revealed how Monsanto was in the picture in the formulation of cotton policies in the country.

To reject new technologies in a knee-jerk reaction is unwise. But it is worse to accept them indiscriminately without testing them rigorously under local conditions.

The Kissan Board has gone to court to get justice for the farmers. It filed a petition in 2014 challenging the NBC meeting that allowed the commercialisation of BT cotton that year. Its plea was accepted but the government went into appeal and the matter was put on hold. The government has proceeded as usual. Now another case has been filed challenging the government on constitutional grounds and for violation of the Cartagena Protocol. BT’s fate now hinges on the court’s decision.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Cotton crisis”

Politics of numbers

populationBy Zubeida Mustafa

THE Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16 reminds us of our ticking population bomb. We are told that today the country’s population stands at 195.4 million — 3.7m more than it was the previous year. We have regressed. The population growth rate stands at 1.89pc in 2016. It had dropped to 1.49pc in 1960-2003. Continue reading “Politics of numbers”

What is LSBE?

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By Zubeida Mustafa

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?”