Time to heal

Voices of Partition, Mumbai 6 Aug 2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.

This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading “Time to heal”

Taking to the streets

PTI street power

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

There is a difference between grass roots and street power.

To start with the MQM. It had the kind of street power that could both empty and fill the streets to considerable effect: Its leverage worked; but it was not admired. The MQM as factionalized –- imploded and exploded –- no longer commands that kind of street power.

Yet, alongside of its waning street power, its grass root political strength is more clearly perceived. Besides its thugs (I choose that word for its wider etymological ethnic resonances) it evidently has a broad constituency that remains loyal to cadres of a well-organized party whose workers stayed in touch with and served and protected the people they represented. The party leadership presently is amorphous even though the founder is unambiguously self-destructed, but the constituency remains. Continue reading “Taking to the streets”

What ASER says

By Zubeida Mustafa

ANY country which values education provides for an independent mechanism to test the learning levels of its students. That is the only way a state can assess objectively the strength and weaknesses of the system that it has in place to educate its children.

In Pakistan, the Annual State of Education Report (Aser) has been doing precisely that since 2008 when its first annual survey was held. It is like an audit and should be valued for the database it collects — mainly in the relatively inaccessible rural areas. Policies made on the basis of this wealth of information should make learning tools more effective. Continue reading “What ASER says”

Syed Adibul Hasan Rizvi: Book Review

By Zeenat Hisam

THE reading habit needs to start being cultivated in early childhood through stories of fantasy, fairy tales and folk sagas as these ignite the imagination and the curiosity of children. Every culture and every language has its own heritage of such stories. And so does Urdu. However, what was missing was biographies of renowned people written for younger readers in Urdu.

The Oxford University Press is now filling in this gap by bringing out a few series devoted to the genre. Under the series Azeem Pakistani and Tasveeri Kahani Silsila, biographies of notable figures highlighting their contributions to the country have been published. Roshni kay Meenar is the third series focusing on biographies of prominent personalities of Sindh who have made valuable contributions either before Partition or since. The three biographies published earlier under this series presented the lives and works of Mirza Qaleech Baig, Hasan Ali Effendi and Ruth Pfau.

The biography of Dr. Adibul Hasan Rizvi is the fourth supplementary reader under Roshni kay Meenar. Targeted at children of 10 years and above — students of classes six to eight — this 50-page reader is divided into seven chapters. The first five chapters shed light on his childhood, education and career as a medical professional, as a family man, and how he started the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), and what went into making it such an outstanding success. The sixth chapter tells the stories of two young patients, Aymen Khan, whose life was changed after treatment at the SIUT, and Naveed Anwar, Pakistan’s first deceased organ donor. The last chapter tells the young reader about Dr. Adib’s success and the national and global fame and honours he has received.

Zubeida Mustafa, an accomplished senior journalist and writer, has brought out key aspects of Dr. Adib’s personality — his humility, integrity, commitment and compassion – in simple and fluent language. She talks of how he transformed an eight-bed burns ward at Civil Hospital, Karachi, into a full-fledged, state-of-the-art medical institution, the SIUT, predominantly serving the marginalised sections of society, free of cost, with dignity and compassion.

However, the booklet is visually disappointing, even though it contains many photographs. It has not been packaged in a format that will attract children. These minor quibbles aside, this is a much-needed addition to our store of knowledge.

Source: Newsline, July 2017

 

How we grow

By Zubeida Mustafa

IS the world really waking up to the population crisis that received a lot of international publicity at the London Summit on Family Planning last week? One wishes it were. But all the noise seems to be emanating from the developed states which have managed their own demographic affairs very well while generously supporting the Third World countries’ population programmes. Their success is to be attributed mainly to their strategy of working honestly within a holistic socioeconomic framework.

Unfortunately, developing countries, which are the biggest contributors to the galloping global population growth and that have restricted resources, have shown a poor record. According to the UN, the current world population stands at 7.6 billion and is expected to be 8.6bn by 2030 and 9.8bn in 2050. The world has roughly 83 million new mouths to feed every year. Continue reading “How we grow”

No child’s play

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOUZIA is 13 and is employed by a working mother of two children. Fouzia is the victim of oppression on three counts. She performs the duties of an adult woman, which would be classified as child labour. She is not attending school as is compulsory for children from five to 16 years of age under Article 25-A of the Constitution.

Above all, she will soon be another example of early marriage as she is said to be engaged. The wedding will take place as soon as she has earned enough for her dowry. In the process, Fouzia has been robbed of her childhood and an education.

These deprivations do not bother this young girl’s family. Their sociocultural norms and, according to many, poverty have landed her in this ugly situation. According to Unesco, from 1987 to 2005, early marriage was the fate of nearly 32 per cent of all children in Pakistan. Continue reading “No child’s play”

Creeping changes

By Zubeida Mustafa

A SILENT language revolution is changing the face of Pakistan in the public discourse. There was a time when proceedings in most dialogues were conducted in English. As could be expected, the message conveyed by the speakers would not get across to the entire audience.

Mercifully, things have begun to change. Bilingualism is the order of the day with greater weightage being given to indigenous languages. Those who really want to communicate with the audience — politicians and the electronic media — are aware that they would have few takers if they were to speak in English as not many understand the nuances of this foreign language and even fewer can speak it. This acknowledgment of the reality is a positive development, especially when we claim to be a democracy. Continue reading “Creeping changes”

Candle of hope

Dr Ruth Pfau: Photo by Dr Salamat Kamal

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHEN you start to despair — and we have too many occasions for that — go get the light of hope from someone who holds the candle. So I went to see Dr Ruth Pfau, who has been an inspiration for many, especially the most stigmatised of segments — her leprosy patients.

Even in her poor state of health in her hospital bed, Dr Pfau continues to be the candle of hope she has epitomised. She was hospitalised recently but is now in her own apartment in her neat and prim clinic. Of course, she is happy to be back home, she told me.

As I held her hand I could feel the “enrichment flow from her into me” to use her words. That is the role she has been playing since she arrived as a young woman of 31 in Karachi from Germany in 1960 and made Pakistan her home. It was chance that took her to the Lepers’ Colony behind the commercial offices on McLeod Road (now I.I. Chundrigar Road). The squalor and subhuman conditions did not deter her. Within three years, she had set up a proper leprosy clinic, now an eight-storey hospital on Shahrah-i-Liaquat, and the hub of 157 leprosy centres all over the country. There followed an arduous journey of over five decades devoted to “serving the unserved”. At no stage has her commitment slackened. Continue reading “Candle of hope”

Short-cuts to writing?

 

 

By Zubeida Mustafa

We Pakistanis are very ingenious and resourceful when it comes to solving seemingly intractable issues. We manage to “invent” solutions for every problem we face – and there is no shortage of those.

Power shortage? Generators and UPS’ flood the market and, presto, you have your own power supply. What’s more, you have a choice to meet the size of your pocket.

Security concerns with crime on the rise? Private security companies can provide guards on demand and, depending on your budget, you can have as many as you want. They are also armed to give you an extra sense of safety.

A child doing badly in her studies because the school is failing to meet the standards set for it? No problem. Get private tutors and, with the mushrooming of tuition centres, you have a wide choice.

Need to publish research papers to be promoted as professor? And those no-good editors don’t find your research sound enough to publish? Don’t worry. There are numerous, if somewhat dubious, online journals who will publish your paper for a fee and you get a title of a publication to add to your CV and get a promotion.

The latest to join this privileged club is an institution called The Writing Centre. Not that such centres didn’t exist before. They catered primarily to the needs of aspiring creative writers, providing one-on-one training to those who could write but needed guidance in fiction writing.

But now such centres have a new dimension. They have ‘consultants,’ not teachers, to perform their functions. In April, the impressive sounding ‘First National Dialogue on Writing Centres’ brought together a number of people from various universities and institutions, where writing is being taught as an organised discipline. Hosted by the Institute of Business Administration’s (IBA) Ardeshir Cowasjee Centre for Writing (ACCW), the idea of the dialogue was to promote this new entrant into our academia. An array of high-profile speakers were present to praise, not the art of writing, (which I would do any day), but the centres that teach writing.

And, of course, writing needs a language. From what I could gather from the two sessions I attended, the language being promoted is, as expected, English. Dr Ishrat Hussain, former Director of the IBA and now Professor Emeritus, rightly pointed out that, “In the current phase of globalisation, English is the principal language of technology, science, research and international relations. Pakistani students seeking to acquire new levels of professional qualification in Pakistan or in overseas countries direly need to enhance their proficiency in English to be able to benefit from new knowledge and obtain progressive employment.”

The disturbing question one is confronted with is: Aren’t our schools and colleges teaching the students how to write? English has been promoted aggressively in our school system at the expense of our indigenous languages, especially in the elite private schools, so it comes as a surprise that their students need writing centres to learn how to write. And mind you, these schools constitute the catchment area of enrolment in most business universities.

I had visited the ACCW soon after it was founded in 2014 at the invitation of Dr Ishrat Hussain. I was impressed, though a bit uneasy with the implications of such an institution. I was told then that some students coming from high-fee schools – I won’t name them – were not sufficiently proficient in English. Hence the need to teach them how to write and bring them at par with their classmates. Now I am told that the ACCW has so far “helped over 1035 students to improve their writing skills, critical, analytical thinking and self-confidence in articulation. Providing a one-on-one consultancy facility in sessions of about 40-45 minutes’ duration, students and consultants (senior students, lecturers etc.) review idea generation, structure of texts, grammar and syntax and complex stylistic concerns.”

That means our teaching and language standards have gone down further. In this context, the Writing Centre would appear to be an innovative idea. It would have been so much better had the students been taught all this when they were in school. But obviously they are not being taught well enough. Hence the demand for often exorbitantly costing tuitions and for writing centres.

The writing schools are shortcuts to make amends for the flaws in our education system. Instead of addressing the basic weaknesses in our collapsing system of education, we are trying to provide for a small class that is privileged.

As happens when such an approach is adopted, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widens. It is the moral responsibility of the elite to extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged ones. Can we afford to leave 25 million children out of school while a small crust of the more fortunate ones get the best education for which they can pay?

Another cause of concern is that we tend to explore solutions at the higher education level, when a preponderant majority of the children who enter the education stream have dropped out. Crying over spilt milk after a child’s formative years are over, does not help much. It is time we stopped slicing education into different sectors. It should be treated as a composite whole. If schools fail to teach language properly, the universities will naturally get students who cannot write. To say academic writing has to be taught, as one speaker said, is a myth. Anyone who knows how to write in a language and has knowledge of his subject, can be given guidelines in an hour on how to write a business letter, make a project proposal or write a research paper. There is no shortcut to writing.

Zubeida Mustafa is a senior journalist. She writes on a variety of subjects but her interest has mainly been in the social sector which she has covered extensively. She has investigated in-depth issues such as education, health care, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and the lives of ordinary people.

Source: Newsline May 2017

Where the ill lies

By Zubeida Mustafa

“THERE has been an enormous overproduction of uneducated and ill-trained medical practitioners … due to the existence of a very large number of commercial (medical) schools … which are profitable business.”

Does the above refer to Pakistan? It doesn’t but it could as it is an apt description of the conditions prevailing in the country. The words above are from Abraham Flexner’s 1910 report on the state of medical education in North America. It led to the closing down of 124 of the 155 medical schools operating in the US and Canada at the time. Continue reading “Where the ill lies”