Category Archives: Children and Youth

Those festivals

By Zubeida Mustafa

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.

Continue reading Those festivals

ASER’s call

By Zubeida Mustafa

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.

Continue reading ASER’s call

Awaran, O Awaran

By Zubeida Musrafa

IF a child of seven is separated from his family to be sent to a village 50 kilometres away to attend school, how would it affect him? Obviously, it would be traumatic. The pain and anguish of separation would be deep for him as well as his mother.

Such a situation would also make me feel a surge of anger against those responsible for creating such oppressive conditions that leave parents with no choices but ugly ones: send the child away for the sake of his future or keep him home to remain illiterate for life. That is what Balochistan has been reduced to.

Continue reading Awaran, O Awaran

Our rural areas

By Zubeida Mustafa

ACCORDING to the 2017 census report, nearly 63 per cent of Pakistan’s population lives in the rural areas. For a developing country, this poses many challenges in terms of equity and disparity in the distribution of resources and development funds and planning expertise. As is economically feasible, more attention is paid to the development of urban areas. They are the seat of government where population density makes the development process more cost-effective due to the economies of scale. Since the rural areas don’t offer similar advantages they suffer, notwithstanding their larger population.

But that doesn’t justify the neglect of the rural hinterland. Such an approach has a damaging impact on the lives of more people. Given the government’s limited resources, it cannot divert huge amounts from the cities to disadvantaged regions where the population is scattered. As a result, the country is experiencing a high urbanisation rate as people move in large numbers to the cities from villages, creating problems of another kind. Moreover, this unplanned transfer of population upsets planning.

Continue reading Our rural areas

Coach Emad

By Zubeida Musrafa

LYARI and Boston. A world separates them. But they have a common connection. Coach Emad. That was the young man of 24 with a passion for football. He passed away in May 2018 leaving his family shattered. He died “of suicide”. That is how his mother, Atia Naqvi, a psychologist, puts it.

Mental illness is on the rise in our society, she tells me. It can lead to suicide. Yet we do not want to talk about it because of the double stigma. Mental illness is “disgraceful” but suicide is worse.

Continue reading Coach Emad

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.

Continue reading How we grow

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.

Continue reading Living library

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.

Continue reading Love of English

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.

Continue reading Of cuts and balancing

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.

Continue reading Books are fun