When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”
The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading “Integrity above all”
ON a bright sunny winter day of January in Lahore, Pakistan’s renowned poet Amjad Islam Amjad spoke to a huge audience of young people. “Karo jo baat karni hai. Haan sunn lo dosto/Jo bhi dunya kahay/Uss ko parkhay binaa maan lena nahin (Speak out what you want to … Listen to what the world says/But don’t accept it without weighing it),” he exhorted the listeners. Amjad was speaking at the inaugural session of the Children’s Literature Festival. In a few words he captured the spirit of the CLF.
Launched in 2011 to introduce children to the power of the word — how to think and how to express oneself — the CLF opens for them the fascinating world of books that are the natural kin of words and language. It is appropriate that young readers should also learn to use their mind, which, unfortunately, our education system does not encourage them to do.
Focused on rote learning, schools and teachers resort to a one-way flow of communication in which students are expected to listen and learn. Questions are taboo and, unsurprisingly, children are lulled into a world of conformism where they lap up whatever they are told. Education is not participatory and the students’ contribution to their own learning is minimal.
The festival opens up a fascinating world of books for children.
The CLF, which has had 45 sessions all over Pakistan in big cities and small, is now gradually emerging as a people’s movement offering an alternative narrative to what our education system presents. According to its founder. Baela Raza Jamil, over a million children have been reached in the seven years since its inception. Now schools in remote areas group together to hold such festivals, initially under guidance from Baela’s team. The idea has been taken up in some cities of India and Nepal from where interested people attended some CLF sessions in Pakistan and returned impressed.
The festival held at the Shahi Qila Lahore in partnership with the Walled City Lahore Authority had a different dimension which underlined the importance of such events for the children of this country. Thanks to WCLA’s restoration work at the walled city we have yet another piece of heritage to introduce to our children. The CLF wisely used this opportunity to connect the children with their past, their culture, natural beauty, music, art, et al. Not only would they have returned home on those two January days with serenity in their soul, they would have imbibed love, generosity and tolerance for a lifetime.
According to a widely cited poet, Dorothy Nolte, “Children learn what they live”. A day at the CLF was enough to instil in them all the positive qualities our education system fails to do in 10 years. This holds true especially if the exposure to such an experience is on a regular basis.
The key lesson the CLF offers to our education authorities is that the best form of learning is participatory and interactive. When a child is acting in a play or in a theatre, singing or reciting, experimenting with material related to STEM subjects as she did in Science Fuse and the pottery, sculpture, bookmaking workshops, she is learning many skills much faster than she would have in a classroom reading from a textbook. At the CLF children used all their faculties when they participated in a session.
Take Atif Badar, a passionate actor, director and drama teacher who describes himself as “a children’s person”. He held five interactive theatre workshops and story-singing and dance sessions with hand puppets which were the best learning experience the children could ever have had. Atif not only told his own stories, he also encouraged children to join in with theirs. His stories and puppets were lessons in the universality of love, peace and tolerance.
In a session ‘Socho aur Bolo’ (think and speak) children were invited to share their views and experiences on issues ranging from anxiety, anger and other topics taken from a narrative. Thus they learnt how to analyse and think critically.
With continuous research, the CLF should break new ground. It is important that the organisers do follow-up sessions with schools that have participated in a CLF to assess the impact it had on the students. Thus the CLF can be fine-tuned further. As it is, I found the 45th session that I attended in Lahore was markedly more participatory and interactive from the point of view of the young audience than the first session in 2011.
The Teachers’ Literature Festival was launched in 2013 when its need was felt but only three sessions have been held so far. It is now widely recognised that our education system would improve considerably if teachers were more motivated and committed. What could motivate them better than the TLF? Workshops, discussions, lectures, films and plays for teachers could do wonders.
A RECENTLY launched collection of Hamza Alavi’s papers and speeches should be a timely reminder to us about the role that faith has come to play in Pakistan’s politics. Translated into Urdu by Dr Riaz Ahmad Shaikh (dean of Social Sciences, Szabist), Tashkeel-i-Pakistan: Mazhab aur Secularism leaves no one in doubt about the misuse of religion by our leaders to gain advantages in public life at the expense of the people’s well-being and the national interest.
Hamza Alavi, who was a Marxist scholar recognised in world academia, firmly believed that the founder of this country never sought to set up a theocratic state. Yet that is the direction in which Pakistan appears to be heading. Continue reading “Misuse of faith”
READING is an essential element of education, and textbooks are an integral part of the curricula of formal education that can’t shrugged off. But reading books other than course texts helps children enrich their minds and makes them superior to their ‘non-reading’ peers.
Yet the general impression is that our children are not into the reading culture. This is surprising because in the last few years children’s books have flooded the market and some of them are really good. They have all the qualities a book should have to grip the readers’ interest — a lively style, strong storylines and characters with which our children can connect. Continue reading “Storytelling”
OBITUARIES should not be set aside for another day. But I am writing one after two years when I have summoned up the courage to write about a man who was hanged on May 6, 2015.
There was a time I wrote frequently about Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan when he was living. I wanted to save his life. He remained in prison for 17 years — seven years on death row — before the hangman got him. The night before his hanging I had received a desperate message from Justice Project Pakistan if I could help get him clemency. I, a retired newspaperwoman, have no clout. The next morning, JPP informed me that Zulfiqar was no more and I felt I had let down his two young, motherless girls. I had also failed the cause of education in Pakistan. Continue reading “Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar”
NEARLY 60 years ago, an epic Partition novel was published in India. It became an instant hit. Jhutha Sach narrated poignantly the epochal events of the time. Its author, Yashpal, a communist revolutionary who had spent many years in British jails, also captured the disappointment of the masses at their failed expectations. They had been promised much more than what they received.
This powerful book, written in Hindi, received a second lease of life after 50 years. The author’s son Anand translated the book into English. This is not that Dawn, the English title, has certainly introduced Yashpal to a new generation of international readership. In this journey, involving the crossing of borders that Jhutha Sach has undertaken, lies the importance of translation of literature. It is increasing as the book trade goes global. Though in the world market only 4.5 per cent of the books sold are translated works, in different non-English speaking countries the ratio is significantly higher. Thus a third of the books published in France are translations from other languages. In the Netherlands, this ratio is 45pc. Continue reading “New horizons”
IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.
Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny. Continue reading “Blame rests on ….”
A YOUNG mother recounted to me her harrowing experience of her daughter’s schooling in Lahore. The child was asked by her teacher to report on her classmates who spoke a language other than English in school.
When I heard this I was saddened but not shocked. Many parents have had a similar experience. Worse still, many believe that this is the only way to learn English. Continue reading “Why English?”
WOULD you expect to see Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag ka Darya on the shelf of a public library in Glasgow? Probably not. But I actually found Annie Apa, as she was fondly called, in the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL). The discovery was made more exciting by the fact that the library was a distinguished one as only a feminist library can be.
Set up in 1991, the GWL has grown and never looked back. In 2015, it celebrated the 25th year of its existence. Containing 30,000 books on women or by women (about 20,000 writers), the GWL is distinct from other libraries by the feminist ownership shown by those who manage it and those who use it. Continue reading “Changing Lives”
Nadia (aged 14) is a typical victim of the tyranny of the English-language Hydra in Pakistan. Coming from an underprivileged socio-economic background, this girl is required to master an alien language if she wants to realise her dreams. Thanks to the easy accessibility of electronic media and a concerted movement for reform by concerned members of civil society, public interest in education has been stirred, and expectations are high. There are millions of teenagers like Nadia who want to acquire a good education to uplift their socio-economic status. But many are headed for disappointment. The facilities needed to educate such large numbers have not been created in Pakistan by the state, notwithstanding the growing demand. Worse still, the curricula and textbooks have not been designed to meet the specific needs of these children. Hence, aspirations and motivation will not prove to be enough to help Nadia and others like her to achieve upward mobility.
Although there are many hurdles in Nadia’s way, language − especially English −is a major one. Even though the government institutions may not be insisting on English as the language of education, their poor performance disqualifies them as trendsetters. Given the ambiguity in the official education policy, the English-language Hydra has become the driving force. This policy was announced in 2009 by the education ministry in Islamabad, as it was its prerogative to lay down the guidelines for the entire country. The policy defined in detail its vision and strategy, but it was vague about the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It was left to the provinces to decide whether they wanted to use the national or regional language in the public-sector primary schools in their jurisdiction. But it was specified that English would be used to teach science and maths in Years 4 and 5 in these institutions. Private schools were given a free rein. They generally opted for English. In 2010, constitutional amendments devolved powers to the provinces. To the detriment of all, the provincial governments chose to be equally vague and adopted an ad hoc approach to language in education. There has been no clarity in the governments’ policies ever since, on account of the policymakers’ ignorance of education and language-learning matters and their misguided belief that English promotes progress. Their failure to adopt a firm approach on the medium issue has allowed market forces, societal pressures, élite private-school owners (some with political clout) and the leverage of foreign aid givers to gain the upper hand.