Category Archives: Language

14 routes to better education in Pakistan

With one of the lowest education budgets in the world, where should Pakistan begin to reform its school system? Our panel has these suggestions

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Inspired by music

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By Zubeida Mustafa

HASAN is a special child. He is autistic. Music inspires him and had it not been for his love of classical music which he shares with his grandfather, his mind would have continued to be caged. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) prevents Hasan from connecting normally with the world around him because his communication skills have been impaired.

The magical effect of music on children has now been scientifically documented. Preschool teachers testify that sound — including language, poetry and music — positively helps a child’s mental and emotional development. Continue reading

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What’s in a book?

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By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is a pleasant paradox that in recent years literature festivals have taken Pakistan by storm when our society is not exactly famous for its reading habit. For long we have mourned — and do so even today — our failure to inculcate the love of reading in our children who grow up to be adults with no interest in books.

Hence the flood of events related to books and literature for people of all ages is something to celebrate. They are designed to promote the book culture. Continue reading

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Language fracture

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contTHE importance of education is reiterated so passionately that the phrase has become an end in itself: We stop dead after asserting its importance. Duty has been done and homage offered.

There has not been a single attempt at government – civil or military – that has not set up its own national education reform commission, taskforce, or whatever rubric the jargon of its moment favours. The labels change but one may comfortably hazard a guess that the substance of reports, the diagnosis and prognosis of the malady, are rather similar. The same sage recommendations and prescriptions have been heard over and over again, and whatever is attempted never really gets going. Yet, outstanding blunders perpetrated in the field resonate despite policy change or retraction – think Bhutto’s nationalisation and Zia’s madressas.

This article’s purported focus is higher education and language: the medium of instruction. I will forbear – but only after reminding clichés survive because they are valid – from the clichés as to the advantages of instruction in the mother tongue and the advantages of English as a global language. Look instead at what we have and what we want – not from the perspective of the arbiters, the consultant expert advisers on system – but from the point of view of their captives – Pakistan’s students and teachers: For students approaching higher education, and teachers as they receive and dispatch them, Continue reading

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Linguistic dilemma

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By Zubeida Mustafa

WE do have a language dilemma on hand, whether we admit it or not.

I attend a ceremony at a school of journalism in Buffer Zone in Karachi where 49 girls are awarded a certificate for the three-month course they had completed supported by scholarships from donors. The language of the proceedings is English and it is plain that few in the audience really understand what was being said. A translator comes to their rescue. I decide to speak in Urdu as I want to connect with these young ladies who have aspirations of joining my profession.

A few days later, I go to a conference organised by the Society for Pakistan’s English Language Teachers. I presume the audience at a moot organised by them would expect me to speak in English. But when I begin I am requested to be bilingual. I drop the English bit and stick to Urdu.

Sometimes in between these events, I visit the Ardeshir Cowasjee Writing Centre at the main campus of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, (established in 2014). I feel I am on firm ground language-wise. Ardeshir who earned fame as Dawn’s columnist with a distinct style of his own wrote only in English. So English would be the language here and I guess correctly. Continue reading

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Aser Nama: A citizen’s learning accountability survey

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By Baela Raza Jamil

Nowshera: Each year it is the luck of the draw as we venture into the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey on interrogating children’s learning levels across all districts of the country -in each district a random sample of 30 villages is selected, dividing each village into four quadrants and from each 5 houses are visited for the learning survey of 3-16 year olds. ASER takes us to fascinating places across the country – enjoying our beautiful geography and even more beautiful people. Perhaps ASER is a good example of edutourism and why not? If we can have medicaltourism we can surely promote edutourism! I say so because as I entered the famous village of Ziarat Kaka Saheb in Nowshera district in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa home of a famous politician, I could not take my eyes off the beautifully constructed brick and slate walls standing impressively from centuries –the old havelis – awesome archways and well-designed drainage, reminding one of a time when this would have been a very famous place. Of course it is still famous due to two reasons; it is home to a beautiful shrine of revered sufi saint Syed Kastir Gul affectionately known as Kaka Sahib who answers many prayers and Continue reading

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The role of language in education and its impact on society

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By Zubeida Mustafa

Language which is a basic capacity with which man has been endowed is something that distinguishes the human being from all living species. It is a multi-dimensional issue that has an impact on every sector of life and human relationships. Here I am reminded of a seemingly small slip of language that could have led to a chain of events that in turn could have preempted the formation of this alliance between Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences and the Hamza Alavi Foundation, the sponsors of today’s talk.

It was way back in the late nineties when Prof Hamza Alavi was preparing to return home to Karachi after his retirement from Manchester University that a colleague of mine at Dawn, Ghayurul Islam, who was also a founding member of Irtiqa, requested me to introduce Irtiqa to Professor Alavi. Since I had met Hamza Bhai and was in touch with him I could always write to him, Ghayur Sahib suggested. I agreed and sent Hamza Alavi an email mentioning this group of intellectuals who were keen to meet him on his return to Karachi and to have a working relationship with him. That was all fine except that I made a faux pas. I jumbled up the alphabets when describing this venerable group – a different Continue reading

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Pitfalls of English

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By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week, the Society for the Advance­ment of Education launched its report on English-language learning in Sindh schools. The ambiguity that marks parents’ and educators’ understanding of the role of language — especially English — in school education was evident on this occasion.

SAHE’s executive director, Abbas Rashid, however, was spot on when he identified his concerns: does the early introduction of Eng­lish in school help or hinder learning? What happens to the learning of English itself?

A common misconception in Pakistan is that those who speak of teaching children in their mother tongue are opposed to English. That is not true.

In my opinion, children must learn English if their education is to be complete. But I also believe that learning English does not mean that they must be taught all the subjects they are required to study through the medium of English. Continue reading

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No science culture

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S first Nobel Laureate, Prof Abdus Salam, constantly lamented our failure to promote science. His contributions to theoretical physics apart, he was a powerful advocate of science and research. For decades, even after he had left Pakistan in protest, Salam’s love for his homeland and concern for his government’s failure to promote science was undiminished. He continued to plead the case for science through his speeches, writings and the institutions he founded, till he died in 1996.

It is a pity that 18 years after his death, science in Pakistan continues to languish as the neglected stepchild of state and society. It never recovered from the severe blow it suffered under Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation and anti-education policies. Not that science and research had received preferential treatment at any stage, but today their survival is endangered. Continue reading

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Language Discrimination in Pakistan Harms Women and Indigenous Culture

Sharing to Learn. Photograph by Flickr user Mustafa Mohsin and used under a Creative Commons license.

By Zubeida Mustafa

Asifa, 12, lives in Karachi, the port city in southern Pakistan. She is a child of the lesser gods. That means that she is malnourished and falls ill frequently. Her home is a modest two-room house with no running water in which her family of eight lives. She is fortunate to go to a better school than the public sector institutions many of her friends and neighbors attend – that is, if they go to school at all. Being the first generation school-goer in her family, Asifa’s is not the carefree existence a child deserves. Her parents have invested a lot in her to provide her education, and have pinned all their hopes in her future.

Will Asifa be able to lead her family out of poverty? Most unlikely. Continue reading

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