Restoring childhood

By Zubeida Mustafa

  1. WHEN Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, wrote his famous poem Pity the Nation he probably could not in his wildest dreams imagine the excesses a nation can commit against children, whose souls, according to him, “dwell in the house of tomorrow”. Had he sensed man’s brutality towards his own offspring, Gibran would have added, ‘Pity the nation that robs its children of their childhood’.
  2. The shocking murder of a child in Lahore allegedly by her employer is a small example of how Pakistan treats its children. According to Arshad Mahmood, a child’s rights activist, 24 children engaged in domestic labour have been killed in Pakistan since January 2010 when Shazia Masih was reported to have been brutally killed in the lawyer’s home where she worked.
  3. It must be noted that domestic labour is only one sector where children go to earn a living. Equally deplorable are the Worst forms of child labour as described by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) in two districts of Sindh — Tando Allahyar and Badin.
  4. Researched painstakingly by Zeenat Hisam and her team, these two slim volumes are eye-openers. They highlight the magnitude and various dimensions of child labour in these areas of Sindh. The idea is to keep the public focus on this problem and design interventions to eradicate child labour. The reports also identify the socio-economic factors that have created conditions in which hazardous forms of child labour thrive.

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Oh those Taliban!

by Rifaat Hamid Ghani

guest-contributorIt is more than a decade since the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.
America now intends to withdraw from there, leaving only a token presence. If the elimination of the prospect of Taliban rule and extirpation of ‘Talibanism’ was the objective of that invasion it has not been achieved. It is also unlikely that America will subsequently be indifferent to Taliban resurgence becoming truly effective, or complaisant about its consolidating. So whose boots will stay on the ground to keep Taliban foothold from gaining space? There is a certain rationale to the speculation that America may find proxy warfare serves its unattained ends. Mercenaries cost, and international peace-keeping too has a running upkeep. Also, factor in that the world’s great powers past and present, collectively and separately, in competition as well as alliance, have more than a century’s working experience of strategic use of the porous borders between Afghanistan India and what in 1947 became Pakistan. Pakistan is in the middle whatever the perspective.

It has consistently and unabashedly been a facilitator of America’s Afghan activities and objectives. Before 9/11 it complemented CIA’s furtherance of the ethos of jihad to contain the ‘godless’ Soviet Union. Post 9/11 it too re-orientated itself and deprecated ‘jihadism’ as potentially terroristic. In 2001 it endorsed toppling the Taliban regime it had earlier furthered and rushed to recognize. Continue reading “Oh those Taliban!”

As bleak as ever

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE new year has brought with it the report card on education in Pakistan that ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) has been issuing without fail since 2009. It is disappointing that the situation in the education sector remains as dismal as ever.

Last week, ASER again had bad news for the nation when it launched its annual report. The latter was based on tests given to 249,832 children in 138 rural districts. A few urban areas were also surveyed.

Today, when Article 25-A of the Constitution is in place making education free and compulsory for all those from six to 16 years of age, it is a tragedy that 21pc of Pakistan’s rural children are still not enrolled in school. While that is a sad reflection on the missing political commitment to education in various provincial governments, one cannot turn a blind eye to other factors. Continue reading “As bleak as ever”

Reading for sharing

By Zubeida Mustafa

FEW people now read for pleasure. Therefore, to meet a person who loves to read books can be a fascinating experience. And if there are people who read for pleasure and then drive down miles every Friday evening without fail to participate in discussions on books, then it is time to learn more about them.

I have had the privilege of meeting such bibliophiles — about 20 or 25 of them — who describe themselves as members of the Readers Club. On Jan 10, the club will complete 13 years of its low-profile existence. Two years ago it was registered as a trust to ensure its permanence.

The brainchild of Abbas Husain, the well-known director of the Teachers Development Centre who claims to have reached out to 40,000 teachers in 20 years, and Azmat Khan, a management trainer professional, the Readers’ Club has held over 500 meetings so far. Continue reading “Reading for sharing”

Where students come last

By Zubeida Mustafa

If education in Pakistan in 2013 were to be described in a nutshell, it could appropriately be said: “More of the same.”

Nothing really changed in the education sector this year, in spite of the noise made about it. Two years ago an education emergency was announced but it is now plain that nothing came out of it. The claims by the various provincial governments and political parties were no more than hot air.

There is no doubt about the fact that awareness at the popular level about the importance of education for income generation and upward social mobility has grown. Regrettably there is not sufficient realisation of the need for education to be of good quality to create an impact.
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The Chinese way

By Zubeida Mustafa

I BEGIN with a prayer for 2014. May our rulers realise the importance of good education for all and may they acquire the wisdom to know how to go about providing it. Amen.

The concern expressed the other day by the federal minister of education about discrepancies in standards of students from different provinces on account of the lack of uniformity in the curriculum all over the country shows why the above prayer is so timely. It is not quite clear what is upsetting the honourable minister.

If he is worried about diversity in the syllabi, which is inevitable in view of the autonomy the provinces now enjoy, he must guard against our traditional love for conformism. Let a hundred flowers blossom, Mr Minister. Continue reading “The Chinese way”