Category Archives: Education

Love of English

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE reason why our education system is going to the dogs is that our policymakers earnestly believe that to be meaningful, education must be serious and dull. They think that a student enjoying herself in class is not learning anything. That would explain why our classrooms are generally not intellectually lively and why our students learn so little.

Having said this, I will ask the question I had asked in my earlier column, ‘Books are fun’: can a child enjoy any activity in a language she cannot understand? The answer is so obvious that it amounts to insulting the readers’ intelligence and I am sorry for raising this question again. Yet our schools insist on teaching small children in a language they do not understand and enjoy. In Karachi, with the exception of public-sector schools and some NGO-run educational institutions such as TCF, the medium of instruction is either English or a hybrid of Urdu-English because the teachers know no better. The worst part is that all the reading and writing is done in English because the textbooks used are in English.

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Of cuts and balancing

By Zubeida Mustafa

Was it a coincidence? Or a case of action and reaction? To a casual  observer of the scene, there may have been a connection. That is how the scene played itself out. It was a balmy Sunday afternoon two days before Eid, and the occasion was a panel discussion on the economy  at the T2F. Former PTI Finance Minister, Asad Umar, was being grilled rigorously about his government’s policy vis-à-vis the IMF.  His interrogators were Pakistan’s two top-ranking economists, Kaiser Bengali and Akbar Zaidi.

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Books are fun

By Zubeida Mustafa

RECENTLY I decided to have some fun with books and children. Isn’t that a paradox? We are perpetually told that our children do not read books. So how could I even think of combining the two and call it fun? But believe me, it was fun. I decided right away against any boring imposition on the children. No speeches on how wonderful books are. Let them discover this for themselves.

My friend Farida Akbar, a trainer of Montessori teachers, and I held a session during the summer programme of a school for underprivileged children where I teach English to Grade 9 students on a voluntary basis.

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An uphill drive

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.

The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen into decay.

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Why Language is important in Education

By Zubeida Mustafa

I shall begin this paper by listing five myths which have dominated our collective thinking on language in education in Pakistan. This thinking also shapes the narrative on education in many other countries that were decolonised  less than a century ago.

Myth # 1

Language has no bearing on a child’s education, Irrespective of which language is used in the classroom, it is the quality of teaching that determines the quality of education.

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Luring readers


By Zubeida Mustafa

A DISCUSSION on libraries always leads to the chicken-and-egg debate. We have few libraries because there are no readers. Or people do not read books as there are no libraries. In Karachi, both are in inadequate numbers.

Belonging to a literary family, the newly appointed commissioner of Karachi, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, has rightly decided not to get trapped in this debate. He has proceeded to address the issue of the state of libraries by setting up a Council of Karachi Libraries comprising 12 members. These councillors have been tasked with the “restoration, revival and revamping” of the public libraries of the city and upgrading them. For this, the members will visit every library and prepare a report on its working. Hopefully, they will also make suggestions on how libraries can promote the book culture in our society.

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To read or not

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE tenth annual What Kids are Reading Report released earlier this year in the UK got educationists worried. After surveying a million primary and secondary schoolchildren, the author of this document concluded that the country faced a persistent problem of getting young teenagers “to read challenging and age-appropriate books”.

It is now suggested that the secondary school pupils should benefit by having 15 to 30 minutes of time for independent reading integrated into the school curriculum. Continue reading To read or not

No hope is suicide

By Zubeida Mustafa

ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds worldwide. It has also been reported that the incidence of suicide has been on the rise in Pakistan. WHO put the figure at an estimated 13,337 for all ages in 2012. It would certainly be higher today.

Only recently, this paper reported three students killed themselves in Chitral after receiving their examination results, while another survived. The Human Rights Programme’s chairman reported that 40 to 45 people commit suicide in Chitral (population 447,362) every year. Continue reading No hope is suicide

Fighting harassment

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE theme of Tehreek-i-Niswan’s fourth Peace Table held a fortnight ago was sexual harassment. This was very timely. #MeToo has made a controversial debut in the country with no consensus on the issue. As a television actor aptly said, “Women in our society remain united when it comes to keeping their mouth shut, and are divided when they speak up.”

The country now has a law in place, Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace. Yet women are hesitant to step forward and speak of their personal experiences. Our patriarchal culture, a flawed law and a weak machinery for implementation put women on the defensive. While some respond meekly, others give vent to their anger (usually on social media) to lash out at their oppressors. Continue reading Fighting harassment

Child at the centre

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE discourse on education in Pakistan has focused invariably on higher education. Whether it is about textbooks, deficiencies in teachers’ training, curricula or language, the starting point of most activists is college or university. The closest they get to school education is when they argue about numbers.

It surprises me how little is said about primary education or even early childhood education. There is not even a hint of an understanding of the roots of the problems that policymakers and activists talk about. They lie in the malaise that grips our primary education sector. Our society is not at all child-centric. It is time we started looking at educational issues from the child’s point of view: how children learn, what interests them and what motivates them. Few policymakers would have read William Wordsworth’s words, “The Child is father of the Man”.

And fewer still would have pondered the report published in this newspaper a few weeks ago that a study in Karachi found that 58.5 per cent of students aged 14-18 years nursed suicidal thoughts.

In this context, it was instructive to talk to Baela Raza Jamil when I dropped in to see her on her return from the UN General Assembly session with another feather in her cap. She has been co-opted to the Platform for Girls’ Education — a British-Commonwealth initiative. A word about Baela for the few who don’t know her well enough. She is a dynamic driving force in the education sector who is also the CEO of ITA (Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi), has been a commissioner in the Education Commission (a global initiative seeking inclusive and quality education with innovative and adequate financing) and is the founder of the Children’s Literature Festival that aims at unlocking the power of the child’s mind.

What ails our education system?

What ails education in Pakistan, I ask. She is very clear-headed in her answer. “Pakistan faces a crisis of learning and the problem of 23 million out-of-school children.” I will not quibble about numbers. Even if it is 3m, it is bad enough. The real challenge is to put these children in school and resolve the learning crisis (that in effect means improve the quality of education).

This is a very profound observation. What use is it to put all children in school but teach them nothing? The political and bureaucratic will to achieve this is missing. One must ask why are millions of children not going to school? After all, Article 25-A has made education compulsory and free for all children of five to 16 years of age. It is simply because the schools do not exist for them or their standard of education is so poor that no one wants to go there. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17, there are 164,300 primary schools in the country with 21.6m children on their rolls. Once they complete Grade 5 they try their luck and seek admission in one of the 77,420 middle and secondary schools which accommodate a measly 10.5m students — a whopping dropout rate of 50pc.

This is further accentuated, in the case of girls, by the quadruple discrimination against them on account of gender, poverty, disability and conflict/displacement. For those from the minorities, faith becomes an added factor.

The immediate need is to expand the primary and secondary sectors keeping the ratio in view. This is important because a majority of the out-of-schoolers are girls and the worst sufferers. This programme of upgrading needs to be accelerated. There is no shortage of funds because the budget allocated to education is not even fully utilised. Charity begins at home. Foreign aid follows in normal course.

The other issue — poor learning outcomes — is interlinked. It drives children out of school and instils no motivation in them; it also has a negative impact on the standards of education. I have observed personally how untrained teachers with no motivation themselves fail to create any enthusiasm in the students. Teachers training programmes when undertaken seriously and consistently can make a difference.

Baela also suggests that innovative strategies such as adopting inter-sectoral approaches, the use of new technologies and imaginative teaching methods would not only attract more children to school but also retain them there.

These have been tried in other countries, but at random in Pakistan. They include school lunch programmes, monthly allowances for girls who enrol and health check-ups for all children. They certainly help provide incentives to parents to send their children to school. But they should be consistently implemented. Also it is important that the ‘learning crisis’ should be addressed concurrently by trying innovative teaching methods using new technologies.

But all approaches should be integrated and tried concurrently on an equal priority basis. For instance, providing lunches or snacks to school children without giving them good teachers to enhance their learning outcomes is a waste of educational funds.

Source: Dawn