Category Archives: Development and Poverty

‘ASER’ time is here

ASER Pakistan 2014 National Report Card

By Zubeida Mustafa

AN incurable optimist once commented that the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that you then have to move upwards. He probably didn’t believe that one may remain stuck at the bottom and not move at all. We were talking about education in Pakistan.

ASER 2014, released earlier this month, records a mixed bag of achievements. Since 2010, the Annual Status of Education Report, which describes itself as “the largest citizen-led, household-based initiative” has been collecting education-related data predominantly from rural areas to assess the quality of the learning output of children. Continue reading

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‘Najma has gone’

Najma Sadeque (picture courtesy Dawn.com)

By Zubeida Mustafa

HER entire life was a series of battles she fought for the disadvantaged, the empowerment of women, the right of people to land and the preservation of the environment. Many of these were battles that she won. Others were ongoing struggles, as she never gave up hope. That was Najma Sadeque described as the activist who wore several hats.

Her last battle was against death and this one she lost. “Najma has gone,” I was informed by a friend who was in the hospital with Najma when the end came shortly after midnight. With her the courage and inspiration she had instilled in many had also gone, so I thought. Then I knew they hadn’t for Najma has left behind a legacy of courage and integrity embodied so clearly in her daughter Deneb Sumbul. A picture of her mother, Deneb’s dignity in her hour of grief is something only Najma could instil. Continue reading

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Karachi seeks peace

Logo of I am Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

JO dil par haath rakho tau/ faqat itna hee kahta hai/ Woh Isa Chowk ho ya Das Manzil ka koi mandir/ Lohari Gate ho ya Goth Qasim ki koi basti/ Woh Babul Ilm ho ya Masjid-i-Siddiq-i-Akbar ho/ Hussainabad ho ya woh meri Farooq Nagri ho/ Jahan bhi golian chalti hain meray dil pe lagti hain/ Har ek woh ghar jahan maatam bapa hai mera apna hai. — Ishrat Afreen

(I place my hand on my heart/ and all it says is/ whether it be Isa Chowk or some temple of Das Manzil/ be it Lohari Gate or a neighbourhood of Goth Qasim/ be it Babul Ilm or the Siddiq-i-Akbar mosque/ be it Hussainabad or my Farooq Nagri/ where bullets fly they strike my heart/ every home in mourning is my very own.)

These verses draw a startling picture of Karachi torn by sectarian/communal violence. The picture is of a fragmented city. The verses also poignantly capture the poet’s pain and sense of shared grief with the victims irrespective of their caste or creed. This theme — horror and empathy — has recently found resonance in the numerous conferences held under the banner of the ‘I am Karachi’ peace campaign. This is the need of the hour in a city that lost over 1,100 of its citizens to violence in 2014. Continue reading

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Aser Nama: A citizen’s learning accountability survey

guest-contributor

By Baela Raza Jamil

Nowshera: Each year it is the luck of the draw as we venture into the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey on interrogating children’s learning levels across all districts of the country -in each district a random sample of 30 villages is selected, dividing each village into four quadrants and from each 5 houses are visited for the learning survey of 3-16 year olds. ASER takes us to fascinating places across the country – enjoying our beautiful geography and even more beautiful people. Perhaps ASER is a good example of edutourism and why not? If we can have medicaltourism we can surely promote edutourism! I say so because as I entered the famous village of Ziarat Kaka Saheb in Nowshera district in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa home of a famous politician, I could not take my eyes off the beautifully constructed brick and slate walls standing impressively from centuries –the old havelis – awesome archways and well-designed drainage, reminding one of a time when this would have been a very famous place. Of course it is still famous due to two reasons; it is home to a beautiful shrine of revered sufi saint Syed Kastir Gul affectionately known as Kaka Sahib who answers many prayers and Continue reading

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A new venture

mehru-2_Fotor

By Zubeida Mustafa

AWAY from the bustle of downtown Karachi in a remote area of Korangi bordering Ibrahim Hyderi, where our fishermen eke out a hazardous living, an experiment in social engineering is taking place. It is expected to be a milestone in the history of healthcare in Pakistan.

This new venture — the Mehrunnisa Hospital — is seemingly a modern hospital for the poor like any other, waiting to open its doors fully to patients. They are bound to visit it in droves once the bus routes are adjusted to make it accessible by public transport.

Built by a philanthropist — businessman Haroon Abdul Karim — it was donated by him to the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in January 2013. Abdul Karim’s obsession was that patients be provided services absolutely free of charge. He visited hospitals incognito and felt that the SIUT alone met his criteria.

What makes Mehrunnisa so different that it is expected to be a model? Continue reading

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Breaking the cycle

23-2

By Zubeida Mustafa

PSYCHIATRISTS in Pakistan have been crying themselves hoarse about the rise of mental illness in the country. Ever since militants and religious extremists have unleashed their terror on the hapless population, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise. But these disorders are stigmatised and are not publicly discussed.

There is much talk about poor governance, corruption and even the falling level of tolerance in society but no one wants to mention the impact of these problems on the mental health of the people and how the latter’s attitudes and mindsets reinforce the conditions that gave birth to the problems in the first place.

  In an article in the New Internationalist Magazine, Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, pointed out that worse than the 2,133 deaths, 11,000 injuries and the destruction of countless homes caused by Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza in July-August 2014 was the psychosocial damage inflicted by the war. She said, “the destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare”. She warned that violence will “beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarisation … [and] of further trans-generational trauma”.

Also read: Psychiatrists concerned about plight of IDPs

This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan. Most upsetting is the psychological warfare taking place and the ground has been softened for it by the ineptitude and corruption of successive governments. The destruction of our education system, moral Continue reading

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Assistive technology

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in 2006. Picture by ELIZABETH DALZIEL/AP (Photo Courtesy: www.npr.org)

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN a recent interview, Prof Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist, said that the full development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. He added that technology would eventually become self-aware and supersede humanity, as it developed faster than biological evolution.

Prof Hawking who can be termed a rare miracle personifying courage, spirit and natural intelligence, is a beneficiary of modern communication technology. He suffers from motor neuron disease and according to the doctors’ prognosis should have died 50 years ago. He has not only defied those predictions but has led a productive life contributing to his field. Continue reading

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Teachers’ voices

clf2014

By Zubeida Mustafa

TEACHERS have been in the news recently as it is universally recognised that the quality of education and the learning output of children in any society depend preponderantly on teachers’ performance and academic standards.

Hence considerable improvement can be brought about only if we focus on the teachers on a priority basis. The Children’s Literature Festival has added a day for teachers since its Karachi session in February this year. Once again teachers got a day to themselves before the CLF opened in Lahore last week. Earlier, two reports titled The Voice of Teachers by Alif Ailaan and SAHE’s report on Teaching and Learning English in Sindh’s Schools Continue reading

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Worth of a life

parveen-rehman

By Zubeida Mustafa

HOW much is a human life worth in Pakistan? Not more than peanuts, given the impunity with which people are being killed in this benighted country of ours. The state’s failure — or lack of will — to protect the life of its citizens is at the root of this tragedy.

In this context, I am reminded of two women — one dead, the other on death row. One was a dear friend. The other is a stranger whose community has been my benefactor. I owe my education to Christian missionaries who gave me knowledge and taught me, by example, to respect and be tolerant of all faiths.

Perween Rahman and Asiya Bibi have nothing in common except that they are symbols of our quest for justice and sanctity of life in a society that thrives on hate and violence. Continue reading

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Pakistan’s Youth: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Zubeida Mustafa

The so-called youth bulge in Pakistan has now become visible. One young woman making news around the world of late is 17-year-old Malala Yusufzai, who was named the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in early October.

Not that Pakistan has not been a young country for several decades. The country’s high population growth rate over the 1980s and 1990s means more than a quarter of the country’s population of 182 million today is between 15 and 29 years of age, which is how youth is defined by the United Nations. However, it is only in times of turbulence, as Pakistan is experiencing at present, that the youth’s presence has become pronounced. Two democratic elections in a row – in 2008 and 2013— have focused public attention on young voters.In the May 2013 general election it is said that about a third of the registered voters were under 29 (that worked out to 25 million in absolute numbers) and many of them would be casting ballots for the first time. The political parties took note, and all of them included plans for the youth in their election manifestos. Continue reading

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