The role of language in education and its impact on society

By Zubeida Mustafa

Language which is a basic capacity with which man has been endowed is something that distinguishes the human being from all living species. It is a multi-dimensional issue that has an impact on every sector of life and human relationships. Here I am reminded of a seemingly small slip of language that could have led to a chain of events that in turn could have preempted the formation of this alliance between Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences and the Hamza Alavi Foundation, the sponsors of today’s talk.

It was way back in the late nineties when Prof Hamza Alavi was preparing to return home to Karachi after his retirement from Manchester University that a colleague of mine at Dawn, Ghayurul Islam, who was also a founding member of Irtiqa, requested me to introduce Irtiqa to Professor Alavi. Since I had met Hamza Bhai and was in touch with him I could always write to him, Ghayur Sahib suggested. I agreed and sent Hamza Alavi an email mentioning this group of intellectuals who were keen to meet him on his return to Karachi and to have a working relationship with him. That was all fine except that I made a faux pas. I jumbled up the alphabets when describing this venerable group – a different Continue reading “The role of language in education and its impact on society”

Teachers’ voices

By Zubeida Mustafa

TEACHERS have been in the news recently as it is universally recognised that the quality of education and the learning output of children in any society depend preponderantly on teachers’ performance and academic standards.

Hence considerable improvement can be brought about only if we focus on the teachers on a priority basis. The Children’s Literature Festival has added a day for teachers since its Karachi session in February this year. Once again teachers got a day to themselves before the CLF opened in Lahore last week. Earlier, two reports titled The Voice of Teachers by Alif Ailaan and SAHE’s report on Teaching and Learning English in Sindh’s Schools Continue reading “Teachers’ voices”

Countdown to 90?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

THE PTI dharna’s sameness and the government’s passivity are fraying nerves: It’s not a good feeling to be stuck in an unpleasant place and going nowhere. Is the democratic light Imran’s adherents set out to see at the end of their leader’s tunnel vision nearing? Is his effort trailblazing and ground-breaking? Not really, Pakistan’s political history has been much too packed with event and surprise; vision and mirage for that. It didn’t need an Imran-Qadri duo to teach the people their democratic rights or how to ask for them. For Pakistan was born out of mass political consciousness; and it is the first uninterrupted completion of a deplorable democratic term in office that has made people so mindful of post electoral delivery and demanding of better governance from the serving government. Overall, 2013’s election results were acceptable to the voters or they wouldn’t have waited for Imran to sound the clarion call about a robbed mandate from atop a container so many months later. Continue reading “Countdown to 90?”

Rules of the game

By Zubeida Mustafa

It was quite an extraordinary way of celebrating the 67th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence last week. Believing that they could usher in freedom/revolution by bringing their supporters out on the street, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri succeeded only in creating polarisation and instability in a crisis-ridden country.

The two marches organised by these leaders have evoked strong reactions from political observers. A large segment of pro-democracy opinion views this show of force as an extra-parliamentary move by the opposition that could derail the democratic process and open the door for military intervention. There have also been allegations of collusion between the agitators and elements in the military. Others have defended the people’s right to protest against government excesses. The speculation of regime change has been intertwined with an ongoing discourse on the military-civilian role in politics. Continue reading “Rules of the game”

TV then and now

by Rifaat Hamid Ghani

TV started out in Pakistan as a government monopoly dressed up as a semi-autonomous corporation. There was every reason for PTV to be a disaster, yet it was an enviable success.

President Field Marshal Ayub loved it for its power as a propaganda tool that dispensed with literacy requirements and had more magnetism than the radio. Aslam Azhar, PTV’s defining and trail-blazing station-manager, loved it for what it could do to educate and inform. That was the idealist in him. The actor in him loved it because it was a creative medium. The PTV he nurtured with a board of imaginative mandarins to back him, had an egalitarian working environment and it changed norms and mores.

All within the parameters of the Ministry of Information’s most stringent rules the new medium empowered women, dignified the artiste, and changed social conventions. PTV gave the artistes and creators of drama, music, dance, a place to go and be and earn. It gave the entertainment industry a respectability which assured parents their young could participate despite the amazingly irregular working hours and rather low grade recognition granted the programme producer, bureaucratically speaking. Of course the outreach of PTV’s state propaganda was soul-deadening – but even so programmes like Alif Noon redeemed much. And in terms of professionalism and entertainment value the quality of PTV programming and production and technical transmission dominated the region and was an exemplar.

Cut to now. Continue reading “TV then and now”

Education myths

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is budget time in Pakistan and one issue of special concern to the people is the attention that the education sector will receive from those who hold the purse strings. In the federal budget for 2014-15 Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced an allocation of Rs63bn for higher education. The true picture will emerge only when the provincial budgets are presented, as they address the bulk of the education sector.

There are, however, a number of myths that surround this vital area of national life. One that has been perpetuated for long is that the more funds poured into education the more the latter will improve. For long the size of the education budget has been used as a yardstick to measure the government’s commitment to this sector. Hence the boast generally in budget speeches about the size of the education expenditure. Continue reading “Education myths”

That is how they lived

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE has been much talk of late about the distortion of history in Pakistan. Another feature of our historiography that our eminent historian Dr Mubarak Ali has lamented is the excessive focus on rulers and not enough being written about the ruled. We need more of ‘popular history’.

In that context I have found the Citizens Archive of Pakistan an innovative and commendable enterprise that should fill this void that has been growing as the primary sources of history — the people who lived through an era — are drying up. Founded by the Oscar-winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, CAP, to use its acronym, describes itself as the “first ever youth-led private initiative to collect, archive, study, disseminate and exhibit all aspects of Pakistan’s history both before and after partition”. Continue reading “That is how they lived”

Telling it as it is

By Zubeida Mustafa
AS Pakistan’s problems multiply, publications on Pakistan receive a corresponding boost. Never before have so many books on the country hit the shelf. Hence an author has to come up with something really new to justify writing about the country. Not many can do it and that is why many books appear to be a rehashed version of the same old story.

Seen from that perspective, journalist Babar Ayaz’s book, What’s Wrong with Pakistan?, might at first glance appear to be a narrative of Pakistan’s history that one would take up with a yawn. But once you start reading it, you find a freshness of approach to the issues that have nagged historians for many years. More so, Ayaz’s focused style makes this book a compelling read. Continue reading “Telling it as it is”

Licence to kill?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ANNIVERSARIES are a time for reflection. And if they are also marked with celebration, the idea is to reaffirm the spirit of the event that is being commemorated. That is what Pakistan’s independence day anniversary means to most of us.

There would be barely two million people left in Pakistan who would have any memory of the partition of India. Those who were old enough in 1947 to comprehend what was happening would be even fewer. Soon those who were witness to this momentous event will be gone and partition will live only in history books. Given our distorted historiography our progeny may never learn the truth.

I was too young to understand the wider implications of the political events of 1947. But I could feel the excitement of living in a new country in a state of fear generated by the bloodletting. There was, however, no sense of the ‘other’ who had to be hated and destroyed. The massacre that accompanied the events of 1947 had more of a political dimension than a religious one. Continue reading “Licence to kill?”

Fabricating history

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) holds interesting forums periodically where renowned scholars are invited to address the members. Since ethics is a wide-ranging subject the thought-provoking speeches on a variety of subjects delivered there provide the audience some issues to chew upon.

In July, Dr Arifa Syeda Zahra, who teaches history in a Lahore college, was a guest of the CBEC and the point she drove home very forcefully and convincingly was that those who destroy history do it with the purpose of erasing the collective memory of a people. The idea behind this act of vandalism is to pre-empt change, which Dr Arifa Zahra describes as the most difficult process in individuals and societies. Continue reading “Fabricating history”