Category Archives: Children and Youth

An opportunity?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN tandem with Islamabad, the Sindh government has announced that the students who were scheduled to sit for their Grades IX to XII Board examinations this summer will be promoted to the next class without being tested.

In the absence of an alternative, this can be deemed to have been a sensible step. Moreover, the fact is that the exams we have been holding for the last several decades are no less than an ‘immaculate deception’. They are rife with corruption, and candidates resort to unfair means while massive sums change hands to manipulate results.

As a consequence, the real learning outcome of the students is appalling. Education in Pakistan is exam-oriented and these exams are a farce, leaving no incentive for the students to study. For them, it is a paper chase for the certificate/degree.

Now is also the time for the government to come clean on its failure to educate the children of this country as it is required to do under Article 25-A of the Constitution. The pandemic lockdown and the disruption it has caused are a blessing in disguise. The government should now rise to the occasion to bring about radical changes in our education system.

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Review: Etienne and the Angry Dot

Etienne and the Angry Dot

FOR all the children of the world – be they in the West or the East, in Pakistan or in the US – the pandemic lockdown has been a trying time. Their lives have changed drastically. They cannot go out and play as they have normally done.

 Those who are young can’t even understand what is happening and why. Even those who are old enough to read books or listen to stories from their mothers are at a loss because this new phenomenon has not been written about much and definitely not from the point of view of young readers.

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How we survive

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN these trying times of lockdowns, I have found relief in books. Currently, Michelle Obama has brought me the comfort I was looking for. America’s former first lady’s memoir, Becoming, grips your attention with its lucid style. It also gives you a graphic insight into the life of the African-American community, whose struggle has fascinated me since Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech more than 50 years ago.

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Those festivals

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his keynote speech at the recent Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), historian William Dalrymple spoke of the litfests that have mushroomed in South Asia in a “fantastic” way. There is no denying that these literary events are crowd-pullers. Dalrymple estimates that India, which initiated the trend with the Jaipur Literature Festival — the most well attended in the world — in 2004, now has 60 litfests a year. He spoke of 10 being held in Pakistan, though I am not clear how he arrived at this figure.

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ASER’s call

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE 2019 Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) launched recently is the ninth in the series. No other knowledge assessment exercise in Pakistan of this nature has been so sustained. Though there was a gap, its overall performance has still been good. It serves as a reliable yardstick to measure the quality of learning in the country especially in the rural areas where the majority of the population lives.

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Awaran, O Awaran

By Zubeida Musrafa

IF a child of seven is separated from his family to be sent to a village 50 kilometres away to attend school, how would it affect him? Obviously, it would be traumatic. The pain and anguish of separation would be deep for him as well as his mother.

Such a situation would also make me feel a surge of anger against those responsible for creating such oppressive conditions that leave parents with no choices but ugly ones: send the child away for the sake of his future or keep him home to remain illiterate for life. That is what Balochistan has been reduced to.

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Our rural areas

By Zubeida Mustafa

ACCORDING to the 2017 census report, nearly 63 per cent of Pakistan’s population lives in the rural areas. For a developing country, this poses many challenges in terms of equity and disparity in the distribution of resources and development funds and planning expertise. As is economically feasible, more attention is paid to the development of urban areas. They are the seat of government where population density makes the development process more cost-effective due to the economies of scale. Since the rural areas don’t offer similar advantages they suffer, notwithstanding their larger population.

But that doesn’t justify the neglect of the rural hinterland. Such an approach has a damaging impact on the lives of more people. Given the government’s limited resources, it cannot divert huge amounts from the cities to disadvantaged regions where the population is scattered. As a result, the country is experiencing a high urbanisation rate as people move in large numbers to the cities from villages, creating problems of another kind. Moreover, this unplanned transfer of population upsets planning.

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Coach Emad

By Zubeida Musrafa

LYARI and Boston. A world separates them. But they have a common connection. Coach Emad. That was the young man of 24 with a passion for football. He passed away in May 2018 leaving his family shattered. He died “of suicide”. That is how his mother, Atia Naqvi, a psychologist, puts it.

Mental illness is on the rise in our society, she tells me. It can lead to suicide. Yet we do not want to talk about it because of the double stigma. Mental illness is “disgraceful” but suicide is worse.

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How we grow

By Zubeida Mustafa

MAHNOOR is 13 years. She studies in the afternoon shift of a school in Neelum Colony. Mahnoor is often late for class because she babysits her six-month-old brother. Her mother is a domestic worker and is away from home the whole day. Mahnoor can go to school only when her nine-year-old sibling returns home from his school to take charge of the baby.

The failure of population planning in Pakistan has robbed many Mahnoors of the joy of childhood and has impacted their education. It has also frustrated our policymakers who have another story to tell. The backlog of 22 million out-of-school children in the country may never be wiped out as 4m new aspirants join the list of admission seekers annually. The government’s capacity to open new schools is limited.

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Living library

By Zubeida Mustafa

WITH only 42 libraries for a population of 16 million, Karachi can well be said to be starved of food for the mind. It is a different matter that not everyone is interested in nourishing the intellect. Boutiques and shops selling exquisitely designed fabrics and dresses outnumber bookshops. The libraries, though in inadequate numbers, have a vacant air.

Hence, it was a brilliant idea of the organisers of the 60th Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), held recently in the metropolis, to include a session on ‘Popularising Libraries’. It was sorely needed. The organisers claim that nearly 25,000 children attended the festival, which was initially launched nine years ago, with the idea of introducing books to children. And libraries are an integral part of creating a culture for books and reading. It would be interesting to know if any of the schools that were in attendance considered it worthwhile to introduce some of the ideas that were discussed in the hour-long session.

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