Education / 16.05.2009

The first part of this thought experiment was intended to test if my perception of the ‘Other’ was a reflection of nothing more than my own prejudices. It had me revisit repeatedly the same set of objects arranged in different ways to see how my reactions varied in response to the arrangements. In the second part of the experiment I want to see the picture from the other end. This time I imagine myself to be a member of the set of objects and try to sense how I would feel in the various scenarios. The setting is still the same – a classroom of children being visited by an outsider.
Education / 13.05.2009

I am perplexed by the Us versus Them phenomenon. Try as I might, I have not been able to explain why it has such a powerful hold on so many of us. Let me try and work through it once again using a thought experiment. I would like you to stay with me as I do and to give me your feedback at the end. I imagine that I am invited to speak to a class of high school students in a city that I have never visited before. I arrive at the school and walk through a corridor into the class. In front to me I find 60 students of both genders wearing the school uniform and no other marks of identification seated in random order.
Education / 10.05.2009

Two things struck me as being odd in Imran Khan’s article that I had discussed earlier: how he found wisdom and the use he put the wisdom to. Imran describes his narrow escape: “it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.” I have just recently read Latika Gupta’s account of what some mothers are doing to their children and so reading Imran’s sentence made me shiver. Imran just turned out be very lucky in having a pious and sensible mother but is it a good idea in general to be shaped by the powerful religious influences of mothers and to believe in something out of love rather than conviction?
Education / 02.05.2009

Universal Patterns within Cultural Diversity: Patriarchy Makes Men Crazy and Stupid By Robert Jensen Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008 he taught a three-week course to a co-ed class at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Islamabad, Pakistan -- Some lessons learned while spending time in a different culture come from paying attention to the wide diversity in how we humans arrange ourselves socially.  Equally crucial lessons come from seeing patterns in how people behave similarly in similar situations, even in very different cultural contexts. This week in Pakistan, as I have been learning more about a very different culture than my own, I was reminded of one of those patterns: Patriarchy makes men crazy.
Education / 24.04.2009

By Anjum Altaf In earlier posts we have highlighted what we feel many schools in South Asia are doing (inculcating hatred) that is harmful to the social psyche of children. We have also discussed what we feel enough schools are not doing (proactively teaching tolerance) that would be beneficial for the social health of South Asian countries. In this post we look at education from a different perspective and raise two questions that ought to occupy centre-stage in the debate over the public school curriculum: What are the rights of a child? And, how are these rights to be ensured? There is much room for disagreement on the first, which should lead to a vigorous debate. This would be interesting, given that ‘rights’ cover the entire spectrum from the simple to the complex and from the obvious to the controversial. Within the realm of education, one can identify a...

Education / 07.04.2009

The last post in this series had highlighted the emergence of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan and religious nationalism in India. I took the position that there was near consensus on the cause of the phenomenon in Pakistan while it was much more difficult to provide a convincing explanation in the case of India. The plan was to make an attempt at an explanation in this post.

Comments from Vinod have altered the plan and forced a step back. There is a legacy of communal prejudice that needs an explanation in its own right before we can move on to more recent phenomena. So this post will engage with the question posed by Vinod: Where does this prejudice come from?

Education / 05.04.2009

Two books have come out within a year pointing to a serious problem common to India and Pakistan.

Before describing the books let us note that we are now talking about what is common between India and Pakistan. This makes a lot more sense than debating whether Indians and Pakistanis are similar. Indians and Pakistanis have so many differences within their own communities that it is futile to try and reduce them to a single dimension that can then be compared. To take a very simple illustration: there are secular Indians and communal Indians just as there are secular Pakistanis and communal Pakistanis. There is no one type of Indian or Pakistani. 

Education / 31.03.2009

By Anjum Altaf This is an edited version of the submission made on behalf of the International Coalition for Education Reform in Pakistan (ICERP) to the Pakistan Conference organized by students at Harvard and MIT. The questions are intended to stimulate discussion; supporting arguments can be found in the listed resources. A number of the resources pertain to India reflecting the generic issues common to the two countries. The Big Questions 1. Why is Pakistan still half illiterate? The lack of political will or of money are not convincing answers. There is not enough political pressure to make education a high priority issue for governments. Ruling elites tolerate only as much mass education as is necessary because it is subversive of the status quo especially in societies based on oppression. 2. Can NGOs fill the gap? The arithmetic does not support this contention. The issue of scale is important. The...

Education / 29.03.2009

This is indeed a remarkable coincidence. Inspired by a great first sentence from A Tale of Two Cities and its contribution to our conceptual understanding of similarities and differences, I had remarked in the last post on the value of literature and of a good teacher. I had ended by noting that I was reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on the recommendation of Vinod, a participant in our discussion. Lo and behold! All I had to do was go back to the book to encounter an equally great and relevant opening sentence and a great teacher leading the reader through an exquisite process of reasoning. Here is how Chapter 9 (Zebras, Unhappy Marriages, and the Anna Karenina Principle) begins: Domesticable animals are all alike; every undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way. If you think you’ve already read something like that before, you’re right. Just make...

Education / 28.03.2009

With Vivek Raghavan’s input we make a quantum jump in our understanding of this issue. It drives home three lessons: how much we are helped by conceptual clarity; how we get to conceptual clarity; and how we learn. We started this discussion with our conceptualization of the issue defined by Vir Sanghvi: we were thinking in terms of ‘things as a whole’ that were either similar or different (or were similar at one time but were different now). We were thinking in terms of binaries and polar opposites. One could say we were conceptually in an ‘either/or’ world, where you were either like me or unlike me (or you were either ‘for us’ or ‘against us’ - the famous Bush formulation analogous to the Sanghvi formulation). From the outset we were uncomfortable with this binary view of the world and were groping our way towards a more...