Category Archives: Education

Magic of theatre

By Zubeida Nustafa

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

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The people’s man

BY Zubeida Mustafa

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”.

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Media and crime

By Zubeida Mustafa

SEX crimes and child abuse are reported to be on the rise in Pakistan. So are mental illnesses and the reach of the media. This is not a coincidence for the correlation between them has been widely recognised the world over. The fact that has however not been generally understood, in Pakistan at least, is that many of these evils have always existed but are now being reported more extensively, unethically and unprofessionally with a lot of bias. Since the reportage is generally flawed it can be quite disturbing for a young view/listener/reader.

One may ask what has mental health got to do with it especially in children? There was a time when adults were very careful about what they spoke before children. Parents actually exercised ‘censorship’ on images whether in print or projected electronically. The simple reason for this caution was that a child’s mind is sensitive to all that it is exposed to till quite an age. How it behaves in life is to a great extent determined by childhood experiences. For instance, it is well-known that many of those who commit sex crimes have suffered sex abuse themselves in childhood, have experienced violence or have witnessed it. Add to this list the youth and adolescents who are exposed to pornography habitually.

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Get issues right

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE discourse on language in education has taken the intelligentsia by storm in the wake of the Single National Curriculum (SNC). The polarisation between various points of view is so intense that a meaningful debate is impossible. It is intriguing why the supporters of English distort some issues beyond recognition. Hence here is another attempt to clarify issues.

First it must be restated that the discussion is not whether children should learn English or a local language. Those who support the local languages as the medium of instruction have always added ‘and English must be taught as a foreign language’. I have yet to figure out why we are accused of pushing out English from our education system to make our children backward and incapable of handling technology. It seems to imply that even if we are failing to teach English correctly it is fine so long as we stick to our mantra of English and English alone.

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Which language?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE aspect of the Single National Curriculum that has yet to be resolved is the medium of instruction. It came under the spotlight when the National Curriculum Council announced in March its outlandish idea of making English the medium of instruction from preschool to Grade 5. Strangely, many in Pakistan have argued endlessly in support of English. They believe that without fluency in English one cannot get a job.

On the other hand, there are some who want Urdu, the national language, as the medium of instruction. But Urdu is not the mother tongue of 90 per cent of the people even though it is the language of wider communication. That leaves the mother tongue (a native language) as the only feasible option for the medium of instruction. A decision has to be taken. For six months, the government has been wavering and the consultations are becoming endless. Yet another conference was held on Wednesday. Here it was decided to set up a committee to take a ‘final’ decision on the medium issue.

Not having conducted any research/ surveys on the matter, the government has no firm ground to stand on. It would help if the education ministry would look up its own archives and dig out Javed Hasan Aly’s massive White Paper on Education (2006). It is the only thoroughly deliberated official policy document on education that I have read in Pakistan. It is a pity that the education minister at the time (an ex-army general) rejected it because Aly had proposed that the mother tongue be used as the medium of instruction.

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Art and peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN her poem Children Learn What They Live, Dorothy Nolte writes that if children live with hostility they learn to fight and if they live with acceptance they learn to love. What parents, teachers and all in a position of power need to know is that they must protect children from exposure to violence and trauma if they are to be peace-loving and tolerant.

Are we doing that? Not really. Look at what television shows its viewers, or worse still what is circulated on WhatsApp or posted on social media, and you will understand why we are becoming so belligerent. Even the much-touted Single National Curriculum prefers silence on this issue and the words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘rawadari’ or ‘amn’ figure nowhere in the eight files posted on the federal education ministry’s website.

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Brave women

By Zubeida Mustafa

CONVENTIONALLY women are referred to as weak and fickle. They are also dubbed as cowardly. But all these labels have been given by men in a patriarchal society. It is unfortunate that many women have internalised these qualities and thus reinforce the male perception. One has to be grateful for those fearless women — whose numbers are now growing — who continue to defy the stereotypical image to keep reminding society that women are inherently strong and resilient and are capable of meeting the most difficult of challenges they face.

Last week, we were reminded of this truth when Khairo Dero, a village in Sindh, experienced a harrowing incident. I feel a sense of belonging when it comes to Khairo Dero, and the news of the attack on Ramz Ali literally shook me. Ramz is the project manager of the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust that Naween Mangi has set up to promote the development of this small and charming goth in district Larkana.

Ramz is the gentle and kind and honest-to-the-core soul who runs the various projects of the Trust with a firm and efficient hand. Ramz is also the father of my best friend in Khairo Dero, four-year-old Sitara.

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A way out

By Zubeida Mustafa

TODAY is the anniversary of our freedom from colonial rule. Aug 14, Independence Day, is traditionally celebrated with much fanfare with messages from the top leadership. It is the same this year. Why should we not celebrate? After all, under the British Raj we were denied many freedoms. If the East India Company had not been given a charter, the course of South Asian history would have been different. But this is no time for speculation, for there are so many ifs and buts to be considered that it is best to put them aside.

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Teaching religion

By Zubeida Mustafa

M.H. ASKARI, my colleague in Dawn and an Urdu short-story writer of eminence in his youth, wrote about his experience of joining the Anglo-Arabic School in Daryaganj in the late 1920s. On the first day, his principal asked him, “Will you study Sunni Deeniat or Shia Deeniat?”

Not being aware of the sects, Askari went home and asked his father Mirza Mohammad Said, an outstanding scholar who was widely acknowledged and had been Patras Bukhari’s teacher at Government College Lahore. Prof Said promptly replied, “My son will not study any Deeniat at school.”

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To trust or not

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE underlying cause of what is currently termed as ‘confusion’ in our political discourse is a deficit of trust. Simply put, it is the paranoia that has subsumed people from all walks of life, causing them to distrust others. Can you blame them when they have been deceived so often?

Take the case of the pandemic. On June 19, a very eminent infectious diseases specialist, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, wrote an excellent article in this paper explaining the pandemic, the emergence of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19 and the need for a lockdown. According to her, we have already crossed the Rubicon. She attributes the failure to win the full cooperation of the masses on SOPs to “poverty, illiteracy and dense populations” as well as “ingrained habits”. Hence she appeals for specialists to be given the opportunity to explain what the pandemic really is.

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