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Education / 08.10.2019

By Anjum Altaf Once again, claims are flying around about the astounding results achieved by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in an earlier period and attempts are being made to return to that dispensation with promises of a revved-up ‘knowledge’ economy that will propel Pakistan into the future. Such claims need to be taken seriously because of the importance of education for the progress of the country.  There are many who remain deeply sceptical of these claims. While wars like those of 1965 and 1971 and incursions like Kargil have caused immense setbacks to Pakistan, it is possible for a country to recover from such disasters. But the combined havoc wreaked by the nationalization of schools by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, their Islamization by Zia ul Haq, and the quantification of higher education by the HEC under Pervez Musharraf has done damage that is well-nigh irreversible. Those who...

Education / 15.09.2019

By Anjum Altaf We will not figure out education if we continue to use it as a catch-all term without distinguishing its different aspects -- knowledge (‘ilm’), skills (‘hunar’), and credentials (‘sanad’). These distinctions are best elucidated with an example. I take my car for repairs to a ‘Chota’ who was apprenticed early to an ‘Ustad’ and acquired exceptional expertise. Chota is also street-smart and wise. Yet no one would consider him educated. Why not? The notion of being an ‘educated’ person has become imprecise today with much variance in its perception. The traditional view equated being educated with being knowledgeable which manifested itself in the ability to engage in intelligent conversations on subjects unrelated to professional expertise or occupation. To do that a person had to be well-read and fluent in at least one language in which to compose and express his/her thoughts coherently. The fact that...

Education / 31.07.2019

By Anjum Altaf People often insist that Pakistan’s lack of development requires investing in education. They should reconsider this relationship.  Consider the following arguments: In countries we consider developed today, mass education followed development not the other way around. Countries did not wait till they were fully educated before they began to develop. Rather, they began to develop which created the need for the spread of education. Great Britain became a global empire when there was relatively little mass education. Today, with universal education, it is a minor player in the global system. There is no linear relationship between education and development and certainly the former does not cause the latter. Apply this framework to British India. There was little mass education when the British took over but because there were so few they needed local intermediaries to help administer the colony in ways familiar to them. That was...

Education / 18.06.2019

By Anjum Altaf I admire Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy for not giving up on education in Pakistan. In a recent article  (HEC -- stormy times up ahead, Dawn, May 25, 2019), he suggested a debate on the contrasting visions for higher education offered by Dr. Tariq Banuri, the current head of the HEC, and Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, who held the position earlier. Since then Dr. Rahman has also articulated his vision (Higher education in turmoil, The News, June 1, 2019). It would therefore be a lost opportunity to not discuss the issue further given the centrality of education to the future of the country. Needless to say, in countries that hope to progress each succeeding generation must be better educated than the one preceding it, building and improving on the latter’s achievements. The terms of the debate are provided by the two contrasting visions as summarized by Dr. Hoodbhoy....

Education / 20.06.2017

By Sara Fatima This post is in response to a recent article by Professor Mohammad Waseem ('An ignoramus par excellence,' The News, June 11, 2017) in which he argues that the majority of the professional, political, bureaucratic and military elites of Pakistan are uninformed about the larger issues pertaining to our social, national and global life. Some of the issues he mentions are the weakness of our foreign policy, increasing social violence, population explosion, water shortage and cultural practices oppressing women and minorities. Professsor Waseem attributes this outcome to an insularity of vision and thought which, in his view, stems from a lack of exposure to the social sciences in our educational system. In elucidating this weakness of Pakistan’s educated elite, Professor Waseem compares the typical Pakistani school graduate with one in the West. He asserts that in the West a school graduate is introduced to the...

Education / 11.12.2016

By Anjum Altaf I wonder what the concerned students would be thinking of the government’s directive to some teachers of the Pak-Turk school system to leave the country. I guess they would consider it political interference. If so, they would be wiser than the experts who look upon education and politics as separate domains. The real lesson that the affected students need to internalize is that the incident involving their teachers is not unique. Since schools are not teaching students how to think, exploring what has been happening to schools might induce some much needed reflection. The reality is that education has always been subjected to political interventions. That may be one reason why history is no longer taught in our schools. The less one knows of the past the less likely it would be to decipher the ways in which education is manipulated to advance political...

Education / 09.11.2014

By Anjum Altaf In September I was in the US for a month for a series of lectures and presentations. Three of them were recorded and are available for public viewing. I am linking them here for those who might be interested in any of the topics which are very varied. Most of the talks are on YouTube so a proxy would be needed for viewing them in Pakistan because of the continuing ban on YouTube. I am presuming readers are technologically adept enough to navigate their way to a solution. University of Michigan, Center for South Asian Studies April 5, 2013 POVERTY AS A HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERN http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrmP5B5b_tY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= University of California at Berkeley, Institute for South Asia Studies September 8, 2014 HOW TO (REALLY) FIX PAKISTAN’S EDUCATION SYSTEM https://vimeo.com/113697262 Cornell University, College of Art, Architecture and Planning September 16, 2014 PERSPECTIVES ON SMALL CITIES IN PAKISTAN https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7ZB_Lc1361BRjF5dTBFVUNaX28/view?usp=sharing (More easily viewed here in two parts): Part 1 - https://vimeo.com/113369496 Part 2 -...

Education / 15.02.2014

I was surprised to hear how our leading educationists propose to produce a new Nobel Laureate. It was at a ceremony to celebrate the achievements of one and the encomiums were laced with the inevitable laments on how few there had been from South Asia. This brought us naturally to the ‘What-Is-To-Be-Done’ question. And, here, in a nutshell, was the answer: Surely, there must be, in our beautiful countries with their huge populations, somewhere, some uncut diamonds lying undiscovered obscured by grime. All we would have to do is search hard enough, with sufficient honesty and dedication, and we would locate a gem. Presto, we will have our next Nobel Laureate. Call it the Needle-In-The-Haystack theory of locating genius. On to the modalities: How exactly would we go about this find-and-polish routine in our beautiful countries with their huge populations wracked by poverty? Here was the answer to that question: We...

Education / 09.07.2013

By Anjum Altaf All provinces have increased their budgetary allocations for education and as an educationist I am expected to be pleased by the development. I am not – might we not be throwing more good money after bad? As an analyst I need to see a credible diagnosis that education is held back by a shortage of funds. I find it curious we have so convinced ourselves of that. There are many countries that started out at the same level of economic development and have done much more with equally constrained resources. Take just one indicator, the literacy rate among 15 to 24 year old females: Pakistan at 61 percent compares very unfavorably with Sri Lanka and China at 99 percent, Nepal and Bangladesh at 77 percent, and India at 74 percent. It would be hard to argue that Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or Nepal were more...

Education / 18.05.2012

By Anjum Altaf Dear Students, One of your colleagues sent me the following message:
Respected Sir… I would like to request that you please send out a list of books that you think are crucial for 21st century students like us to read. The reason I am asking so, is that during the holidays I would like to do something beneficial and constructive. While there are many books available on the internet and at bookshops (like Readings or Ferozsons, etc.), I wouldn’t exactly know which books are best for me. So could you please send out such a list of books as I believe that a person of your experience and knowledge would be a better judge on which books students should read. I would like to also suggest that while deciding on the books, give us books on a variety of issues, like let's say some on religion, some on history, some autobiographies and so on.
You have no one to blame but yourselves!