Education / 15.06.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, In my last letter, I had spelled out the way a child learns his or her first language so well at home before even getting to school. This process needed to be articulated because, while it is so obvious, it does not get the attention it deserves as it takes place on its own without any need for experienced teachers. For the same reason, because it is so successful, it should serve as the model for how new languages should be taught at school. You would recall that the four essential stages in this learning process are LISTENING, SPEAKING, READING, and WRITING. Equally importantly, they must be IN THAT ORDER. For home languages, this order is imposed by nature -- a child does not begin to speak till at least six months of age and is immersed in listening to sounds of the...

Education / 05.06.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, With regard to the teaching and learning of English in Pakistan, I have been making six points: First, that as long as the present socioeconomic system in Pakistan remains unchanged, the learning of English is a necessity for those who aspire to higher education and certain types of jobs in the public and private sectors. Whether the system needs to change so that brilliant students who are not adept at English are not penalized is a separate question that I will address in a subsequent letter. For the moment, keep in mind that that is also an alternative which exists in countries like China, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, and Iran, all of which are more advanced and more prosperous than Pakistan. Don’t be fooled by the argument that we will be left behind if we do not learn English -- the truth is...

Education / 17.05.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, We are dealing now with what is perhaps the trickiest issue in early childhood education in Pakistan, one which probably has the most impact on what a child learns at school. It is the place of the English language in school education. You need to pay special attention to this because the responsibility for what exists is laid squarely on the shoulders of parents. All questioning is countered with: What can anyone do when this is what parents want? Even those who concede that the way English is being used is not good for learning shrug their shoulders and pass the blame on to parents. Let us look at this argument in several different ways. First, parents want a lot of things. They want clean water, safe sanitation, less pollution, better public transport, more accessible health care, cheaper and more reliable electricity, reasonably...

Education / 09.05.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, I have been arguing that you need to watch out for the interest of your child because, unfortunately, no one else is doing so. No one else cares whether the education your child is getting is good or bad and whether you are getting a fair return on the money you are investing in your child and paying out to schools as fee or to private individuals as extra tuition to make up for what is being taught badly or not being taught in school at all.  You should be asking yourselves this question: Why do you need to pay extra for private tuition when this was not the case in the past? Isn’t it a sign that schools are doing a poor job of teaching? This is the second aspect I have tried to bring to your attention -- that you have...

Education / 06.05.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, I have been trying to convince you that you need to pay attention to the quality of the education your child is receiving in return for the money you are paying for it. I have also alerted you to the fact that, based on all available evidence, one can make a strong claim that the general quality of education being provided to children in Pakistan is quite poor. In this connection, I had mentioned in my last letter that there were some things that are being done completely wrong in our method of education and unless they were identified and corrected no improvement in inputs like the quality of teachers and textbooks is going to make a significant difference. In this letter, I will start with one thing I believe is completely wrong and that is the LANGUAGE in which a child begins to...

Education / 23.04.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, So far, I have made the two following points: Education is like any other commodity that you buy for your child by paying money for it. It is up to you to find out if the quality of the education you are buying is good or bad. The future of your child, and collectively of the country, depends on the care parents exercise in this choice. In general, the quality of education being provided is poor and below an acceptable level. The evidence for this is the huge learning gap -- students in grade 5 knowing only what a child in grade 2 should know. Add to this the very high number of children who are not even in school, and this amounts to a national crisis that no one is paying attention to -- not parents, not teachers, and not governments....

Education / 08.04.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, I am writing directly to you because you care about your child more than anyone else. You, more than anyone else, want your child to be successful in life which his why you invest a lot of your hard-earned income in his or her education, not just in school but in private tuition as well. You invest this money in your child’s education because you believe that for the majority of people a good education provides the best chance for success and upward mobility, for your child to have a better life than you have had. If you did not believe this you would have apprenticed your child to a tailor or a mechanic to learn a trade which would not only guarantee a steady income for life but also add to the households income during training. Real money would be coming into...

Education / 19.10.2010

By Anjum Altaf and Samia Altaf This op-ed appeared in Dawn, Karachi, on October 18, 2010. It is being reproduced here with permission of the authors in order to provide a forum for feedback, comments, and discussion. Parallels with other countries in South Asia would be particularly welcome. Pakistan’s public education system is sick and getting sicker. But what exactly is the malady? We employ this medical perspective to highlight the issues and to propose for consideration a radical yet feasible path to recovery. The health care perspective comprises three essential steps: a description of the problem; a diagnosis of the cause; and a prescription of the remedy. In the case of public education in Pakistan there has been no diagnosis, only descriptions and prescriptions.No wonder the health of the system has continued to deteriorate despite the numerous policy prescriptions over the years. The problem is that by now...

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?