Keeping them illiterate


news1By Zubeida Mustafa

Going by the number of education policies announced in Pakistan since 1947, the volume of reports produced by commissions on this issue of direct concern to human development and the statements issued by government dignitaries pledging their commitment to universalising education, one would have thought that by now  Pakistan must be heading the world  education league.

What is the reality? The UNDP, which compiles the Human Development Index using schooling as one of the criteria, tells us another story. In its 2015 report, Pakistan is categorised as a Low Human Development country and ranks 147th out of 188 states. The mean years of schooling for children is 4.7 years and only a third of the population above 25 has had some secondary schooling.

At home, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2015 is even more damning. Although Article 25-A of the constitution that was enacted in 2010 makes education free and compulsory for children between five and 16 years of age, nearly 20 per cent of those who should be in school are not. The performance of those who are enrolled is also a matter of profound concern. According to ASER, which focuses mainly on the rural areas, its surveyors found that 45 per cent of grade five children could not read a grade two story in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto. They were worse in English; 51 per cent of the same students could not read English sentences of grade two level.

What explains this dismal state of affairs? Basically it is the absence of political will in the rulers to invest funds and expertise in a sector that is important for the uplift of its citizens. This attitude of indifference has existed traditionally since the early years when the importance of education was not recognised and it received minimal attention. The Macaulay mindset carried into the post-colonial state. A handful of educated people were considered to be enough to run the government machinery and for the management cadre in business and industry. A highly educated population was never regarded as an asset. Consequently, it was not felt necessary to spend on this sector. On an average, only 2.5 per cent of the GDP has been spent on education in Pakistan over the years, with substantial amounts coming from the private sector.

Politically, an uneducated population has suited the powers that be. People who cannot think do not ask uncomfortable questions. They are unaware of the modern concepts of human rights and the working of democracy. Remaining mired in poverty, such a population has to struggle to eke out a living and make ends meet.

The establishment found it enough to pay lip service to education while doing nothing about it in practical terms. Setting up commissions, issuing reports and drawing up education policies that were never implemented were enough to keep up appearances while maintaining the status quo. Since December 1947, when the first education conference was held in Karachi, 10 initiatives have been taken to introduce new guidelines for education. Some took the form of reports by commissions, while others were formal policies – at least four of them in 1972, 1992, 1998 and 2009.

However, what is remarkable is that nothing changed on the ground except for the restructuring caused by the nationalisation of schools and colleges under Z.A. Bhutto in 1972 and the pronounced thrust towards Islamising the curricula, first under General Zia-ul-Haq and later his protégé, Nawaz Sharif. Both these moves proved to be detrimental to education in Pakistan.

It needed 9/11 and pressures from outside to force the government in Islamabad to take measures to reform education in the country. The general belief was that lack of education and the prevalence of the madrassah culture had made Pakistanis extremist and militant. General Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ was supposed to counter this trend. In 2006, the curricula were revised and supposedly re-designed to make Pakistanis more tolerant – not more educated.

The last policy announced in 2009 could not be acted upon, as it was overtaken by constitutional developments. The 18th Amendment adopted by the National Assembly resulted in the devolution of power to the provinces. Unfortunately, the provinces have proved to be equally tardy in addressing the issue of education. A right to education law had to be adopted to translate the provision for free and compulsory education into practice. The provincial assemblies – beginning with Sindh in 2013 – proceeded to do that, but dragged their feet when it came to enacting the rules of business  to make the law effective.

SNews2een against this backdrop, the disclosure in August 2015 that Islamabad was working to formulate a centralised approach to education evoked mixed, though limited, reactions. One school of thought welcomed the move on the ground that the provinces will be shaken out of their lethargy. Others feared that this was a device to bypass provincial autonomy and give education the ideological complexion Islamabad has generally favoured. The route adopted was that of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference (IPEM-C) which is working on a new education policy that will be applied uniformly across the country. It had been promised that the new education policy would be announced in January 2016. It has yet to be announced. What was worrisome was the direction the new policy would take. As the textbooks of the different provinces show, the “ideological” content of education varies starkly from province to  province. While Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has a minister from the Jamaat-i-Islami and its books are blatantly anti-India and pro-Islamisation in character, Sindh’s textbooks have been revised in an attempt to somewhat cleanse them of their hate and war content. However, Sindh has not been too regular in attending the IPEM-C and one cannot be sure if the Islamist elements will get a walkover in policy-making.

As the nation waits with bated breath for the outcome of this exercise, what has come as a breath of fresh air is the timely intervention by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA), under the dynamic leadership of Baela Raza Jamil. Consequently, the government agreed to give civil society a voice in the policy-making process. It was thus that ITA, along with the Pakistan Alliance for Independent Schools (PAIS), ASER and Right to Education Teams, got involved. ITA arranged a number of consultations all over Pakistan to allow people to articulate diverse opinions.

ITA has compiled its recommendations in a report titled, National Education Policy 2016 Pakistan: Voices of Citizens and Youth. Some significant measures suggested are worth taking a look at.

The report says that Early Childhood Education (ECE) should be made compulsory for children at the ECE age and specialised teachers must be trained for it. The importance of media campaigns to create awareness has also been emphasised. The “catch ‘em early” approach may be controversial but in our situation, where as many as 80 per cent of the mothers have no education, it might pay if children are brought under the tutelage of trained teachers to provide them early guidance. The moot question is: Can we train a sufficient number of teachers in the right methods to be followed? This could prove to be a tall order.

Similarly, the recommendation for upgrading all primary schools to accommodate all children between five and 16 years may not be easy to do right away  since the physical facilities are already in short supply. The sharp drop in the number of middle and secondary schools as compared to the strength of primary schools is, to a great extent, responsible for the exorbitant drop-out rate after grade five. Again hiring trained teachers – and subject teachers for secondary classes – as recommended may, at best, be defined as a goal for which the government should strive in the coming years.

Another important recommendation is in respect of mainstreaming madrassahs. It speaks of monitoring and regulating these institutions and introducing in them life-skills based education imparted by trained teachers. Given the failure of earlier efforts to bring the thousands of madrassahs in Pakistan under a uniform system, any skepticism expressed on this count is not misplaced.

Another important issue that has been taken up is that of language and medium of instruction. The recommendations speak of Urdu/mother tongue being the medium of instruction at the primary level and English being the medium at the secondary level. Still having doubts on this score, the authors write, “The chronically unresolved issue of language and medium of instruction can only be resolved through a national commission on languages.”

A beginning can thus be made on this complex issue. It has a direct impact on the quality of education and has social implications as well. A valid question asked at the Teachers’ Literature Festival in February was, “Will this policy apply to private schools too?”

The problem lies in the stratification of society and language has emerged as a key marker in this discourse. If quality education has to be imparted to all, it is important that it should also be pegged to equity. If good quality education in private elitist institutions is to be provided to the rich while dismal quality education is to be the lot of the poor, the basic purpose of education will be defeated.

Source: Newsline April 2016



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Continue reading “Keeping them illiterate”

Textbooks of hate

Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016
Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.

Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.

Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading “Textbooks of hate”

A Global Conglomerate of Oppression

Noor Zaheer


The pronounced lack of interest in the public health system in Pakistan is not difficult to explain. Public opinion in a country as stratified and uninformed as ours, is created and moulded by the so-called privileged classes, comprising those members of society who have the means to pay for private health care. Hence they are not affected by the abysmal state of health care in the public sector on which the poor depend.

The general attitude is: what is the role of the poor in our society? They are useful only for domestic labour in the homes of the rich or for menial work in public places and factories. And, of course, to vote at election time. A higher birth rate among the impoverished ensures there is never any shortage in the labour force. If they fall sick, they are easily replaced. With limited skills and training, none are really indispensable. Continue reading “A Global Conglomerate of Oppression”

Unsilenced voice

By Zubeida Mustafa

JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.

Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish. Continue reading “Unsilenced voice”

Joy of writing

By Zubeida Mustafa

CAROL Loomis, an American financial journalist, who retired in 2014 as senior editor of Fortune magazine, once wrote, “Writing itself makes you realise where there are holes in your thinking.”

She added, “I am never sure what I think unless I see what I write. I believe the analysis part of you kicks in when you sit down to construct a story or even a sentence.”

This is a succinct but profound statement which, unfortunately, our education system operating in a largely oral environment does not recognise. When we cannot even understand the link between language and communication how can we ever realise the significance of articulating our thoughts accurately and cogently. Obviously, no one cares because our education is not designed to inculcate critical thinking in our students. The less they think and question, the happier are the educators who can continue to operate in their comfort zone. Continue reading “Joy of writing”

Remembering Najma Sadeque


By Deneb Sumbal Sadeque

guest-contributorDear Mum’s friends, peers and colleagues,
On this day, last year my mother, Najma Sadeque, left us so unexpectedly. Losing a parent is always hard, but losing a mother like her is impossible to describe. You feel a huge vacuum and yet feel her strong presence. Someone who didn’t just leave an example for me, but for so many others who reminiscence often. She is still missed by those who loved and revered her. Continue reading “Remembering Najma Sadeque”

‘Asering’ education


By Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE 2008 the Annual State of Education Report (Aser) has emerged as an annual exercise which is impatiently awaited. Mainly focusing on children’s learning levels in school in the rural areas, Aser is now recognised as a fairly accurate assessment of the quality of education in Pakistan.

This year Aser records an overall ‘improvement’ under many heads by using the 2014 results as the benchmark. Our policymakers are bound to seize this indicator to go into self-congratulatory euphoria. But the fact is that an improvement of one or two percentage points in some areas is not really progress. The overall picture remains bleak.

A country where one-fifth of its children aged six to 16 remain out of school should hang its head in shame. This is what we have to show five years after our Constitution was amended to make education free and compulsory for the five- to16-year-olds.

The overall picture of our schools remains bleak.

Continue reading “‘Asering’ education”

A 40-year journey

By Zubeida Mustafa

siut9THIS week the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) is holding an international symposium to celebrate 40 years of its existence.

The logo designed for the occasion sums up its philosophy: “Every human being has the right to access healthcare irrespective of caste, colour or religious belief, free with dignity.” At SIUT you actually see this happening.

For long, it was the dream of its founder, Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, to create a nucleus that would evolve into an equitable and inclusive healthcare system that would be accessible to all. Continue reading “A 40-year journey”

SIUT’s philosophy: a rare creed

By Zubeida Mustafa

imagessiutI DISCOVERED the SIUT in the 1980’s when the private sector had begun to invade the healthcare system in Pakistan in a big way.

My quest was for an institution that could meet the health need of the masses at a time when the government was stepping back from its basic responsibility of providing citizens their fundamental right to health.

Of course the SIUT was not known by this name then. It was the Urology Department of the Civil Hospital – a public sector health institution. But even then it was so distinct from its parent body in its working and approach to issues of health and disease that one could not fail to take note. Be it its impeccable hygiene or the atmosphere of kindliness radiated by those who took care of the patients, this institution stood out for its uniqueness. Continue reading “SIUT’s philosophy: a rare creed”

Peace women

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Tehreek-i-Niswan and Sheema Kermani have always been at the forefront when matters of peace are at stake. Many performances by the Tehreek have been directed at protesting the brutality of violence against and oppression of women. Hence it was quite in keeping with its character that the group convened a ‘peace table’ on Oct 15, at the Karachi Arts Council. Here hundreds of women and also men assembled to reinforce the widely held, but unimplemented, belief that female involvement in peacemaking improves the chances of lasting security.

A landmark resolution (1325) was adopted by the UN Security Council 15 years ago calling for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking. It has so far made a nominal impact. The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, admits that globally “women’s participation at peace tables is still symbolic or low”. Continue reading “Peace women”