HERE is something to take your mind off the novel coronavirus
pandemic that has overwhelmed the globe. I would like to take you to
another world — the world of education. It is too early to speculate
about the post-virus age. We can, however, use the opportunity provided
by the lockdown to ponder issues pertaining to education. The fact is
that they have never received much thought.
‘Karachi, no one owns this city’, is yet another of the doleful explanatory clichés about the metropolis. Yet Karachi might be better off if it was left alone for a bit – at present it continues to be what it has long been: a battleground for civic and political ownership. Despite the pitiable state it has been reduced to by its varied custodians it remains a prize — demographically and thence politically — and always geo-strategically — as a port.
IN his keynote speech at the recent Karachi Literature Festival
(KLF), historian William Dalrymple spoke of the litfests that have
mushroomed in South Asia in a “fantastic” way. There is no denying that
these literary events are crowd-pullers. Dalrymple estimates that India,
which initiated the trend with the Jaipur Literature Festival — the
most well attended in the world — in 2004, now has 60 litfests a year.
He spoke of 10 being held in Pakistan, though I am not clear how he
arrived at this figure.
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THE 2019 Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) launched recently
is the ninth in the series. No other knowledge assessment exercise in
Pakistan of this nature has been so sustained. Though there was a gap,
its overall performance has still been good. It serves as a reliable
yardstick to measure the quality of learning in the country especially
in the rural areas where the majority of the population lives.
THE medium of instruction in school is once again being hotly
debated, not that the issue had ever been resolved. But now that the
pro-mother language lobby has gained more leverage over the years, its
voice is being heard. That is why passions generated by the language
issue cannot be slapped down.
What provoked the controversy this time? It was a report prepared by a
subcommittee of the National Curriculum Council on the medium of
instruction that caused the ruckus. Later, a member of the NCC described
the report as a piece of ‘misreporting’. The so-called wrong report had
prescribed English as the medium for quite a few subjects from primary
to Grade XII. The regional languages had been omitted totally. It was
the latter omission that had led to the deafening furore on social media
— and quite understandably so. Mercifully, a clarification was later
issued by the government explaining that the question of the languages
to be used as the medium had been left to the provincial governments to
I BELONG to Pakistan’s 75-plus age group. According to the 2017
census, my contemporaries, who were born in 1944 or earlier, constitute
only 1.21pc of the total population of this country. Not a very big
number — less than 2.5 million. But we seem to have become a burden for
the government that had promised us a ‘new’ Pakistan when it assumed
office. Did it mean a ‘young’ Pakistan?
Take my case as an example (mind you I am not alone). I have been a
working woman nearly all my adult life. True, the pace of my work has
slowed down with age. I am low-visioned too. Nevertheless I continue to
contribute to society as best as I can mainly by doing voluntary work in
a school for underprivileged children.
THE state of religious minorities in Pakistan today is most
deplorable. They are vulnerable to violence, terrorism and physical
abuse and many of them have lost their lives as a result in the last few
decades. Their places of worship have come under attack on numerous
occasions. This is in blatant violation of the Constitution which
guarantees the right to life and religious freedom to all citizens of
IF one begins by saying the civil politician is as much to blame for military influence in politics as any army general, one can then stop mincing words and — having implicitly ceded that army boots do march upon civil political space — embark on a less coy discussion of this aspect of Pakistan’s democratic march with reference to the pulsating present not just the detonated past. What have the civil and military learnt from abounding exemplified lessons of history and how do they use that knowledge? Bear in mind that the canvas common to both is the space Pakistan’s people inhabit. They should be calling the shots – but not in cross-fire. Which is all that civil politics as played presently by professional politicians seems to be doing: Is there a Cheshire cat grin on military faces?
Justice Munir early on provided the doctrine of necessity as just recourse for dissolving assemblies, legislative or otherwise. General Ayub, the trailblazer of military political interventionism who as C-in-C helped President Iskander Mirza shelve Pakistan’s very first much belated but non-durable constitution of 1956 in 1958, wasn’t much bothered about cosmetic constitutional camouflage. But such is the law of popular political gravity, he came to see wisdom in promulgating a civil presidential system with a customised rule-book. They called it the 1962 Constitution. When parliamentary nostalgia and popular discontent reached a critical mass, Bhutto, founding the PPP, rode the civil storm; but the instrument for a return to regard for the will of the people was an intra-martial agreement. The army, commanded by General Yayha, structured with a legal framework order, voluntarily oversaw a return to civil electoral politicking, with elections duly held as promised in December 1970 which are still undisputedly deemed historically pristine and translucent. They also turned out to be popularly unacceptable and the eastern wing parted from the western wing.