Category Archives: Education

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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Learning Sindhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOR decades, I faced a dilemma. Living in Sindh, I wanted to learn the Sindhi language to enable myself to speak to the people here in their own language. They had welcomed my parents and me when we migrated to this land of the Sufis.

In Karachi, a cosmopolitan city and home to numerous foreign consulates, I could try my hand at French, German and Persian. There are many other languages you can learn in this city. But there was no place where I could go to learn Sindhi. Teaching Sindhi free of charge should have been the job of the Sindh government’s department of culture. But it never cared. Nor does it do so today.

When the language riots of 1972 were followed by the education policy that required every student to study Sindhi and Urdu, irrespective of his or her mother tongue, I was delighted. To me it seemed that in a generation the entire educated youth population of the province of Sindh would be bilingual. To my great disappointment this did not happen. First, the nationalisation of schools — an excellent idea in principle but poorly executed with selfish intent — left our education system in the doldrums. Jobs were doled out to people who did not know how to teach. The enrolment rate never went up sufficiently to realise the dream of ‘education for all’. Secondly, the resultant influx of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations undermined the already tottering local exam system. That was also a blow to my ‘Sindhi dream’.

But I don’t let my dreams die easily. After repeated nagging by my Sindhi-speaking friends (which included the respected but outspoken PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Shah, my neighbour at one time) I succeeded earlier this year. I received an email from a wonderful friend — also the writer of the foreword to my book The Tyranny of Language in Education — Dr Ghazala Rahman, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at Szabist. She informed me that the academy planned on holding Sindhi-language classes.

There is a need for linguistic interactions to bond people.

In May we completed level 1 — nine of us who made it a point to attend the weekly class for three months. There was absenteeism but not serious enough to disrupt the classes. Ghazala and her associates Sarang and Amin worked hard on designing the course and bearing with our idiosyncrasies.

By no means do I consider myself proficient in the language — I still have a long way to go. But wasn’t it Lao Tzu who said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step? Some of my classmates picked up the language very well and I am happy to know they are the ones who are working on the ground with the people of Sindh and this linguistic addition will serve them well. But what I found so enriching about this experience was how Ghazala took us through the maze of a language so rich in vocabulary, style, dictum and literary content and, of course, its greatest asset, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

But more than that, we learnt something about the social impact of a language and how every language has its own richness. Ghazala did it by contextualising what she taught us. Even the variations in dialects, usage and accent/pronunciations were sympathetically explained without showing any contempt for the ‘other’.

This approach is so important if linguistic prejudices are not to destroy a society. They characterise not only Pakistan. Most societies have them. These prejudices sometimes go so deep that people speaking the same language but with different accents tend to ridicule those whose speech is not similar to their own. These biases have existed historically. Who wouldn’t remember the language wars between Lucknow and Delhi? But such literary bashing should not spill into everyday life and vitiate people’s social and economic standing.

At a Yale University workshop, some academics looked into the issue of ‘linguistic prejudice’ that is defined as implicit biases against people who speak the same language but with substantial variations. The workshop sought to “expose this phenomenon, describe its social consequences, and propose ways in which teachers and learners can work to neutralise its effects”.

Giving examples, one teacher explained that objectively there is no correct way to speak a language. One form may be prestigious today in a region when it was less prestigious at another time. Besides it needs to be realised that speech variations should not be the basis of assessments of people’s cognitive ability and their moral character. They should not be socioeconomically stigmatised on that count. It is important that public awareness be created about the importance of showing respect for all languages.

Hence, the need for linguistic interactions to bond people. Sadiqa Salahuddin, who was my course mate, summed it up well: “Ghazala should be given the best award for enhancing manifold our love for the land, its people and their language.”

Source: Dawn

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Education — the missig factor

By Zubeida Mustafa

Meet Misbah. She is seventeen and has appeared for her Matriculation exam in May. She studied at the Garage School in Neelum Colony — a squatters’ settlement on the outskirts of the posh Defence Housing Authority in Karachi.

What is so special about Misbah? She is the first person in her family to have gone to school. That sounds astounding but the fact is that Pakistan still has children who are out of school. Twenty-three million, I am told. As for those who are in school, they have parents 80 per cent of whom are illiterate. That is the case with Misbah’s parents too. Her mother works as a domestic help in the houses of the rich. Her father runs a cycle repair shop. The school where I met Misbah is a private school for children from low-income families run on donations. She had first attended a government school but dropped out when she felt she was learning nothing. Continue reading Education — the missig factor

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Training Pakistani Reporters in an Uncertain Age

By Nisma Chauhan

As a result, many who were not formally trained in journalism turned to the media for work. In the past, senior news staff had been available to mentor their younger colleagues, and apprentices or cub reporters picked up skills on the job. But with the boom in media outlets and subsequent lack of professional training and guidance, journalistic quality eroded.Concerned professionals now are developing programs to raise media standards and to help journalists succeed amid the pressures facing Pakistani media. Continue reading Training Pakistani Reporters in an Uncertain Age

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Education brings 180 degree change in lives

By Fatima Sheikh |16 May 2018

KARACHI: The occasion was the golden jubilee of the Montessori Teachers Training Diploma course in Pakistan. Sixty excited and smiling fresh graduates stepped on the stage to place tapers in a neat row, as a female voice introduced them as “the bearers of the flame of education” that have guided children through the ages.

This course is conducted in Pakistan by the Montessori Teachers’ Training Centre (MTTC), Karachi, The MTTC trains teachers to work with children aged between two-and-a-half to six years. It is the only training centre in Pakistan recognized by and affiliated with AMI, Amsterdam. The MTTC was established in 1999 and is governed by a Board of Governors. It is registered with the Government of Sindh under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance. Continue reading Education brings 180 degree change in lives

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Guns or books?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE infamous legacy of ‘enforced disappearances’ that the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet left behind has, unfortunately, been picked up by Pakistan. This phenomenon is today a source of great human agony in the country with thousands believed to have been abducted, many for political reasons.

Balochistan has suffered much. One cannot be certain about who is behind this torturous form of suppression of the freedom of expression. One hears of the ‘agencies’, Baloch dissidents, RAW agents, religiously inspired militants and others being involved. Continue reading Guns or books?

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March of women

By Zubeida Mustafa

AS the forces of feminism grow in strength, it is heartening to see women mobilising themselves and rising to fight their own battles. It is clear that the seeds of awareness that were sown in the 1980s are now bearing fruit.

We see many young faces taking up the cudgels. They are the generation which reacted to the oppression of their mothers in Zia’s Pakistan and the heightened misogyny of the post-9/11 years. Continue reading March of women

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This Pakistani Festival Makes Education a Fun Activity

tif Badar leads children in an interactive theater workshop at the Children’s Literature Festival in Lahore, Pakistan, in January.
By Zubeida Mustafa

In January 2018, Lahore, the seat of government of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, played host to the Children’s Literature Festival (CFL), a unique experiment in making education a fun activity. Thousands of children gathered on the scenic lawns of the historic Lahore Fort to hear stories, listen to music and songs, and watch plays and dances.

But this was not an entertainment event alone. It was more like a gigantic, unconventional school, and in many cases the children were their own teachers.

January’s festival was not entirely new for the people of Lahore. In 2011 a similar event—albeit one a bit more serious—was held on the Punjab Public Library grounds. In 2014 Lahore again played host to the CLF. Continue reading This Pakistani Festival Makes Education a Fun Activity

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Integrity above all

ZM with renowne playwright Haseena Moin

By Beena Sarwar

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

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Learn the CLF way

Atif Badadr.s interactive theatre session

By Zubeida Mustafa

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.

Source: Dawn

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