Education: the common enemy

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE Taliban`s move to bomb and torch schools — most of them girls` — have caught the public eye in a dramatic way. Nearly 200 schools have been attacked in Swat alone in the last several months.

Educational institutions in Fata and some of the settled districts of the NWFP have not been spared either. In fact, the first school that was bombed was in Angoor Adda in South Waziristan in February 2006.

Now that a hue and cry is being raised against this barbaric practice, the authorities have begun to take note. But the bombing continues. The government`s earlier failure to respond firmly to this criminal activity prompted the militants to escalate their despicable anti-people drive. Mind you, their ire is directed not just against women, although women are forced to bear the brunt of the Taliban`s brand of Islam that considers them to be the source of all evil on earth and destined for the fires of hell. Boys` schools have also been attacked.

If more girls` institutions have come under attack it is because that gives the Taliban more propaganda mileage. They make a song and dance about the education of women and of its being prohibited by Islam. Thus they are killing two birds with one stone making a statement on the status of women and denouncing the `secular` education system that is anathema to them. Of the schools attacked a substantial number had boys on their rolls.

Depriving women of education serves another nefarious purpose. It makes bleak the future of boys` education as well. For education cannot be universalised without educating girls who as mothers ensure that their children are not denied schooling.The fact is that the Taliban are anti-education and their dislike for liberating the minds of people is like the aversion the government nurses for modern enlightened education. Admittedly, state functionaries do not act equally brazenly to destroy education facilities as the Taliban do, but their policies are no less destructive.

If the Taliban actually torch or blow up schools, the authorities choose more insidious methods. They allow them to become `ghost` schools where no students tread. How can they when many of the schools are under the occupation of village landlords who use them as autaqs and hujras? According to the National Education Census 2006 there are 12,737 “non-functional” — a euphemism for `ghost` — schools in Pakistan. The teachers missing from the scene — by a conservative estimate at least 50,000 of them who continue to draw salaries — are responsible for this criminal phenomenon.

Why do the two parties, that is, the Taliban and the government, share this common hostility towards modern education?

One basic reason is that neither of them would find their interests served by an entire generation of students who would be enlightened, capable of thinking independently, questioning and reasoning and thus evolving into rational beings. Unesco`s constitution says, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” Someone wisely added, “Wars in all their forms do not begin in men`s minds in adulthood. They are seeded in their minds when they are young. In other words, social conflict (including environmental degradation) is sown in the minds of children by adult society.”

A quality shared by those who claim to guide our spiritual fortunes and those controlling our temporal destiny is a dogmatic mindset. They fear a democratic dispensation that calls for a pluralist approach and persuasive skills to evolve consensual policies. They are intolerant of people questioning them or holding them accountable for their deeds. By denying the masses knowledge that would equip them with intellectual skills and inculcate in them the confidence to stand up for their rights, our temporal and spiritual rulers ensure that they are in a position to continue to fool their followers. One promises them paradise in the hereafter, the other a heaven on earth

Destroying schools serves the purpose of ensuring the destruction of education. It terrorises parents who become reluctant to send their children to school even if the building of the school their child attends has been spared. It demoralises children, causing them to become despondent and affecting their capacity to learn.

This is what a schoolgirl in Swat records in her diary, which was published by BBC Online, “I am quite bored sitting at home following the closures of schools.” Gul Makai (not her real name) continues, “Some of my friends have left Swat because the situation here is very dangerous. I do not leave home…. My father told us that the government would protect our schools…. I was quite happy initially, but now I know this will not solve our problem…. Our parents are also very scared. They told us they would not send us to school until or unless the Taliban themselves announce on the FM channel that girls can go to school.”

The government is more subtle in its approach. It fails to allocate an adequate amount to the education sector and then allows quite a chunk of it to be embezzled. It fails to open enough schools to make education accessible to all and sundry. The educational institutions under its

management often lack basic facilities such as drinking water (one out of three), electricity (more than half) and toilets (nearly one out of three).

Worse still, the authorities have, after experimenting for 61 years, failed to determine the framework for education in the country.

Nine education conference recommendation packages/policies have been drawn up, announced, supposedly implemented and then consigned to the rubbish heap. The latest has been in the offing for three years. Confusion marks the policy on the language of instruction, textbooks and curricula. There is still indecision on how to train teachers and handle their trade unionism. Worse still, the authorities have yet to fix their priorities in terms of the sub-sectors how their budget is to be divided among primary education, technical education and the universities.

The methods of the Taliban and the government may be different. The end results are the same.