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...

Education, Pakistan, Religion / 02.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf The Single National Curriculum has some very laudable objectives including raising good human beings and promoting inclusiveness and tolerance. It has decided on a methodology to achieve these aims. For the sake of discussion, I am suggesting an alternative to the proposed methodology. The chosen methodology leans heavily on religion as the vehicle for raising good human beings. Muslim children will be introduced to Ahadees, Ayaat and Quaranic injunctions in support of habits that include speaking the truth, respecting one’s elders, being kind to fellow humans and animals; and of beliefs that all citizens have an equal standing in society regardless of religion, ethnicity, language, gender and colour. Muslim children will be learning these good things by memorizing the relevant Ahadees, Ayaat, and Quranic injunctions and will be tested on them. While Muslim children are attending the class on their religion, all non-Muslim students would...

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...