Education / 16.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf The Single New Curriculum (SNC) is the latest big thing and, like many of the big things before, it will end with a whimper, losing air and falling limp leaving us to tot up the costs. But while it lasts it will yield a load of laughs much needed in these times marked by amazingly smart lockdowns, miraculously flattened curves, invisible deaths, and dire warnings. The other day I watched a discussion in which one of the experts responsible for the SNC described in awe how the 400 members assembled for the task spent hours discussing the gargantuan problem of population explosion and how grades 1 to 5 students needed to be made aware of it. This profound conclusion was modified partly when members from Balochistan pointed out their small population, immense resources, and abject poverty. Grades 1 to 5 students might be too...

Education / 14.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf To figure out how we have to come to consider an upside-down world as right-side up, you could do no better than become a fly-on-the-wall in an upscale architect’s office. You will observe, repeatedly, an upright, highly-educated gentleman accompanied by an equally becoming spouse arrive to go over the design of their dream house to be built on 1,000 square yards in what is deemed the ‘ultimate’ community. (The couple, having purchased the ‘plot’ -- that ubiquitous word -- at the going market price would be unaware that it was the patrimony of a dispossessed peasant from whom it was ‘acquired’ at a firesale price to be flipped over by a highly deserving beneficiary. And even if they did, they would consider it a part of the rightful process of development in which resources are transferred from those who do not know how to use...

Education / 12.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf The COVID-19 pandemic has hit education hard. Schools and colleges have been closed since March which has resulted in a lot of hand-wringing with both educationists and students deploring the time wasted. Pressure is building up to reopen and the government has announced September 15 as the likely date of resumption.  This decision is based partly on the determination that the pandemic has been controlled in Pakistan but experience from many countries that had thought likewise has shown that such relaxation can be premature. Across the world, educational institutions have opened only to be closed again because of the emergence of infection clusters. This is not surprising because the virus has not been eliminated anywhere. It has been successfully localized in many places but as soon as large scale movement is permitted across locations, it has shown a propensity to cross borders and resurge. With...

Education / 06.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf As an educationist, I am appalled by the Single National Curriculum. As a Pakistani, I am disappointed but not surprised. I have articulated my reservations in a series of opinions. They have to do with the process (non-transparent and non-participatory, excluding the principal stakeholders) and the pedagogy (old-fashioned, privileging memorization over thinking). But it is equally important to explore why the SNC has taken this particular form. I was discussing the SNC with a successful, well-educated executive and asked if she would put a child she was responsible for, say a grandchild, into a school teaching from the SNC. Absolutely not, she said without a moment’s hesitation and with a shudder of dread. I asked if, in her opinion, any senior bureaucrat in grades 20, 21, or 22 would enrol a grandchild in a SNC school. Absolutely not, she said again. She was less...

Education / 02.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf Before I list my problems with the Single National Curriculum (SNC), let me accept that its proponents are completely well-intentioned and want the best for our children. But let me also add the caveat, to which all reasonable people would agree, that good intentions by themselves are never sufficient as a justification. Good intentions can also lead to terrible disasters. No one can doubt the good intentions of Mr. Jinnah. Yet his decision to impose a single national language set a tragedy in motion. Such disasters do not distinguish between the secular and the religious. Zia ul Haq was the most Islamic of our rulers as well-intentioned as anyone else. History will be the judge of what his educational interventions have done to this country. The liberal Mr. Musharraf was no doubt well-intentioned when he led the country into Kargil turning it into an...

Education / 29.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf Frankly, the Single New Curriculum is so absurd that one would have to be a masochist to wade through its details. Trust our governments to come up with ridiculous things that are completely without merit but that consume so much time that could be better spent resolving the real issues of real people. Nevertheless, education is a matter of vital importance and one has to engage if only to prevent our children having done to them in spades what Zia ul Haq did to their parents. That, indirectly, should also tell you where this curriculum is coming from and how brilliant Zia Ul Haq’s children have turned out to be. It would only be a very slight exaggeration to liken this curriculum to a suicide bomb that would be lobbed not just in one school, like the APS, but in all the schools of...

Education / 22.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf At its most basic, education has two dimensions -- what is taught and how it is taught. Everyone would agree that the most excellent content can be taught very poorly. It is less obvious that good pedagogy can overcome the handicap of indifferent content by enabling students to self-learn, a skill they can use to find content that meets their needs. This reflection should lead to the conclusion that how we teach is more important than what we teach. Even more so in an age when old content dates rapidly and new content is added daily. In such times the only skill that ensures survival is that of self-learning beyond the classroom. We no longer live in times in which students were prepared for careers that lasted lifetimes and for which they required foundational training to which they added incrementally by learning on the job....

Education / 20.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf The mandate of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) should now be to save higher education in Pakistan but quite asides from the fact that past actions of the HEC are themselves responsible for the present state, I think the tipping point, much like that for climate change, has been crossed. Mir Taqi Mir would have equated the proposition with seeking a cure from the same apothecary’s son responsible for the ailment  Now when I think of either, I can’t help thinking of Fitzgerald’s rendering of Omar Khayyam’s quatrain: The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it. I have said it before and have no reason to change my mind that disastrous as operations like Gibraltar, Searchlight, and Badr were for the wellbeing of...

Education / 07.06.2020

By Anjum Altaf Many are having a hard time comprehending the coronavirus in Pakistan. They have not seen it before; it has no distinctive symptoms; there have been very few deaths in most communities; it hasn’t yet penetrated rural areas where half the population lives. This lived experience makes it hard to relate to what they are being told by the rest of the world -- that they are threatened by a lethal pandemic that calls for extreme constraints on how they live. Mixed messages from political and social leaders have fed the doubts. From the Prime Minister down, many in government have underplayed the threat likening it to the flu and comparing the number of deaths to those from road accidents. The Chief Justice has turned denier-in-chief, ordering the immediate opening of markets for Eid shopping. Partisan infighting has convinced many that this is just politics...

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...