THE ongoing school and college examinations across the country mark the advent of the cheating season. As expected, the national discourse is now focused on the malpractices of both candidates and examiners. Also under discussion are the incompetency and corruption of the examination boards which not only tolerate this ugly feature of our education system but actually facilitate it.
A HEFTY sum of over a trillion rupees has been earmarked for education collectively in the federal and provincial budgets for 2021-2022 that were announced in June. This amount has been growing over the years. But this massive financial investment in human resources has not produced the impact that could have rationally been expected on the learning outcomes of children in Pakistan. This has been confirmed year after year by Aser (Annual Status of Education Report).
IN media parlance what would the Bahria Town Karachi incident that took place on Sunday, June 6 be called? It was not fake news, considering that a large number of protesters and the police were involved and some violence also occurred that day on Super Highway. But the way the facts were twisted by a section of the media, both social and mainstream, one would certainly call it a case of misreporting.
The impression was sought to be created that the protesters — including various civil society groups and people who have been struggling to save their ancestral lands from the avarice of the land grabbers — resorted to violence and arson. But from the accounts of those present on the scene (I spoke to Sheema Kermani of Tehreek-i-Niswan and Khuda Dino Shah from the Indigenous Peoples) an altogether different picture emerges: it was clearly a false flag operation to vilify the protesters and spread dissension among the diverse ethnic groups that constitute Sindh’s population.
WHEN schools in many parts of the world have resumed education in varying degrees, why are our schools still shuttered? The irony is that this is the fate of institutions that cater to the needs of the poor who are already deprived. I feel the matter has not been given serious thought. Even in pre-Covid times public-sector education in Pakistan was rotting. Now it is about to hit rock-bottom.
RECENTLY I received a call from Ali Mohammad Goth (in Jahoo Tehsil, population 40,033) in Awaran, Balochistan. Jahoo Tehsil has only two high schools for girls. Scores of students from one of these schools had demanded books to read. This message was conveyed to me by their headmistress Ms Sabar-un-Nisa, courtesy Shabir Rakhshani, the education activist of Awaran. This made me jump up.
UNESCO’S constitution in its preamble declares: “Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” In the feminist context it should read that the defences of women’s rights against patriarchy need to be constructed in the minds of the women who are the most oppressed and exploited. That should be the immediate goal of the feminist movement in Pakistan.
The fact is that the state of women reflects best what author Kazim Saeed titles his book, Dou Pakistan. We have had a female prime minister, a young girl as a Nobel laureate, female pilots, mountaineers, millions of women teachers and highly qualified doctors and so on.
EARLIER this month, The Citizens Foundation (TCF) released a landmark report on the language of education, probably the first document of its kind in Pakistan. Based on in-depth studies and interviews, it reconfirms that children learn best in a language they understand. This is generally the mother tongue or the language of the environment in multilingual communities.
TCF is now testing this thesis in 21 classrooms in Tharparkar where it is setting up schools with the help of Thar Foundation. True, this is universally recognised. But TCF’s endeavour should be appreciated — it is the first private-sector organisation to move away from the prevailing practice in non-government institutions. They generally use English or an English-Urdu hybrid as the medium of instruction.
BALOCHISTAN is a paradox — like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that do not fit. The recent tragedy — the brutal mass murder of 11 Hazara miners in Mach — is testimony to this paradox. It is bizarre that, periodically, a cultured people with a rich tradition of poetry and learning should be subjected to such atrocity on the soil of Balochistan by brutes under the protection of non-Baloch.
A REGULAR event from the pre-pandemic age that I miss a lot is the Children’s Literature Festival spearheaded by Baela Raza Jamil. Held regularly all over the country, it was designed to unleash the power of the mind.
From the treasure trove of memories I have of the festivals, there is one that never fails to delight my heart. That was recorded at the Children’s Literature Festival held in Turbat in 2018. It was the theatre session in which a bunch of inhibited, shy and reserved youngsters comprised the participants. The resource person was Atif Badar, who struggled to overcome the language barrier with the help of two Balochi teachers. There was also the challenge of drawing the boys out of their apparent reticence.
Atif was directing a play that was to be presented before the chief of army staff. Sociocultural barriers also made the actors nervous as they were required to deliver a dialogue that to many of them must have appeared to be mumbo jumbo — Urdu not being their native language. Then something happened. With prompting from their teachers and the excitement of entering another world, the boys perked up, demonstrating confidence. Atif, who is always encouraging and reassuring as a good teacher should be, got these youngsters to perform a wonderful play, projecting the importance of storytelling and reading. The impromptu actors were wonderful and received a loud ovation from their audience.
Above all, the performers enjoyed the new experience. That is the magic of theatre. That has always attracted Atif to theatre in education which he believes is important to teach children the skill of communication and improve their confidence. He acquired his own skills from Sheema Kermani’s Tehreek-i-Niswan whose contribution to theatre in Pakistan is unmatched. Although he has been teaching theatre for 10 years in some prestigious schools in Karachi, there are few who really appreciate the value of theatre in education. At the most, theatre is equated with the annual play performed on Parents Day in schools. It is not a regular subject used as a tool of learning. Article continues after ad
HOW the Single National Curriculum is being formulated betrays a gross ignorance of the principles of public policymaking. As I wait for the final document I often think of my friend Javed Hasan Aly who passed away last month of Covid-19, leaving his family and his many friends bereft.
I can imagine him shaking his head sadly and declaring that policymakers in Islamabad were violating public interest blatantly.
Javed was in the government himself (1965-2005), engaged in policymaking. He rose to the influential post of secretary Establishment Division. But he could make no impact. Why? He was so unlike the crowd in Islamabad vying for the boss’s favour. Whenever I teasingly referred to him as a bureaucrat, he would feign annoyance to remind me that he was a ‘civil servant’. “I have always striven to serve the people and that is why my priority has been to learn about the interests of the public”.