All posts by Zubeida Mustafa

The new mandate

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Election day is over: Homage first to the dead – victims and martyrs of our political and institutionerrors – and then thanksgiving for that abiding commitment to home and country apparent in the collective spirit of Pakistan’s people. Provincial governments bicker in the Council of Common Interests; power-accreting centralists fiddle with demographics, delineations and more – yet people in the injured unequal units converge and concur in a quest for good governance and a democratic determination of the way to it. Continue reading The new mandate

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The double disadvantage for girls

ONE of the worst blows the state has inflicted on the citizens of Pakistan is to deny education to a huge chunk of them. For girls this has been a double blow. They have suffered on two counts. First, the state’s apathy has resulted in the non-availability of accessible, affordable and quality education for all. Secondly, girls have also suffered because of society’s gender prejudices that have made education out of reach for many girls. Continue reading The double disadvantage for girls

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Digital dilemmas

By Zubeida Mustafa

EARLIER this year, WHO classified video-gaming as a disorder. It is defined in the draft Eleventh Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as a mental health condition. Understandably, controversy has erupted round this move as many experts believe that sufficient data doesn’t exist to support this drastic diagnosis. Besides, the symptoms defined are too broad to be applied to one particular area of engagement. Thus a person may have a strong preference for any activity that he enjoys to the extent that “he does not stop even if there are negative consequences, the compulsion strains his life, health and relationships” — WHO’s definition of the gaming disorder. Definitely more data is needed. Continue reading Digital dilemmas

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Elections and elections

 

by  RifaBy By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 ON the brink of the 2018 elections, first time voters are probably so caught up in making their own electoral history that they are more liable to be dismissive than mindful of the past. But for older more seasoned voters, sobering recollection of other elections is inevitable.

Elections-1969 foundered on the curious logic of the majority being labelled ‘secessionist’. Bhutto, though also politically guilty, heroically salvaged morale in what was no longer West Pakistan but merely Pakistan. The rebound to ten years of Ayub’s dictatorship was not just a push for democratic rights and the emergence of fresh civil political alternatives. Ambitious politicians had recklessly exacerbated nationalisms and exploited political alienation in pursuit of personal and party empowerment. Continue reading Elections and elections

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How children learn

MARIA Montessori, the best educationist the world has ever produced, based her philosophy on her understanding of the human mind. She was Italy’s first woman physician, and derived her knowledge from her study of medicine and more so from her observation of the young children whose education was entrusted to her. In her opinion, children have an inborn capacity to learn from their environment and develop their own cognitive and mental skills. Hence Montessori’s use of the term the ‘absorbent mind’ to describe a young child’s mental growth process.

According to Montessori, the educationist is just required to provide the right environment and a little guidance to the child to allow her to grow at her own pace. Continue reading How children learn

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Teachers who do not teach

By Zubeida Mustafa

When I was working on my book The Tyranny of Language in Education I would visit Orangi quite frequently to study the methods of pedagogy in the schools there with reference to the language of instruction. Those were the days when there was much talk about ghost schools.

One day I requested Abdul Waheed Khan, the founder of Naunehal Academy in Baldia, and a very fine man who was shot dead in 2013, if he could show me a ghost school. He agreed willingly.

The very next day he took me to a Peela School, as government schools are referred to. Their buildings are painted yellow. It appeared to be huge with a big compound as most public sector schools in Karachi are. The gate was bolted from the inside. Waheed knocked and banged on the gate till someone came and let us in. To my surprise the place was deserted. There was not a single child to be seen on the premises though it was mid-morning when we landed there.

On enquiring, we were informed by the person who had received us that the children were not there but the headmaster who was taking a shower would soon receive us. We strolled around as we waited and it became clear to us that there was no evidence of the school being functional.

When the headmaster made his appearance with a towel round his waist, he informed us that the children had gone home. I was intrigued by the absence of furniture in the school. The upper storey was occupied by the headmaster’s family as we could make out from the curtains fluttering from the window. I didn’t think it appropriate to inspect his home though I was certain that some of the missing furniture would be found there.

The headmaster had the temerity to ask me for a donation! It seemed to be a cruel joke. How could anyone cheat little children of their right to education, I thought? Later, I saw in the Sindh school census report (for the year 2010) that Sindh had 9,000 such institutions. Other provinces also had their share of ‘dysfunctional’ schools, to use the term the government preferred.

In Sindh the phenomenon of teacher absenteeism was also dubbed the visa system. It meant that the absent teacher had succeeded in getting a job abroad and had left the country subletting his position to a junior not qualified for the job.

In another case the headmaster had been sent on deputation to mind the kitchen of the local wadero (landlord). One feature common in all such cases was the connivance of the education department. Without its cooperation, no teacher can take the liberty the teaching staff is known to take.

For long the erroneous belief was that teachers have been degraded — they are poorly paid, they don’t enjoy any respect in society and are not properly trained. But these are myths. Hefty pay increases — most who have long years of service earn six digit monthly salaries — quick promotions and their jobs being conditional on teachers’ training should have given them the status in society they have always yearned. That has not happened.

The fact is that most teachers in Pakistan lack motivation. Corruption is rife and inefficiency is the norm. The good teachers are in a minority and are overshadowed by the incompetent majority lacking integrity.

One may well ask how they get away with it. The fact at the heart of this greatest farce of education is the government’s concern for the teachers’ interests. The rulers care for the teachers not because they care for the education of the children. Rulers only care for themselves and in this age of democracy when teachers do election duties they are the favourites of the rulers. They count votes. They guide the voters. They can make or break governments.

Demands have been made in the past that teachers should not be engaged in election duties.  But no party has made the move to end the practice. Stakes are high. Even rules barring the transfer of ‘reliable’ teachers during election times to sensitive areas where they can be trusted to safeguard their master’s political interest have been violated with impunity.

Training is another problem. Facilities are not adequate in quantity and quality. Training facilities are needed not just for teachers of the future. The existing lot also need in-service training. If teachers are not improved the students’ output can never be improved. With so little support from their homes — nearly 80 per cent of the parents of low-income students are illiterate — the workload of teachers is indeed heavy. So is their responsibility.

Source: Alif Ailaan Taaleem Do

 

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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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