Education without substance

By Zubeida Mustafa

SHAN is a young man of 22. Seven years ago he would often come to me and I helped him with his school work. His mother worked for me and I had offered to help her children with their education.

One day I was teaching Shan something about the solar and lunar eclipses and the rotation and revolution of the earth. Having explained the phenomena with a globe and a lamp. I asked Shan very casually why we don’t fall off the earth when it rotates.  Without giving it even a minute’s thought, Shan replied, “Because God doesn’t want it to happen.”

I was taken aback as I hadn’t expected this answer. I tried to explain to Shan that all natural phenomena followed some rules and religion exhorts all Muslims to look for them and discover them.

Unfortunately, our education system does not teach our children to search for these answers which they must find through a process of critical thinking.

Most of our children do not think; they are not taught how to because it appears many teachers do not know how to think either. They simply ask the students to memorise what is in their textbooks. This is shocking for without having the capacity to think critically no person can really be a truly educated person. As a result the rote culture is so common in our schools. This unsurprisingly leads to plagiarism as people cannot create anything original. They simply copy what has been written by someone else.

Small wonder our education system is producing students of such dismal quality. The Annual Status of Education Report (more popularly known by its acronym ASER} that has been testing our students mainly in the rural areas since 2008 has shocking results to show.

The last ASER survey was held in 2016. It had a horrendous story to tell.  The academic performance of the students was on the decline. Only 52 percent of the children in Grade 5 could read a story of Grade 2 level in a local language in 2016.  In 2015, 55 percent had been able to do that. English reading skills were worse.  When testing students of Grade 5 ASER surveyors found that only 46 percent of them could read sentences designed for Grade 2. In 2015, the success rate was 49 percent.  The showing in arithmetic calculations were equally poor.  In 2016, 48 percent managed to solve the sums of Grade 2 given to them.  The previous year the success rate had been 50 percent.

ASER, however, found the students of private schools performed better.  But this is no consolation because at the Grade 5 level a preponderant majority of the children study in public sector schools.

To what would you attribute this weakness in our education system? The main flaw lies in the teachers. They do not receive the best training and, therefore, are not really qualified to teach. Poor pedagogy is a problem but lack of motivation is a bigger problem.  Corruption and absenteeism also take their toll.

The quality of the textbooks is another problem. The government has on numerous occasions spoken about improving the books but with no revision of the curricula the books remain in a rut. Recently some efforts were made to revise the curricula as well as textbooks but the changes that have been introduced do not seem to have gone far enough.

Ingenious solutions will have to be found. There are individuals who are trying out new ad hoc methods to give an input of a different kind to give a boost to students’ standards. There is Amra Alam who visits schools and does storytelling in her chaste Urdu to students who enjoy it and without their even realising it the standard of their language improves.

Similarly Atif Badar, a teacher of theatre and drama, uses drama, elocution, singing, music and puppetry to draw children out of their   introversion, build their confidence and make them articulate. These improve their scholastic performance.

I have tried to develop with Baela Raza Jamil a programme we call “dekho, suno, parho, socho aur bolo (See, listen, read, think and speak)”. It is designed to encourage children to think. I use pictures followed by questions to get children to think and suggest solutions to problems.

But these are value adding measures. The basic product, that is educational skills, must be brought to a certain acceptable level before the enhancing exercises will expand the students’ mental powers. I could not change Shan’s academic ability and mindset. His basic education was too poor for any other exercise to change him. This boy who dreamed of working in an office at a computer, today sweeps and mops the floor in an apartment block.

Source: Alif Ailaan/ Taleem Do

Rape without end

By Zubeida Mustafa

OF all the crimes committed against children — especially the daughters of the poor in Pakistan — the most horrendous is the trafficking of girls. It is more agonising than rape. The sex trade amounts to torture. The girls who are snatched and taken away to be sold into forced prostitution have to live with this hideous evil night after night. Only a few lucky ones manage to escape or are rescued. Continue reading Rape without end

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

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

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

Gift of sight

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE exercise in philanthropy about which I write today began 34 years ago. Two successful businessmen who were close friends decided to launch a project in their post-retirement life to serve humanity. Being compassionate, they understood the burden of disease for the poor in terms of financial costs and loss of productivity. Hence they opted for healthcare, which is the most neglected of the services sector in Pakistan. As one of them had lost his vision in one eye, a hospital for eye diseases was their natural choice. Continue reading Gift of sight

Truth and Ethics Are Under Siege in Pakistan’s Media

By Zubeida Mustafa

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who have been hailed for their courage in pursuit of truth within their countries and elsewhere. Click here and here for Nisma Chauhan’s coverage of other aspects of Pakistan’s media, produced in conjunction with this story. 

Starting in late March, Pakistan’s biggest television channel, Geo (an Urdu word for Live), was forced off the air for several weeks.

Cable operators, who reportedly shut off Geo, would not disclose on whose orders this had been done. Geo has now been restored, but only after what a Reuters report described as a deal reached with the military that required the channel to alter its political coverage.

This episode created an international furor, which testifies to the growing power of the media in a globalized world. It also suggests that in some countries where the military still calls the shots, the notion of media freedom is only eyewash. Repeated calls by PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) had failed to get Geo back on the air.In addition to having to skew news under pressure as in the Geo case, the media in Pakistan is not free of flaws itself. On several occasions, Pakistani media outlets have failed to follow simple codes of ethics.

Take the case of the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, who was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. He was shot by his own bodyguard. The reason? A progressive, Taseer had expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy. Taseer met with Bibi in the jail where she was detained. He also spoke of the need to amend the blasphemy laws.

Some conservative TV channel anchors stirred up a brouhaha over Taseer’s actions. This proved to be a spark that lit the tinder of prejudice and intolerance encouraged by the right-wing media since the late 1970s when Gen. Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a military coup in Islamabad. He launched an Islamization policy to sustain himself in power, with new blasphemy laws as an important element of that policy.

In 2011, the person who had easy access to Taseer—the man deputized to protect him—pulled the trigger. The assassination was a hate crime promoted by a section of the national media.

That was seven years ago. Today, the situation has further deteriorated. In the free-for-all atmosphere promoted mainly by television in a frenzy to get higher ratings, the major casualty is truth. Anchors, many of whom are not trained journalists, sensationalize news to the extent of presenting baseless reports as verified facts.

Take the recent case of Dr. Shahid Masood, a television commentator and a medical professional by training, who broadcast reports concerning the rape and murder of a 7-year-old child. Masood made outlandish charges against the defendant, Imran Ali, who has now been sentenced to death by the court. Masood’s list of charges against Ali was long—18 in all—and included allegations of the killer being linked to an international child pornography mafia, holding numerous bank accounts in the country and having connections with a federal minister. Mian Saqib Nisar, the chief justice of Pakistan, took notice and ordered investigations into the charges. Every charge was found to be wrong, causing the judge to impose a three-month ban on Masood’s program.

In a sense, these examples of rampant sensationalism reflect what a long way the media in Pakistan has come in the last several decades. The nation has experienced considerable loosening of the government’s grip on the press and the subsequent proliferation of numerous privately owned radio outlets and television channels.

Today the government has one television station, Pakistan Television, and one radio station, Radio Pakistan, but no affiliated newspaper. On the other hand, there are 45 campus radio stations, 140 licensed commercial private FM radio stations and 89 private satellite TV channels. The website of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society lists nearly 458 newspapers and magazines licensed in the country. Not all are being published; in some cases the owners keep their licenses valid to enable them to publish if they so choose.

This unregulated expansion of the media—especially of the electronic media—has had a profound impact on the political and social scene in Pakistan. Technology, particularly the introduction of 24/7 radio and TV, has brought the media within easy reach of the people. Even the remotest areas are connected by radio, and in the countryside you will see TV antennas on many small, dilapidated houses.

The plus side of this change is that the government’s traditionally rigorous control over the media has lessened (although the military still wields power, as evident from the Geo closure). In the past, military governments dominated the press, and the government held a monopoly on the electronic media. Gone are the days when a phone call from the Information Ministry to the newsroom could blank out even the most important news from the newspapers. It was termed “press advice.”

But today’s media freedom has a flip side as well. Any journalist who ventures to disclose the ugly secrets of the powerful must be prepared to face the music. This can take the form of “forced disappearance” by secret agencies or a mysterious death. The more fortunate are simply hounded out of the country. It’s a small wonder Pakistan has earned the dubious reputation of being one of the most dangerous countries  in the world for media workers.

Equally harmful is the insidious damage that some of Pakistan’s media is inflicting on society and the state itself. This reflects the emergence of neoliberal economics, the push toward commercialization and the prioritization of profits. Codes of conduct and sacred principles of journalism, such as truth and fairness, have been thrown to the winds, and commercialism is rife.

Adding to the media failures, some anchors and media owners are politically aligned and use their positions to promote one party or the other. This has muddied the political waters and stoked hatred and mass confusion.

Although the major newspapers still enjoy a degree of credibility and provide in-depth analysis, they cannot compete with the electronic media in the magnitude of their reach. The literacy rate in Pakistan is dismally low at 60 percent, which gives radio and TV pre-eminence over print.

In this bleak scenario, valiant efforts are being made to address the problems. A number of media studies schools have blossomed, and their programs are benefitting many journalists. Among these institutions are CEJ (Centre for Excellence in Journalism) and IoBM (Institute of Business Management), which has a strong media department.

Another endeavor is Uks, a monitoring nongovernmental organization that recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Uks is basically concerned with the coverage of women in the press and television, as well as the number and status of females working in the media. Tasneem Ahmar launched Uks because she was shocked at the poor reporting on women’s issues and at the glaring absence of women in decision-making positions in the media. Through her efforts to support the cause of the quality of journalism.

Source: Truthdig

Using the Media to Empower Pakistani Women

 

Trainees taking part in a 2012 workshop for female journalists in Islamabad. (Uks)

By Nisma Chauhan

Women are often ignored or portrayed negatively in Pakistan’s media. As one dire consequence, over the years media reports relating to women have reinforced Pakistan’s rape culture.

Twenty years ago, when women’s empowerment was not popular in the national discourse, one woman set out to change this approach. In 1997, Tasneem Ahmar started Uks, a nongovernmental organization that focused on reclaiming women’s narrative in the print media. She continues that work today with TV news channels, and she reaches out to a greater audience via Uks radio programs that boost awareness of women’s issues.

Her career in journalism and her newspaper reading made Ahmar realize that stories covering women were stereotypical and reflected the way Pakistan’s patriarchal society perceived women.

“I got a few friends together without any donor money initially,” Ahmar says. “What I would do each day [is] read a lot of newspapers, mark, cut and paste articles depicting the kind of coverage given to women. Then I started to reach out to editors with the clippings.”

She wanted to contact as many editors as she could, but she kept away from those reputed to blackmail critics and engage in other harmful practices. So she focused only on a few editors, and when they were persuaded to adopt a more woman-friendly approach, others followed suit.

Ahmar conducted training courses for reporters and subeditors. Initially the training focused on a few basic questions: Why were negative headlines given to stories on women? For example, some headlines highlighted women’s smoking habits. Prominent women, such as the late lawyer and rights activist Asma Jahangir, were often shamed for smoking.

Attitudes in news stories also encouraged Pakistan’s rape culture. Newspapers sensationalized “honor killings,” as they reported on the murders of females by their own relatives, who felt the women—even if they had been raped—had brought dishonor to their families.

News articles blamed women for horrendous incidents as well. “When they [the Urdu press] would report on a body of a newborn found in a garbage dump, they would invariably dub it ‘the sin of an unwed mother lying in the garbage,’ and I would ask how did they know that it was an unwed mother,” Ahmar says. “Why didn’t they ask about the father? Why wasn’t the blame shared?”

The questions raised during training sessions gradually helped bring about change. “When we did a comparative analysis on what we were doing and if it had any impact, we saw that headlines in most newspapers would now read ‘a body of a newborn found,’ Ahmar says. “There would be no reference to an unwed mother. We considered that to be a big success. At least the level of understanding of journalists was changing.”

To be allowed to speak in male-dominated newsrooms to men who resisted such arguments was a mark of success in itself. A change in mindset was finding its way across Pakistan, as trainings were held in conservative cities such as Peshawar and Quetta. Every city brought its own challenges.

Some trainees would question Ahmar on her “agenda” and ask who was funding Uks. She would invite her critics—journalists and agencies—to check her records. “Being transparent is something not a lot of NGOs consider to be an asset,” Ahmar says. “That is why we have a bad reputation in the media, [but] they could just come and look through my office whenever they wished.”

While her credibility grew and the small team of Uks research associates and project coordinators was breaking barriers, Ahmar’s work was far from over. The launch of 24/7 channels in 2002 made her realize that she had to start from scratch again.

“By then we felt that the print media was easy to tame. But now this new monster called 24/7 news channels had emerged. There were people who had been unleashed to talk to millions of audience [members] without any training,” Ahmar says.

The insensitivity these channels promoted was doing more damage than the print could ever do, so Ahmar started monitoring news and talk shows. Uks noted the problems and shared them with PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) or with personnel at the channels themselves.

Uks recently launched the women’s media complaint cell, where viewers can lodge complaints of misogynistic content. Along with content monitored by Uks, complaints filed by the public are now presented to bureau chiefs or producers of channels.

Ahmad also reaches the public—especially people living in remote areas—through a series of radio programs. The goals of Uks Radio Projects are to raise women’s profile in broadcast journalism, create awareness of social issues with a gender perspective and bring about attitudinal change in men and women.

The transmissions air in Urdu, a language that a majority of Pakistanis understand. The programs advocate a pro-woman stance on issues such as honor killing, AIDS and the water crisis in rural Pakistan. For instance, the Uks team collected stories about women who travel far distances to fetch potable water for their families. These women face mental, emotional, physical and reproductive problems owing to a lack of clean water near their homes.

As she works to educate the public via radio, Ahmar is expanding her efforts with media sources. She has succeeded in entering into a discourse with the people behind the TV cameras, but she also wants to engage with anchorpersons. “I don’t think it is going to be easy because after [they] get this kind of fame and screen presence, it becomes difficult to bring them on board for any kind of sensitivity,” Ahmar says.

She is devising strategies to deal with all media platforms—for example, last year, Ahmar held a roundtable conference with members of the entertainment industry. While the response was positive, she knows she still has a long way to convince people that “a country’s media coverage is related to women’s status and development. Women are pushed back if the media doesn’t support them in a constructive manner.

Source: Truthdig,

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

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