All posts by Zubeida Mustafa

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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Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy

By Zubeida Mustafa

The Doha talks between the United States and the Taliban to work out a peace deal to end Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict began with a whimper a year ago. They ended Saturday with a presidential tweet from the White House that was no less than a bang that resounded around a startled world.

Having come so close to a peace deal, it was difficult to understand why President Donald Trump and thus the U.S. backed off. True, an American soldier was killed in an attack by the Taliban last week along with a Romanian soldier and 10 Afghan civilians. But 15 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the Doha talks began, and the Taliban had yet to formally renounce violence.

Most shaken by the turn of events in the peace process were the Taliban leaders themselves and their patrons in Pakistan.  It had been a Herculean task to bring the killers of 2,300 American and 45,000 Afghan soldiers and 32,000 Afghan civilians to the negotiating table. Then they had to be persuaded to agree in principle to a peace process for power sharing. Some loose ends still had to be tied up, but there was hope. Credit for this goes to the tireless shuttle diplomacy spread over nine months by the Afghan-born American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad. He has been strangely silent in the last two days.

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The miseducation of Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Seldom does one come across any good news about the state of education in Pakistan. In July this year, a UNESCO report stated that one out of every four children in the country do not complete their primary education. Additionally, the government revealed that 23 million out of 55 million children (40 per cent) are out of school.

Unfortunately, those who do attend school are not much better off, for the quality of education imparted at institutions is abysmal.

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PTI rule

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

‘Corruption’ has been the make and break PTI slogan and the outstandingly ‘corrupt’ leaders of yore have been electorally dis-enabled and the two mainstream grassroots parties left floundering if not quite sunk. Common citizens are gauging what is on the march in the field: Imran Khan (for the party is the man) and his support base. Bear in mind that the mandate to govern was formally conferred by perhaps too gullible an electorate in the framework of the much-amended and sometimes vacillatingly so, as with the 8th amendment, 1973 constitution. It is a landmark consensual constitution that, though unceremoniously stamped upon by boots in 1977 and 1999, has yet to follow Pakistan’s earlier constitutional tomes into the unemptied dustbin of history.

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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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Saving mothers

By Zubeida Mustafa

TWENTY years ago, nearly 400 mothers out of 100,000 giving birth in Pakistan died. This phenomenon, referred to as the maternal mortality rate, has come down to 178 per 100,000 today. This is remarkable progress when seen in our own context. One may attribute this to better childbirth practices and immunisation of expectant mothers.

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Trump’s Ignorance Touches Off a New Crisis in Kashmir

By Zubeida Mustafa

South Asia is again in crisis and could be on the brink of war. For the second time in six months, the world is on tenterhooks, waiting to see what turn events will take. Because the two antagonists are armed with nuclear weapons, the possibility of a confrontation is taken seriously. And as has happened before, Kashmir is at the center of the dispute that has kept India and Pakistan at loggerheads for over 70 years.

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Love of English

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE reason why our education system is going to the dogs is that our policymakers earnestly believe that to be meaningful, education must be serious and dull. They think that a student enjoying herself in class is not learning anything. That would explain why our classrooms are generally not intellectually lively and why our students learn so little.

Having said this, I will ask the question I had asked in my earlier column, ‘Books are fun’: can a child enjoy any activity in a language she cannot understand? The answer is so obvious that it amounts to insulting the readers’ intelligence and I am sorry for raising this question again. Yet our schools insist on teaching small children in a language they do not understand and enjoy. In Karachi, with the exception of public-sector schools and some NGO-run educational institutions such as TCF, the medium of instruction is either English or a hybrid of Urdu-English because the teachers know no better. The worst part is that all the reading and writing is done in English because the textbooks used are in English.

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Of cuts and balancing

By Zubeida Mustafa

Was it a coincidence? Or a case of action and reaction? To a casual  observer of the scene, there may have been a connection. That is how the scene played itself out. It was a balmy Sunday afternoon two days before Eid, and the occasion was a panel discussion on the economy  at the T2F. Former PTI Finance Minister, Asad Umar, was being grilled rigorously about his government’s policy vis-à-vis the IMF.  His interrogators were Pakistan’s two top-ranking economists, Kaiser Bengali and Akbar Zaidi.

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Books are fun

By Zubeida Mustafa

RECENTLY I decided to have some fun with books and children. Isn’t that a paradox? We are perpetually told that our children do not read books. So how could I even think of combining the two and call it fun? But believe me, it was fun. I decided right away against any boring imposition on the children. No speeches on how wonderful books are. Let them discover this for themselves.

My friend Farida Akbar, a trainer of Montessori teachers, and I held a session during the summer programme of a school for underprivileged children where I teach English to Grade 9 students on a voluntary basis.

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