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.

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...

Education / 27.03.2009

My understanding of this issue has changed since I wrote a response (How Similar? How Different?) to Vir Sanghvi’s article (The same people? Surely not).  Thanks to very thoughtful and deeply felt comments by readers (Kabir, Vikram and Vinod), a number of new perspectives suggest themselves and provoke further thinking. It is gratifying that this also bears out the premise of this blog – that while we may start with relatively unclear thoughts, we can help each other reason our way, most of the time, to arrive at a better understanding. I feel now that Sanghvi’s somewhat muddled beginning threw me off track. Let me repeat it in full here for continuity: Few things annoy me as much as the claims often advanced by well-meaning but wooly-headed (and usually Punjabi) liberals to the effect that when it comes to Indian and Pakistan, “We’re all the same people,...

Education / 24.03.2009

Vir Sanghvi, an editor at the Hindustan Times, has written an article (The same people? Surely not) in which he has expressed annoyance at the claims “often advanced by well-meaning but wooly-headed liberals to the effect that when it comes to Indian and Pakistan, ‘We’re all the same people, yaar.’” Sanghvi says that “This may have been true once upon a time. Before 1947, Pakistan was part of undivided India and you could claim that Punjabis from West Punjab (what is now Pakistan) were as Indian as, say, Tamils from Madras. But time has a way of moving on [and] the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense.” This was brought home to Sanghvi by two major events over the last few weeks. “The first of these was the attack on...

Education / 08.03.2009

Lewis Lapham, Mohan Rao, Mohammad Iqbal. It’s odd how unrelated pieces from across time and space sometimes fall into place as if they were intended for each other. I began with Lewis Lapham’s brilliant take (Achievetrons, Harper’s Magazine, March 2009) on President Obama’s “Christmas shopping for cabinet officers.” These are the ‘Achievetrons,’ members of the ‘valedictocracy’ who got double 800s on their SATs and graduated from the top of the Ivy League. And then Lapham, in his inimitable style, pours a bucket of cold water on the prospects: For the past sixty years the deputies assigned to engineer the domestic and foreign policies of governments newly arriving in Washington have come outfitted with similar qualifications – first-class schools, state-of-the-art networking, apprenticeship in a legislative body or a think-tank – and for sixty years they have managed to weaken rather than strengthen the American democracy, ending their terms of office...

Education, Religion / 23.02.2009

By FT and FoF This is an almost unedited record of an email exchange between a Fresh Teen (FT) and a Friend of the Family (FoF) spread over ten days (February 13-23, 2009). FT is educated in the leading convent school in Pakistan (established 1876). Her parents are both physicians with doctorates from England.  Friday, February 13, 2009 FoF: All the very best for the birthday tomorrow. Are you 14?  Saturday, February 14, 2009 FT:  Thanks!!! No, im 13. a fresh teen. FoF:  I read it first as frash been! Congratulations anyway for crossing the milestone. Now the hard slog begins. FT:  frash been!!!!!!??????? Why is it a hard slog??? FoF:  French beans in local language became distorted into frash been. Hard slog, because it is a long ways to go and your hair will turn white and your teeth will fall out by the time you are through!! FT:   well thats good to know!!!!! FoF: ...