Monthly Archives: June 2018

Language: Conudum in Education

By Zubeida Mustafa

OVER the years we have appointed a gatekeeper in our education system who is pretty stern and manages to frustrate the dreams of many underprivileged students.

This gatekeeper is the English language. Every examination board in the country has made English compulsory and no one can obtain his Matriculation certificate without clearing this paper. Maleeha Sattar, who teaches at a private university in Islamabad, did research on the language issue for her MPhil thesis. Her finding was that a third of the students who appeared from the Rawalpindi Board of Intermediate and Secondary Examination in the previous five years had failed in compulsory English and had to discontinue their studies. The tragedy is that Pakistan doesn’t even have teachers who are proficient in English and can teach it correctly to the students. Continue reading Language: Conudum in Education

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Education without substance

By Zubeida Mustafa

SHAN is a young man of 22. Seven years ago he would often come to me and I helped him with his school work. His mother worked for me and I had offered to help her children with their education.

One day I was teaching Shan something about the solar and lunar eclipses and the rotation and revolution of the earth. Having explained the phenomena with a globe and a lamp. I asked Shan very casually why we don’t fall off the earth when it rotates.  Without giving it even a minute’s thought, Shan replied, “Because God doesn’t want it to happen.”

I was taken aback as I hadn’t expected this answer. I tried to explain to Shan that all natural phenomena followed some rules and religion exhorts all Muslims to look for them and discover them.

Unfortunately, our education system does not teach our children to search for these answers which they must find through a process of critical thinking.

Most of our children do not think; they are not taught how to because it appears many teachers do not know how to think either. They simply ask the students to memorise what is in their textbooks. This is shocking for without having the capacity to think critically no person can really be a truly educated person. As a result the rote culture is so common in our schools. This unsurprisingly leads to plagiarism as people cannot create anything original. They simply copy what has been written by someone else.

Small wonder our education system is producing students of such dismal quality. The Annual Status of Education Report (more popularly known by its acronym ASER} that has been testing our students mainly in the rural areas since 2008 has shocking results to show.

The last ASER survey was held in 2016. It had a horrendous story to tell.  The academic performance of the students was on the decline. Only 52 percent of the children in Grade 5 could read a story of Grade 2 level in a local language in 2016.  In 2015, 55 percent had been able to do that. English reading skills were worse.  When testing students of Grade 5 ASER surveyors found that only 46 percent of them could read sentences designed for Grade 2. In 2015, the success rate was 49 percent.  The showing in arithmetic calculations were equally poor.  In 2016, 48 percent managed to solve the sums of Grade 2 given to them.  The previous year the success rate had been 50 percent.

ASER, however, found the students of private schools performed better.  But this is no consolation because at the Grade 5 level a preponderant majority of the children study in public sector schools.

To what would you attribute this weakness in our education system? The main flaw lies in the teachers. They do not receive the best training and, therefore, are not really qualified to teach. Poor pedagogy is a problem but lack of motivation is a bigger problem.  Corruption and absenteeism also take their toll.

The quality of the textbooks is another problem. The government has on numerous occasions spoken about improving the books but with no revision of the curricula the books remain in a rut. Recently some efforts were made to revise the curricula as well as textbooks but the changes that have been introduced do not seem to have gone far enough.

Ingenious solutions will have to be found. There are individuals who are trying out new ad hoc methods to give an input of a different kind to give a boost to students’ standards. There is Amra Alam who visits schools and does storytelling in her chaste Urdu to students who enjoy it and without their even realising it the standard of their language improves.

Similarly Atif Badar, a teacher of theatre and drama, uses drama, elocution, singing, music and puppetry to draw children out of their   introversion, build their confidence and make them articulate. These improve their scholastic performance.

I have tried to develop with Baela Raza Jamil a programme we call “dekho, suno, parho, socho aur bolo (See, listen, read, think and speak)”. It is designed to encourage children to think. I use pictures followed by questions to get children to think and suggest solutions to problems.

But these are value adding measures. The basic product, that is educational skills, must be brought to a certain acceptable level before the enhancing exercises will expand the students’ mental powers. I could not change Shan’s academic ability and mindset. His basic education was too poor for any other exercise to change him. This boy who dreamed of working in an office at a computer, today sweeps and mops the floor in an apartment block.

Source: Alif Ailaan/ Taleem Do

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Rape without end

By Zubeida Mustafa

OF all the crimes committed against children — especially the daughters of the poor in Pakistan — the most horrendous is the trafficking of girls. It is more agonising than rape. The sex trade amounts to torture. The girls who are snatched and taken away to be sold into forced prostitution have to live with this hideous evil night after night. Only a few lucky ones manage to escape or are rescued. Continue reading Rape without end

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No school, no education

By Zubeida Mustafa

AS you approach Makli by the National Highway from Karachi, you will notice a school building standing in splendid isolation. It has no signs of having been used for educational activities. No youthful voices echo in its empty halls or have ever done. No tiny feet have pitter-pattered there.

It causes one to wonder what is the idea of building a school so far removed from human habitation? Many such unused structures dot the countryside. They actually serve a purpose. They help pad up government records and inflate the number of existing institutions. Their construction additionally justifies the expenditure shown in the budget under the education head. Who cares if some of the money spent went into lining someone’s pocket and no child benefited from it.

But what is the need to boost numbers? That is a part of the great debate that has haunted education planning in Pakistan. There was once talk of “quality versus quantity”. It never entered the wise heads in their ivory towers that there could be “quantity with quality”. In this debate quantity won. Then the realisation dawned on the policymakers that education would have to be made accessible to all children. Thus began the number game. It came to be widely believed that more schools mean more education. Who would notice that a school that doesn’t function, like the school near Makli, helps no one. It is there to whitewash the sins of the education department.

The number game also has the subtraction process. Fully functional public sector schools are handed over private universities. That is how the Government Model School in Clifton changed its signboard to become the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto University of Law. I haven’t been able to locate the children who studied there.

To start with, let us take the case of the number of schools in Pakistan and the number of school age (5-16 years) children who have to be provided education. According to demographers there are about 51 million children who need to be educated under Article 25-A. AEPAM, a body set up to collect data on education, tells us that less than 29 million children are enrolled in 230,550 schools in Pakistan. It must be added to the satisfaction of the orthodox that another 2.6 million attend Deeni Madaris. Alif Ailaan quotes approximate 22 million as the figure for out-of-school children — mercifully the madaris are not equated with the schools.

AEPAM makes no distinction between a full-fledged educational institution and those one/two roomed structures which accommodate two/three classes managed by one/two harassed teacher(s). But can any education really take place in such conditions when a cacophony of voices would drive anyone up the wall. We have no idea how many such schools exist, posing as institutions where teaching takes place.

Then there are thousands of schools that have no boundary walls, electricity supply, drinking water or toilets. On enquiring, I was once told that many girls, who are enrolled in such institutions, come to school in the morning and with the first call of nature or the first bout of thirst go home not to return till the next day.

Then there is the location of the schools. It seems it has never been strategised. I have visited schools where eight institutions were housed in one building. One of them had six students on its rolls with ten teachers. In the rural areas the situation is worse. There are some villages over-loaded with schools and in large tracts of adjoining areas there is not a single school. There are far too many anomalies to be described here. There is need for the education departments in all the provinces to carry out an intensive exercise of studying the placement of schools all over the country and rationalise their location.

The absence of planning is reflected in the illogical and lopsided picture that emerges when you look at the ratio of schools at various levels.  At present there are 150,000 primary schools in the country with 19 million children on their rolls. Once they complete Grade 5 they try their luck and seek admission in the 49,000 middle school which accommodate a measly 6.5 million students — a whopping drop-out rate of 66 per cent. Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world that actually drives out its students from the school system by denying them access to higher schooling.

Another way of asking students to leave is by inducting the private sector in a big way in the school system since many children cannot afford the fee charged by private schools. Note how the ratio of private schools increases as one moves up. In the primary level, the private sector comprises only 12 percent of the total institutions. At the middle level, private schools are a humungous 66 percent.

All this will have to change if education has to be universalised in Pakistan. Is there anyone who can drive this change?

The writer is Dawn’s former Op-ed editor. She currently writes a Source: Alif Ailaan/Taleem Do

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Learning Sindhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOR decades, I faced a dilemma. Living in Sindh, I wanted to learn the Sindhi language to enable myself to speak to the people here in their own language. They had welcomed my parents and me when we migrated to this land of the Sufis.

In Karachi, a cosmopolitan city and home to numerous foreign consulates, I could try my hand at French, German and Persian. There are many other languages you can learn in this city. But there was no place where I could go to learn Sindhi. Teaching Sindhi free of charge should have been the job of the Sindh government’s department of culture. But it never cared. Nor does it do so today.

When the language riots of 1972 were followed by the education policy that required every student to study Sindhi and Urdu, irrespective of his or her mother tongue, I was delighted. To me it seemed that in a generation the entire educated youth population of the province of Sindh would be bilingual. To my great disappointment this did not happen. First, the nationalisation of schools — an excellent idea in principle but poorly executed with selfish intent — left our education system in the doldrums. Jobs were doled out to people who did not know how to teach. The enrolment rate never went up sufficiently to realise the dream of ‘education for all’. Secondly, the resultant influx of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations undermined the already tottering local exam system. That was also a blow to my ‘Sindhi dream’.

But I don’t let my dreams die easily. After repeated nagging by my Sindhi-speaking friends (which included the respected but outspoken PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Shah, my neighbour at one time) I succeeded earlier this year. I received an email from a wonderful friend — also the writer of the foreword to my book The Tyranny of Language in Education — Dr Ghazala Rahman, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at Szabist. She informed me that the academy planned on holding Sindhi-language classes.

There is a need for linguistic interactions to bond people.

In May we completed level 1 — nine of us who made it a point to attend the weekly class for three months. There was absenteeism but not serious enough to disrupt the classes. Ghazala and her associates Sarang and Amin worked hard on designing the course and bearing with our idiosyncrasies.

By no means do I consider myself proficient in the language — I still have a long way to go. But wasn’t it Lao Tzu who said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step? Some of my classmates picked up the language very well and I am happy to know they are the ones who are working on the ground with the people of Sindh and this linguistic addition will serve them well. But what I found so enriching about this experience was how Ghazala took us through the maze of a language so rich in vocabulary, style, dictum and literary content and, of course, its greatest asset, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

But more than that, we learnt something about the social impact of a language and how every language has its own richness. Ghazala did it by contextualising what she taught us. Even the variations in dialects, usage and accent/pronunciations were sympathetically explained without showing any contempt for the ‘other’.

This approach is so important if linguistic prejudices are not to destroy a society. They characterise not only Pakistan. Most societies have them. These prejudices sometimes go so deep that people speaking the same language but with different accents tend to ridicule those whose speech is not similar to their own. These biases have existed historically. Who wouldn’t remember the language wars between Lucknow and Delhi? But such literary bashing should not spill into everyday life and vitiate people’s social and economic standing.

At a Yale University workshop, some academics looked into the issue of ‘linguistic prejudice’ that is defined as implicit biases against people who speak the same language but with substantial variations. The workshop sought to “expose this phenomenon, describe its social consequences, and propose ways in which teachers and learners can work to neutralise its effects”.

Giving examples, one teacher explained that objectively there is no correct way to speak a language. One form may be prestigious today in a region when it was less prestigious at another time. Besides it needs to be realised that speech variations should not be the basis of assessments of people’s cognitive ability and their moral character. They should not be socioeconomically stigmatised on that count. It is important that public awareness be created about the importance of showing respect for all languages.

Hence, the need for linguistic interactions to bond people. Sadiqa Salahuddin, who was my course mate, summed it up well: “Ghazala should be given the best award for enhancing manifold our love for the land, its people and their language.”

Source: Dawn

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