Please note: This paper was presented at the Second Silk Road International Cultural Forum in Moscow, Russia on September 15, 2015, in the session on Cultural diversity contributes to innovation, and later with slight modifications as The Tangible and Intangible Aspects of Cultural Diversity at a Roundtable Discussion in the Rumi Forum where the overriding theme was Respect Difference and Diversity to Foster Peace and Harmony, on October 14, 2015.
Cultural diversity, tangible and intangible, affects and influences our lives, wherever we may be living. We imbibe diversity, consciously or unconsciously. The result is perhaps more significant in cultures which are still predominantly traditional, within today’s modern urban condition.
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading Learning from CLF→
LANGUAGE continues to be an enigma in Pakistan. For the umpteenth time education is being ‘reformed’ in this country. Federal Minister of Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal has now announced that ‘Urdish’ will be used as the medium of education in the country.
This is the first time Urdish (not Urlish) is being introduced officially. According to the minister, this initiative will rid the country of the “English medium-Urdu medium controversy that has damaged education standards and adversely affected the growth of young minds.” Continue reading Over to ‘Urdish’→
HASAN is a special child. He is autistic. Music inspires him and had it not been for his love of classical music which he shares with his grandfather, his mind would have continued to be caged. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) prevents Hasan from connecting normally with the world around him because his communication skills have been impaired.
The magical effect of music on children has now been scientifically documented. Preschool teachers testify that sound — including language, poetry and music — positively helps a child’s mental and emotional development. Continue reading Inspired by music→
IT is a pleasant paradox that in recent years literature festivals have taken Pakistan by storm when our society is not exactly famous for its reading habit. For long we have mourned — and do so even today — our failure to inculcate the love of reading in our children who grow up to be adults with no interest in books.
Hence the flood of events related to books and literature for people of all ages is something to celebrate. They are designed to promote the book culture. Continue reading What’s in a book?→
THE importance of education is reiterated so passionately that the phrase has become an end in itself: We stop dead after asserting its importance. Duty has been done and homage offered.
There has not been a single attempt at government – civil or military – that has not set up its own national education reform commission, taskforce, or whatever rubric the jargon of its moment favours. The labels change but one may comfortably hazard a guess that the substance of reports, the diagnosis and prognosis of the malady, are rather similar. The same sage recommendations and prescriptions have been heard over and over again, and whatever is attempted never really gets going. Yet, outstanding blunders perpetrated in the field resonate despite policy change or retraction – think Bhutto’s nationalisation and Zia’s madressas.
This article’s purported focus is higher education and language: the medium of instruction. I will forbear – but only after reminding clichés survive because they are valid – from the clichés as to the advantages of instruction in the mother tongue and the advantages of English as a global language. Look instead at what we have and what we want – not from the perspective of the arbiters, the consultant expert advisers on system – but from the point of view of their captives – Pakistan’s students and teachers: For students approaching higher education, and teachers as they receive and dispatch them, Continue reading Language fracture→
WE do have a language dilemma on hand, whether we admit it or not.
I attend a ceremony at a school of journalism in Buffer Zone in Karachi where 49 girls are awarded a certificate for the three-month course they had completed supported by scholarships from donors. The language of the proceedings is English and it is plain that few in the audience really understand what was being said. A translator comes to their rescue. I decide to speak in Urdu as I want to connect with these young ladies who have aspirations of joining my profession.
A few days later, I go to a conference organised by the Society for Pakistan’s English Language Teachers. I presume the audience at a moot organised by them would expect me to speak in English. But when I begin I am requested to be bilingual. I drop the English bit and stick to Urdu.
Sometimes in between these events, I visit the Ardeshir Cowasjee Writing Centre at the main campus of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, (established in 2014). I feel I am on firm ground language-wise. Ardeshir who earned fame as Dawn’s columnist with a distinct style of his own wrote only in English. So English would be the language here and I guess correctly. Continue reading Linguistic dilemma→
Nowshera: Each year it is the luck of the draw as we venture into the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey on interrogating children’s learning levels across all districts of the country -in each district a random sample of 30 villages is selected, dividing each village into four quadrants and from each 5 houses are visited for the learning survey of 3-16 year olds. ASER takes us to fascinating places across the country – enjoying our beautiful geography and even more beautiful people. Perhaps ASER is a good example of edutourism and why not? If we can have medicaltourism we can surely promote edutourism! I say so because as I entered the famous village of Ziarat Kaka Saheb in Nowshera district in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa home of a famous politician, I could not take my eyes off the beautifully constructed brick and slate walls standing impressively from centuries –the old havelis – awesome archways and well-designed drainage, reminding one of a time when this would have been a very famous place. Of course it is still famous due to two reasons; it is home to a beautiful shrine of revered sufi saint Syed Kastir Gul affectionately known as Kaka Sahib who answers many prayers and Continue reading Aser Nama: A citizen’s learning accountability survey→
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→