Development / 09.11.2020

By Anjum Altaf https://www.facebook.com/IrtiqaInstitute/videos/1008098353025976 The global economy has been brought to a halt by the lockdowns necessitated by the spread of the COVID pandemic. Governments have pledged billions of dollars to reopen and restore their economies. The big question facing progressive activists is whether they wish a return to the economy as it existed before the pandemic. This would be a contradiction because progressives have all along been critiquing the neoliberal economic structure for its many flaws. The pandemic has also laid bare its grievous unjustness and inequalities most dramatically by the plight of the migrant workers in India. Do we wish to return to an economy where workers would be treated exactly as before?  The pandemic provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform the economic structure in favour of labour. This could be via changes in the process of production or through enhanced welfare arrangements.  In order to leverage this...

Behavior / 07.11.2020

By Anjum Altaf A book that left a lasting impression on me was Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978) by Thomas Schelling who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2005. Its central message remains unforgettable -- what is good for an individual can often be bad for the group. Microsense can be macromadness. I recalled this phenomenon because of current debate on the language of instruction in early childhood. I have noticed that no matter how much rigorous evidence is presented in support of the mother tongue, the exact same objections are repeated without fail -- one, we would be left behind in the world without teaching toddlers in English and, two, parents want to educate their toddlers in English. The first objection is negated by so much real-world experience that it can only be characterised as silly -- despite teaching in English, we have been left...

Education / 29.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf As an academic, I welcome the defence of the Single National Curriculum (The SNC as ‘the way forward’, The News, October 15, 2020) offered by Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Shaikh, an assistant advisor in the Ministry of Education. It provides a ‘teaching moment’ illuminating not just the SNC but other more important things besides. Let me deconstruct it piece by piece, and leave it to the readers to derive the lessons. The opening paragraph says a lot: “Facts take a backseat when a handful of people view well-intentioned developmental agendas through lens smeared with suspicion and an urge for professional recognition.”  One sentence reveals so much about how our governments act -- Ignore the argument; attack the character, integrity, and motivation of those asking questions.   Think through the charge that has been leveled: Those who disagree with the SNC are distorting facts in order to obtain professional recognition. Consider...

Language/Meaning / 28.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf I wrote an opinion (Knowledge and power, The News, October 16, 2020) questioning the choice of English as the language of instruction in schools. In support, I had quoted John Stuart Mill’s disagreement with Macaulay based on his view that it was impossible “to expect that the main portion of the mental cultivation of a people can ever take place through the medium of a foreign language.” I am intrigued by the response to the opinion from readers in Pakistan and India that has centered, not on the logic of the argument, but on the language in which it has been expressed. One reader considered it ironic that “what you are saying in your article is written in English, for an English language paper, to be read by English speaking Pakistanis, and you and I are conversing in English.”  Another wrote: “Essays that argue against...

Education / 27.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf Policy-making can be based on self-interest, whim, opinion, dogma, or evidence. The choice we exercise says a lot about us. Take the language of instruction that is in the news once again. There is less self-interest on display here than there is in the case of sugar and sweets and other such things. But we have seem whim at play many times. Among the most egregious was the case mentioned recently by Zubeida Mustafa (Dawn, Which language, September 25, 2020).  Referring to the 2006 White Paper on Education (2006) as “the only thoroughly deliberated official policy document on education that I have read in Pakistan” she recalled how the education minister at the time (an ex-army general) rejected it because “it recommended the mother tongue to be used as the medium of instruction.” I recall the rationale that was proffered -- I was educated in...

Education, Language/Meaning / 18.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf Everyone interested in education knows Macaulay and his Minute on Education, the basis of the English Education Act of 1835, that determined to give the native population of India “a knowledge of English literature and science through the medium of the English language” because no one “could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” Virtually no one knows the views of the philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill who, for almost half his life, was associated with the East India Company. In 1836, he submitted a report titled Recent Changes in Native Education, which was approved by the Company’s Court of Directors but dismissed by the President of the Board of Control. His comments, locked away for more than 100 years, expressed his belief that it was impossible "to expect...

Democracy/Governance / 13.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf Consider the state of Pakistan today. There is a crisis when it doesn’t rain. There is a crisis when it does rain. If it is not the season of drought it is the season of flood. In each, foreigners are beseeched to dole us out. In seventy years citizens have not been provided with clean water, with decent education, with basic health, with adequate transport. Half the population is illiterate. Half the children are stunted. Half the young are jobless. Five thousand years ago, Mohenjodaro functioned better than our cities. The sight of Karachi drowning was a disgrace. Parts of Lahore were no better. Is building new cities an acceptable response? If the old ones cannot be held together why would new ones be run better? Especially when every new cohort of managers, on average, is worse trained than the one before. People might invent excuses...

Language/Meaning / 11.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf Almost every account of colonialism describes how the colonists planned to use education as a means of stabilizing and strengthening their rule. There was one system of education for those who were to rule and their abettors and quite another for those who were to be ruled. This narrative, undisputed in the colonies, is not extended to the postcolonial era where the aim of native elites remains unchanged -- to use education as a means of stabilizing and strengthening their rule. In Pakistan, the grossly inept, iniquitous, and corrupt monopoly on power can only be sustained on the back of an unquestioning, dumbed-down population. Hence there is one curriculum for the masses while the ruling class is reproduced by schools outside its ambit. This starkly obvious reality is muddled by airdropping several myths into the discourse none of which can bear the weight of evidence....

Language/Meaning / 04.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf Khaled Ahmed has made a perfectly rational critique of the Single National Curriculum (Obsession with Uniformity, Newsweek Pakistan, September 9, 2020) but then taken a surprising stance on the varying rationality of different languages. I have great respect for the erudition of Khaled Ahmed so I wish to engage him by pushing back in order to come to a better understanding of his position. But first, let me reiterate Khalid Ahmed’s critique of the SNC with which I agree completely. The entire premise of the SNC is flawed: “perceptual differences” are the cause of “conflict in society” and these perceptual differences are outcomes of the different types of schools in the country. The SNC will lead to “uniformity of thinking” and this would yield a “stable society.” This confuses the symptoms with the disease. The different types of schools were not created by God but...