MY last column on language-in-education evoked interesting comments from readers. Some raised valid concerns. Others betrayed unfounded fears about language — and also education. Quite a few of the comments were more an outpouring of emotional biases and not based on rational thinking.
First of all what needs to be clarified is that there is a world of difference between using a language as a medium of instruction (MOI) and teaching it as a subject. Whenever there is a discourse on the language-in-education issue we seem to get carried away by our passion for English. It needs to be understood clearly that a child learning history, geography or even science in an indigenous language can still learn English as a second language just like any German or Korean child does. If English is taught by competent teachers using the correct methodology the child will learn it well and quickly. Continue reading Language whims→
So Donald Trump has won the American presidency. The predominant fear expressed by Muslims in the US and even the world over is that Islamophobia will now receive a shot in the arm. This thought is not really far-fetched, given the strong anti-Muslim statements made by the Republican candidate in his campaign speeches. Hate crime is reported to have increased in the week following the US Presidential Elections on November 8. One just hopes that the compulsions of high office in the White House will have a moderating impact and Trump the president will be more discreet than Trump the Republican candidate. Continue reading Assimilation or alienation?→
THE turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.
One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence. Continue reading Enough is enough→
QANDEEL Baloch’s horrific murder in the name of ‘honour’ is testimony to the failure of the women’s movement to overturn patriarchy in Pakistan. Against the backdrop of the spate of anti-women violence, comes a report by Dr Rubina Saigol written for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German foundation. Titled Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Actors, Debates and Strategies, this excellent document should provide much food for thought.
The author, an eminent sociologist, touches the heart of the issue — especially in cases like Qandeel’s — when she points out that there are “silences” (neglected subjects) that surround questions of family and sexuality, the mainstay of patriarchy and women’s subjugation. These have generally not been addressed by the women’s movement and she recommends that they should be. Continue reading Why we failed→
To understand the dynamics of our present cultural conflicts we need to go back to General Zia’s way of playing politics. His commitment to a self-interpreted Pakistan ideology and his martial power in super-imposing it on his subjects –- for that is what citizens become in a dictatorship –- had a profoundly disruptive impact.
He controversialised religion, making it into an instrument for repression and domination. Thus, legislation in the cloak of Islamisation haunts us in the blasphemy laws and Hudood Ordinance. Selected religious bodies and clerics gained a new voice, latent with intrusive powers, to guide public morality and personal conduct. He formulated distinctions between shura and parliament which often took the form of a dissociation from or incompatibility with “westernis ed” political and social practice and inevitably enhanced bigotry. Continue reading Culture agonistic→
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. Continue reading Keeping them illiterate→
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→
Pakistan has done many stupid things within the rubrics of foreign and domestic policy. And joining a coalition of predominantly Arab states against ‘terrorism’ where the terrorist and the nature of the activity are defined ad lib could prove one of the most regrettable. There is such a thing as rational neutrality, but it seems to be something with which we are non-aligned.
Of course we are financially indebted to Saudi Arabia (the coalition’s convener) more recently and currently than we are indebted to Iran: But that could also be because Iran has been sanctioned out of prosperity; rather the way Saddam’s Iraq was. And the coalition’s focus is on Iran and Shi’ite ‘insurrectionary’ segments or regimes Iran may be sympathising with in the very troubled Middle East and Gulf states. Iran has never taken a side that is overtly or covertly hostile to Pakistan or vice versa. Are we coalescing to create adversaries for ourselves and foster sectarian differentiations? Continue reading An erratic coalition→
SOMETIME ago, I was trying to teach Shaan, a teenager studying in a school in a low-income neighbourhood, about the rotation of the earth, the solar eclipse and the pull of gravity. After describing these phenomena, I asked him why we didn’t fall off the earth when it rotates. He very promptly replied, “Because God has willed it so.”
His lack of curiosity about natural phenomena left me thunderstruck. Then a look at the science textbooks used in our schools gave me a better insight into the disinterest of our students in science. They are required to memorise a Continue reading Magic of science→
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→