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...

Development / 31.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf Economics is strange, full of odd things that are rarely challenged. It is a bit like religion that one is supposed to accept without asking any questions. When I was studying the subject in college, we were told that there were three factors of production -- land, labour and capital -- of which the first was fixed and the other two were mobile. In simple terms, this meant that while your piece of land stayed where it was your body and your money were not rooted in the same way. Out of college, one got to appreciate the difference between something being mobile and the same thing being freely so. Thus, while labour and capital are technically not fixed to one place, their movement can be restricted in any number of ways. The movement of capital can be constrained by border controls and limits on convertibility....

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...

Analysis / 24.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf Official figures suggest that the pandemic has abated in Pakistan. This is welcome news but we need to be sure. It would be unfortunate either if the verdict is wrong or if real gains are undone through premature relaxation.  I have some misgivings based on observations since the beginning of the epidemic. At the outset I noted the remarkably casual attitude of individuals implementing measures to control the disease with many not following SOPs themselves.  I then tracked the case of a neighbour who tested positive for Covid-19 in a house with eight other residents. No one from the local health authorities called for contact tracing. A few days later the person died in a hospital. Still, no one in the house was traced and tested. I encountered families who let symptomatic elders die at home rather than visit a hospital or be tested preferring a...

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...

Development / 19.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf Now that we have discovered all the “essential” workers who were invisible to us, or to whom we had closed our eyes, what are we going to do? I mean, the people who keep our cities and buildings and homes clean and functional. Is it really alright for them to live the way they have been living all these years -- in some hovel, making barely enough to eat, working Sundays so they can accumulate enough leave to visit every four months, for a week, their parents, wives, and children forsaken in some faraway village? Is it really alright and acceptable to you? Is it mandated by some God on high? I know it before you can say it. We are back in the days of the Roman pantheon and there is a Market God except that now he doesn’t stay atop Mount Olympus but...

Development / 15.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf For the life of me I can’t figure out why Aitchison College students still have to wear those things on their heads. I was reminded of them when a retired teacher shared a chapter of the autobiography he is writing adorning it with the picture of a bevy of boys milling around him all capped in that anachronistic headgear.  Before jumping to conclusions I decided to check with a former student and was educated about the origins of the institution as the Punjab Chiefs’ College in 1886. I was informed that this headgear was part of the proper attire of the Punjab chiefs of the times and it was only natural that their offspring, the future chiefs, would continue the tradition.  That much made sense except that very soon after, the British renamed the college for a wannabe chief of their own, one Mr. Aitchison....

History / 12.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf What, I thought, would be our reaction, those of us living along the heretofore unimaginatively named Avenue 2, if some overenthusiastic brigadier, inspired by our vaunted Prime Minister, were, in the spirit of bravado, to rename it Osama Bin Laden Shaheed Road? It’s bad enough living in the Defence Housing Authority but by now our senses have been numbed to that offense. We are able to call friends and tell them to come to our Defence but to have to direct them to continue straight on Osama Bin Laden Shaheed Road would be a bit much to stomach.  My thoughts on this are informed by the heated debate that erupted in 2015 when Aurangzeb Road in Delhi was renamed Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road. This is what I wrote then about how one might go about such a renaming: “It doesn’t seem right that some minister...