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”

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”

The magic crop


By Zubeida Mustafa

THE existential threat that Pakistan faces today is the insidious devastation of our human resources. It is a silent crisis, yet to be recognised, as an entire generation of children faces a slow death by malnutrition.

Denied basic nutrients — especially protein — essential for their physical and cognitive growth in the critical first 1,000 days of life, the majority of children never enjoy the same health and mental growth as that of a normal well-fed child. Paediatricians tell us that the damage done during this window of life — from conception till the second birthday — cannot be reversed. We have been warned, but nothing stirs us out of our complacency. Continue reading “The magic crop”

Right vs wrong

IN a society as morally perverse and corrupt as ours, does a centre of ethics have any relevance? A cynic’s answer would be a resounding ‘none whatsoever’. The idealist/reformer would say, ‘all the more’. That is a dilemma that faces all activists in this country seeking to light the spark of change.

In this context, the SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) faces a daunting challenge. It has been struggling for the last 13 years to introduce an ethical perspective not just in healthcare but also in the non-medical sector. Its endeavours became meaningful and received international recognition when last week WHO declared the CBEC a Collaborating Centre for Bioethics — one of the eight to receive that prestigious status worldwide. Continue reading “Right vs wrong”

Inspiring change

By Zubeida Mustafa

EDUCATION in Pakistan has not proved to be the catalyst for change that a dynamic and enlightened knowledge sector has been in many societies. The socio-cultural stagnation has been made worse by the lack of motivation in the teachers.

They can be the change-makers — many are playing that role at an individual level — that we so badly need today. But collectively, they are not. Continue reading “Inspiring change”

Quest for schools

Neelum Colony on the fringe of DHA, Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

MARCH 23 was an occasion for soul-searching by civil society activists. In a meeting they demanded a new social contract to revive the spirit of the Lahore Resolution. The emphasis was on giving the underprivileged their due share in parliament and national resources. The assumption is that a share in policymaking and the country’s wealth will empower the disadvantaged, that is, the majority. Continue reading “Quest for schools”

Language whims

By Zubeida Mustafa

MY last column on language-in-education evoked interesting comments from readers. Some raised valid concerns. Others betrayed unfounded fears about language — and also education. Quite a few of the comments were more an outpouring of emotional biases and not based on rational thinking.

First of all what needs to be clarified is that there is a world of difference between using a language as a medium of instruction (MOI) and teaching it as a subject. Whenever there is a discourse on the language-in-education issue we seem to get carried away by our passion for English. It needs to be understood clearly that a child learning history, geography or even science in an indigenous language can still learn English as a second language just like any German or Korean child does. If English is taught by competent teachers using the correct methodology the child will learn it well and quickly. Continue reading “Language whims”