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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Education and our myopic ideologues

In an article titled ‘Westward bound’ http://archives.dawn.com/archives/66981 published in a Pakistani newspaper, the author laments the news of top American universities opening campuses and the establishment of an ‘Educational city’ in Islamabad, which “is fetching new hopes for the elite class here. Their children would obviously be able to bag the top jobs while also saving the parents millions of rupees being spent in sending them abroad for further studies". This, the author argues, is akin to running away from ‘our identity’ and hence an unfortunate thing. How? One does not know. How, for instance, is it unfortunate if our ‘elites’ educate their children inside Pakistan and save ‘millions of rupees’ rather than keep, as they do now, sending them abroad and spend those millions there in foreign countries? Why is it bad to construct an ‘Educational city’ in Islamabad?

Let us first consider some of the benefits of local branches of foreign universities in Pakistan. First, the cost of a degree from a foreign university through its local branch would be enormously reduced (in terms of travel cost, and living cost in a foreign country) and students from those strata of our society who cannot pursue education in those foreign countries would be able to get the same or similar level of education at a much lower (less than half on a rough estimate) cost in their own country. Investment by foreign universities in the form of establishing local branches in Pakistan would enhance cooperation in the field of education between our local universities and academia and those foreign universities. By establishing these local campuses not only our middle classes and lower middle classes would have access to education of international standard but also it will create enormous opportunities for jobs in the local educational market for our people. These foreign university campuses would bring in competition for the local educational institutions and universities who would strive for excellence in order to compete with these rivals.

Politically speaking it is an irony that we are happy when these foreign/western nations sell us their weapons and fighter jets and tanks and missiles at exorbitant prices but we are not ready to accommodate their educational institutions as those are a 'danger to our identity and ideology' as the writer in this case associates the establishment of "foreign schools and university campuses” with "running away from our identity"! "Foreign or western institutions, no matter how high in stature they might be, would promote western values while failing to make provision for Islamic aspects in their way of teaching", argues the author. It is difficult though to know the logic behind any such assumption in the absence of any credible research on the issue. For instance what are those harmful ‘Western’ values and what kind of ‘Islamic aspects’ are in danger of withering away? The author says, “Subject to law and public morality, we in Pakistan encourage the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

Not allowing the Muslims to have a public education system of their own, which protects their religion and culture, poses a danger for the ideology of Pakistan.” Again who is not allowing Muslims to have a public education system of their own and thus causing a danger to the “ideology of Pakistan”? There are a number of unsubstantiated assumptions there. Isn't our existing education system and our curriculum almost entirely based on 'Western' educational philosophies both in the fields of natural and social sciences? What presently is so 'Eastern' or 'Islamic' about it that will be endangered by the establishment of a few 'Western' university campuses in Islamabad? What is so rational about wrapping iron curtains around ourselves, our people and our country? Why is our 'identity' so fragile that it cannot stand the weight of a few foreign university campuses?

The real eye-opener is the paragraph where the author says, “Turning back the pages of history… It would be a matter of interest for many to note that Aligarh University initially came into being as a conspiracy against the Muslims in order to produce a pro-western educated lot. It was a tool in the hands of British imperialists and their handful of sympathisers, who wanted to destroy the religion, culture, traditions and values of the people of this region.” If that is true, what then the author thinks of the ‘original founder’ of the ‘Two Nation Theory’, the very basis for the creation of Pakistan and the founder of the Aligarh movement: Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan? Was that great Muslim thinker and one of the original founders of the Pakistan ideology a ‘conspirator’ against Muslims and their identity then? This is immediately followed by contradictory reasoning: “Today, no one can deny that Aligarh University is a well-reputed institution. However, it has very little to do with the struggle for Pakistan. In the same regard, although, certain leaders from the university became active members of the Pakistan movement, they had different ideologies as compared to the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Allama Mohammad Iqbal”.

Rejecting the project for foreign universities’ campuses in Pakistan, the author gives examples of a number of universities, from which campuses should be included in the ‘Education City’, including ‘Khyber University’. One wonders if there is any university in Pakistan by that name. Finally the author comes up with her ultimate piece of wisdom: allowing foreign universities to establish campuses in the "heart" of Pakistan (Islamabad), is akin to nullifying the very creation of Pakistan! In the meantime she forgets herself writing in ENGLISH, a ‘Western’ language in an English language newspaper which somehow promotes this ‘foreign’ ‘Western’ language? Isn’t that a conspiracy against our ‘identity’ as well?

Ignorance and false honour

According to a recent news from Faisal Abad Honour killings: Man guns down six daughters – The Express Tribune a man gunned down his six daughters “on suspicion that two of them were in relationship with boys in the neighbourhood.” The man killed the two teenage girls (14 and 16 years old) because they developed relationship with boys. This act of the young girls he thought dishonoured him. He also took the lives of the rest of the four of his daughters alongside them because he thought they did not let him know and instead supported the two sisters guilty of this ‘crime’.

The question is why did one man, a father to boot, unlawfully, callously, brutally, inhumanly took the lives of six humans in one go? The man ostensibly did this ‘honourable’ act to wash off the black spot of ‘dishonour’ from his name that he thought his hapless daughters had put on it by indulging in the ‘shameless act’. Killing all six of them was, therefore, according to his thinking essential to restore his damaged honour. The incident is a reflection of the state and direction of our society in many ways as this is not a singular act of insanity. This is not a rare exception either. It’s a tragic reality.

The incident indicates quite a few alarming trends in our society. First, it shows the level of ignorance, intolerance and falsity in our society. Why else would someone take six young, vulnerable lives on the basis of a mere suspicion? Secondly, it shows unjust, ignorant social pressures on individuals that push people to the level of lunacy and utter madness, compelling them to go to such levels of barbarism in order to restore their ‘honour’. In this sense the father is as much a victim of the brutal social expectations and norms as are the daughters. This, however, does not mean any absolution of the man from his inhuman act. He must be punished according to law. Third, the incident indicates the false sense of honour and dishonour prevalent in the society. The murderer in this case not only took the lives of six young women on a mere suspicion, he also boasted about it in the aftermath of the brutal and criminal act and reiterated that he would do so again if he had to. Obviously he does not regret anything. This shows the man’s conviction in his false and ignorant understanding of honour. Fourth, the man did this at his own home in the presence of his wife and at the instigation of his son. That means he was not entirely alone in the act. He had a sense of that ‘social’ support behind him. That makes the act even more alarming. Lastly who knows what role might economic pressures and the responsibility to shoulder the burden of six daughters have played in this tragic to the lives of these young girls?

Now some questions: What made a father take the lives of his six young daughters in such a barbaric way? Could it have been prevented? If ‘yes’ how? If ‘no’, ‘why not’? By doing what he did, did the man actually restore his honour, in other words, does he stand more ‘honourable’ now? How could one do better than what he did in the situation that he was in? What does the society and the state need to do to prevent such barbaric acts?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Co-Education: article translation in Arabic


Friday, 12 August 2011

14 SHOULDS on 14th August 2011

We are celebrating 14th August as our independence day once more. I as a Pakistani, propose fourteen SHOULDS on this occasion. These SHOULDS, I promise can change the destiny of our country but this requires paradigmatic changes in our national priorities. Here goes the list:

1. Education should be at the top of our priority list with at least 20 percent of our annual budget spent on providing quality education to the people of Pakistan.

2. As a sage once said, 'If you want to see the condition of a nation, see the condition of the teacher'. So teachers should be the most valued (in the real sense of the word) people in the country.

3. Our hospitals should be our second principal priority after education.

4. We should make every effort to establish complete peace with our neighbouring countries including our arch-rival India. In this regard we can learn from European countries such Germany, France, and the UK.

5. We should devote ourselves to spreading a network of playgrounds in each and every city and town and village of our country.

6. There should be a network of libraries in each and every one of our cities and towns with latest books, magazines, journals available, and with computers and internet facilities

7. There should be immediate and complete ban on pressure horns on roads and streets and gradually the ban should come down to any kind of horns, of course people need to be educated through electronic and print media against indiscriminate use of horns

8. There should be a centrally controlled system of mosques in every city and town. The Imams should be properly educated, trained, should be at least secondary school graduates and should be recruited by the local administrative authority. They should be paid adequately for their services with the help and cooperation of the local population. The Friday sermons and teaching of these Imams should be monitored closely and they should be trained and educated to present the peaceful, inclusive, humanitarian face of religion to the people .This will guard against the tendency of turning religion into a sectarianism, extremism and the resultant violence.

9. Democracy should be embraced, nurtured and practiced in the true sense of the word and for that to happen efforts should be made to take the power centre out of the feudal class and to bring it down to the reach of the common people. The first step in this regard is for political parties to themselves become truly democratic and shun hereditary and dictatorial practices prevalent inside their ranks. Our armed forces once and for all decide not to ever interfere in our political system and confine itself to it constitutionally rightful place: that of the guardian of our (primarily) external security and (if need be) the internal security. Let soldiers be soldiers and not political leaders. Let us for the coming thirty years, at least, try democracy in its true sense and then decide which way to go. Let our democratic system correct its own course without anymore interference. Let us show to the world that we can be truly professional in our respective fields, whichever that might be, as soldiers, military officers, teachers, doctors, politicians, lawyers, judges, engineers, bankers, religious leaders, farmers, labourers, craftsmen, technicians, journalists or people from any other profession.

10. A Pakistani nationalism based on an international, humanitarian philosophy should be nurtured through a nationwide system of inclusive education. The purpose should be to broaden the horizons of the Pakistani youth to feel a part of the rest of the world instead of looking at every other nation as an enemy out to destroy our dear country. For this the concept of 'positive national ego’, should be promoted. This will help the Pakistani youth feeling a responsible part of the rest of the world, shouldering the burden of the entire humanity instead of asking others to always extend a helping hand to our sinking ship.

11. Strength in terms of economic and social development should be our primary goal driving our national policies and not just military might and our capability for destruction. Live and let live should be our motive from now onwards if we really want to continue to exist and flourish in the comity of nations in the twenty first century.

12. Rigorous measures should be taken to control our dangerously growing population, which is already beyond our means. Poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and a false understanding of religion are primary source of this menace. The role of religious leaders is of special importance in this regard. A majority of our rural population devotedly listen to and follow the sermons of our Imams who unfortunately actively encourage people to produce more children and discourage them from population control which they think is an act against the will of God. This perception must be changed and religious leaders must be educated, trained, made aware and later on used as a task force to create awareness among our people against uncontrolled population growth.

13. An important indicator of the degree of civilization of a society is the way women are treated in it. Women emancipation through a process of education and awareness among the masses should be one of our top priorities. Pakistani women are exemplary in their devotion to their families and the welfare of those around them and this extraordinary source of our strength must be taped by giving them their due place in the social, economic and political spheres of our national life. Again the role of religious leaders is of primary importance in this regard, who unfortunately think of women as nothing more than a tool of domestic utility . These religious leaders use their enormous clout as opinion makers against the economic and social freedom and autonomy of our women. This trend needs to be changed and women be brought into our national life as equal partners and stakeholders.

14. We should, as a nation make it a core principle of our national ethos, that a society cannot live for long in the presence of injustice and endemic corruption. It should, therefore, be one of top-most priorities to clean up corruption in our legal, administrative and political system, to have an independent, well-paid judiciary and an excellent, efficient and corruption-free police force.

P.S: Does it look like a loony dream? Well, may be. But then many dreams come true.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Education is the way out.

Pakistan has been in turmoil for a considerable time. Ignorance, hatred and intolerance and the consequent desperation seem to be on the rise in all spheres our national life. The suffering of the innocent people at the hands of the militants, extremists and terrorists on the one hand is ripping apart the lives of our hapless people and on the other we are facing increasing international isolation, suspicion and humiliation. We are stuck between the proverbial ‘devil and the deep blue sea’.

What is the way out of the tragic dilemma? Should we concentrate on combative reactions towards the western powers, and the rest of the world despite our obvious lack of any capacity to do so? Or else should we adopt some other, saner, wiser course of action in lieu with what the Japanese and the Germans did in the aftermath of war and destruction of their countries. The saner course of action seems to be the latter one.

The answer perhaps lies in quality education which brings enlightenment, a pre-requisite for a re-direction and re-orientation of our national life. The situation in terms of education, both qualitatively and quantitatively is far from ideal. With only about 2 percent of our GDP allocation for education there is little hope on both counts. The result of the negligence of this vital sector is extremely devastating for us. With one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, very little can be expected about the enlightenment of the populace and any rise in the quality of life. The most vital sector of our national life thus is in very shabby form. For development in the field of education we have to consider a number of things. We have to radically improve the physical infrastructure, with well-equipped schools, colleges and universities. We have to establish research centres, laboratories and libraries in these educational institutions to make them responsive to our socio-economic needs and to enable them to train our young generation in the best possible way in accordance with the challenges of the 21st century.

Another important aspect of the education sector is the educator, i.e. the school, the college, and university teacher. Not much can be expected from teachers, suffering from various socio-economic problems, to apply themselves, wholeheartedly to the enormous task of providing quality education to the youth of the nation, and to equipping them with abilities to lead the nation in the highly competitive world. Teaching being one of the lowest ranked professions in terms of economic reward and social status attracts only those, who can’t find a place in more lucrative jobs. This trend has to be altered by associating more charm with the profession in order to attract really talented, able and creative people to the profession and consequently to bring quality into the education sector.

It is said that the real defence of a nation lies in the hands of the teachers and in the classrooms where they prepare the youth for the challenges of life. It is often argued that a big source of extremism in our society is the presence of extremist religious seminaries, where bigotry and intolerance are promoted. To some extent that is true but the problem is much deeper than that. In fact our mainstream public sector education is not much better. It is pre-dominantly retrogressive in its orientation, with a premium on rot learning and blind follow. Very little independent thinking and freedom is promoted in our public school system. So revolutionary changes are to be brought in this system to make it capable of imparting an education that aims at developing the creative, constructive and humanitarian faculties of young people instead of filling their minds with bigoted, myopic and xenophobic ideas.

It is such an education that will help in Poverty alleviation and eradication of social injustice which are of prime importance in promoting peace and harmony in the society. This nation is really in need of revolutionary reforms in its education system, an education system that develops critical consciousness, enlightenment, peace, harmony and creativity of its youth. This is a defining moment in the history of Pakistan. We have to change the course of country from that of a security state to one that aims at the real welfare of its inhabitants. Not to do so might be at the cost of the unity and security of the country.

Friday, 5 August 2011

English as a medium of instruction: the non-issue

Time and time again one comes across writers who write in English against English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in Pakistani educational institutions. They argue that their argument is not against teaching English as a language but against its use as a medium of instruction. That, however, does not turn out to be the case as most often advertently or inadvertently they end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Anti-everything-Western demagogues then jump on the band wagon, conveniently over-stepping that blurred line between EMI and English as a language that needs to be taught and learnt in order for our people to go shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world and turn the 'English writing' (liberal) intellectuals' argument against EMI into one for its complete eradication from our education system.

Associating lack of Pakistani students' conceptual understanding with the use of EMI is a claim many make without any reliable research base. Conceptual understanding or lack of it has much more to do with an entire system of pedagogy, instruction and a whole culture of teaching and learning in our educational institutions rather than just being an outcome of the use of EMI. This is simplistic to connect every dot in our students' lack of conceptual understanding to the single point of the 'unfortunate' use of EMI. Many such writers suggest that English is used by the power grabbers as a tool of attaining power against those who do not have any access to the language. If that is true, one fails to understand how can that be countered by taking English (a language of power) further away from the vast majority of students who go to state run schools? Shouldn’t a more rational course be this: If English is associated with the attainment of power and status; the poor should be given an equal chance to learn this 'language of power' instead of doing the opposite?

Writers who are against EMI suggest that because a majority of teachers don't have the capacity to teach their subjects by using EMI, therefore, it should be shunned as one. Well, what if the majority of teachers don’t have the capacity to teach at all? Should then education as a whole be shunned? Some columnists who are not even educationists try to associate the low-level of educational attainment among students with the use of EMI. That is a flawed logic based on a superficial analysis of the situation.

The reality is, it’s not just the use of one language or another as a medium of instruction that is hampering the conceptual understanding or creativity of students in our 'educational' institutions. The matter is not so simple. It’s a whole culture of ignorance about the very concept of EDUCATION. It’s much more than that. It’s an extremely intricate issue, full of complexities and finer lines and the root of low attainment and poor quality education lie in issues deeper than the mere use of EMI.

As far as English is concerned, it is a language of power (I would say the language of opportunity within and beyond Pakistan), 'a language of today and of tomorrow', to quote a former vice chancellor of Peshawar University. This is a reality that we need to accept. It is a misunderstanding that it is only Pakistanis who are striving to excel in this language. It’s the whole world. Thousands of students from China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and numerous middle Eastern countries, in fact students and teachers from every nook and corner of the world, are studying in Western universities and their subject of choice usually at the graduate or postgraduate and doctoral level is English teaching and learning. When the whole world is going in one direction, it doesn't make much sense to go in the opposite. It will be like turning the clock back. We have already turned it back in many other spheres of our life and not one for the better it seems.