Education / 26.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf Neelam Hanif has mounted a passionate defence of English as the medium of instruction (SNC and the language question, The News, September 12, 2020) but I fear the passion is misspent. Look at the beginning: “English… is part of the colonial baggage we carry. From aspiring to be fair-skinned to being fluent in this historically contentious language is our most coveted wish.” And now consider the end: “This language has been part of our culture and heritage for the past two hundred years. It is time to own it, and use it to our advantage in training our children to face the challenges of our collective global future.” How can the two be reconciled? Just these two sentences let loose a flood of questions both cynical and serious. If English is a “colonial baggage” why is it time to “own it”? Isn’t baggage something...

Education / 22.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf An argument is being advanced that the madrassah is just another type of school and that the objective of the state is to integrate it into the mainstream of the educational system using the newly announced Single National Curriculum. There is some support for this narrative from those who assert that the madrassah is here to stay and it would be to the advantage of society to facilitate its mainstreaming by offering help in the teaching of subjects like mathematics, English, etc. There are some grey areas in this narrative that can be best illustrated by considering schools run by orders of other religions. There is no dearth of such schools in Europe, North America and  South Asia. The most salient point to note is that while these schools are run by religious orders, they are regular schools in every sense of the term. The...

Education / 20.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf The Minister for Education has written an opinion defending the Single National Curriculum (Debating the SNC, The News, September 8, 2020). It fails in its objectives but I am grateful to the Minister for providing a revealing insight into what governments in Pakistan think and desire and how they work. First, the latter, taking the SNC as illustrative of policy making -- substituting the chicken-and-hen scheme or CPEC just reiterates the point. Governments make policy behind closed doors with a manufactured consensus and announce it as a done deal. If there is a storm of protest, it is considered a substitute for the debate that should have taken place during the deliberation on the policy. The so-called ‘debate’ is negotiated with a lot of handwaving, parrying every question with an answer, usually incoherent and mutually contradictory, confident in the knowledge that given the balance of...

Education / 19.09.2020

By Anjum Altaf In an otherwise balanced critique of the Single National Curriculum (Single National Curriculum is a diversion. Quality and access to education is what matters, Naya Daur, August 26, 2020), Mr. Amjad Nazeer makes some claims about the medium of instruction that warrant a debate.  The issue becomes clouded by the way he sets up the problematic: “Urdu is proposed by the champions of supra-nationalism, English by the wealthy elite and mother languages by the ethno-nationalist stalwarts and dissenters.” This is tantamount to asserting that the advocacy of a medium of instruction is based on nothing more than the maximization of parochial and selfish group interests? But is this correct? If so, Mr. Nazeer would be unjustly accused of being a partisan himself for advocating English. It would mean that the years of research on the efficacy of the first language as the medium of instruction...

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...