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Friday, November 19, 2010

The Miseducation Of Pakistan

The Miseducation of Pakistan

Fits of the state have ill served our schools.

By Sabiha Mansoor | From the Nov. 22 & 29, 2010, issue  

Marwan Naamani / AFP
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani agrees that the state seizure of schools by his party's government in 1972 was wrong. "We cannot move forward without [first] admitting our mistake," he said of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's nationalization drive. This is a welcome acknowledgement, but is there finally going to be any moving forward?
In the early days of Pakistan, most schools were either run privately or by local governments. But the state has always controlled the national curriculum. Every state tries to mold public opinion and attitudes to suit its agenda. Pakistan is no different. With varying degrees of devotion, the dissemination of ideology has been part of every national education policy since the first policy conference was held in 1947. It is this aspect of Pakistani education that has become the real challenge to our state and society.
In 1962, Pakistan's first military ruler, Gen. Ayub Khan, began centralization of control making it easier for the state under successive regimes to indoctrinate the unsuspecting. When he came to power, the populist Bhutto nationalized schools, colleges, and universities in keeping with the radical, socialist spirit of his Pakistan Peoples Party.
Bhutto had an ambitious education reforms plan. Quick nationalization would show he meant business. Between 1972 and 1974, some 3,000 schools and 175 colleges, including those run by Christian missionaries, were taken over by the state. His avowed intentions were noble: nationalization was supposed to improve access to quality education at subsidized fees or for free. But this was also a political project: staffing decisions and administrative mechanisms turned on constituency considerations; and powerful students' and teachers' unions could be co-opted and deployed to great effect in the streets, if the need ever arose. Fresh from losing East Pakistan to independence, Bhutto also introduced war studies as a high school subject.
Large bureaucracies resist change and are difficult to reform. Bhutto's nationalization of schools created a bureaucratic behemoth. The lumbering giant grew larger and presented more opportunities for corruption in the decades that followed. Today, Pakistan has one of the highest public sector nonteaching-to-teaching staff ratios in the world. State control also meant that the character of schools would change with the character of the regime in power.
After Bhutto was overthrown and hanged on trumped up charges by his Army chief, these institutions went into overdrive spewing out hate material and outrageously revisionist accounts of history. The pro-Islamist Gen. Zia-ul-Haq wanted students to know that India was the enemy. He also wanted to make better Muslims of all of Pakistan's students. Briefly during the Haq years, Arabic was introduced as a compulsory language in schools in a bid to rewrite our South Asian heritage as a purely Middle Eastern one.
But strongman Haq also allowed the private sector back into education, and encouraged investment in the sector. He was probably less concerned about state-run educational institutions having been transformed into fortresses of mediocrity, and seats of hatred, intolerance, and fanaticism than with sharing the burden. In 1968, the private sector enrolled 42 percent and 55 percent of secondary and intermediate students, respectively. With a much heavier post-nationalization burden, the state struggled to prevent schooling standards from plummeting.
All governments since Haq's have promoted private sector participation in education. In 2003, the last military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, even denationalized institutions like Lahore's Kinnaird College for Women and the Forman Christian College. Private sector enrollment is back up to over a third of the total. The World Bank's 2009 study on Pakistani education found that students in the private sector were doing better on tests, and that the schools were enrolling more students because competition had driven down tuition fees.
As Pakistan experiments with public-private partnerships and encourages investment, the balance between the public and private sectors seems to be recovering. A recent report by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., confirms that the Pakistani state lacks the capacity to provide universal education, and understood this soon after Bhutto. Nationalization was a mistake. What needs to change now is what we teach.
Mansoor is a dean at the Beaconhouse National University and a former fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Contrary Evidence - Pervez Hoodbhoy

A very well-written and eye-opening piece on secularism as an option for Pakistan. The author has mentioned facts that have widely been concealed from the public and hence require a must read. he even mentions how the thocratic regime in Israel is heading towards disaster.

Contrary evidence
Though some Muslim scholars see no contradiction between secularism and Islam, a secular state is possible only if there are enough thoughtful people who can make it happen
By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Decades from now Pakistan will cease to discriminate between citizens of different religious faiths; its public schools will not poison young minds with hatred; Pakistanis will look for human qualities rather than an individuals' religious affiliation; and the life and property of all citizens will be considered equally valuable. The concept of "minorities" shall have become irrelevant.
Today these appear to be impossible dreams. Indeed, most Pakistanis are demanding an ever greater role for religion in public life. Even as faith-based extremist movements disrupt society, the cry gets louder. For example, sharia-seeking Taliban had blown up hundreds of girls and boys schools in 2008. Although many found this distasteful, a survey, conducted at that time by World Public Opinion.org, discovered that 54 percent of Pakistanis still wanted strict application of sharia while 25 percent wanted it in some more dilute form. Totaling 79 percent, this was the largest pro-sharia percentage in the four countries surveyed (Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia).
More recently, a nationwide survey of 2,000 young Pakistanis between 18-27 years of age found similar data. The report says that "three-quarters of all young people identify themselves primarily as Muslims. Just 14 percent chose to define themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan." This young majority feels the nation is adrift. An overwhelming number are deeply disillusioned not just by Pakistan's present rulers, but also by what they see as major failures in governance, justice, education and science. Educated in a system which General Zia-ul-Haq had put in place, religion is a firm anchor for the clueless youth lost in a sea of distress.
But states that take religion too seriously, and which inject their young with too much of it, can be in deep danger. Attempts to make Pakistan a mamlikat-e-khudadad (theocracy) have lighted uncontrollable fires of religious intolerance. Today increasing sections of Pakistan's population are alienated and resentful at being treated as second class citizens. Earlier on, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis were outcasts. Ahmadis followed in 1974. These groups withdrew from public life or migrated overseas, taking with them precious human and non-human resources.
But the list of undesirables expanded further and further as religious belief became more central to the Pakistani state. Many mainstream Muslims now fear other mainstream Muslims. Today, if you are known to be Shia or Barelvi, you could be endangered in many parts of the country. Pakistani Muslims now offer Friday prayers under the shadow of vigilant gun-wielding guards.
Having targeted mosques, frenzied shrine-bombers are now concentrating on holy Muslim sites across Pakistan. Scattered body limbs and pools of blood at Data Darbar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, and the Pakpattan shrine testify to a religiosity gone mad. Although various extremist groups operating under the Taliban umbrella have accepted responsibility for the attacks, many Pakistanis still choose to believe that this is the work of outsiders. Public discussion is non-existent. Television anchors, who raucously challenge the government on trivia, are silent on this tabooed subject.
Even men like Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman and Imran Khan feel unsafe from extremists, although they pretend otherwise. In spite of having declared the Taliban to be fighters for national liberation, none dared to enter Sufi Mohammed's Swat while he was in control. In a televised interview, the Sufi had flatly declared Pakistan's Islamic parties as non-Islamic.
But even as Pakistan's political and religious leaders choose to deceive themselves and the public, history grimly reminds us of times when faith was allowed to run states. Look at the wars of religion in Europe, many of which came from arcane disputes over the "true interpretation" of the Bible. Hangings, murders, and pogroms were caused by disagreements over whether Christ was resurrected in spirit or form, the virgin birth versus the immaculate conception, and a myriad other point-splitting disputes.
In medieval Europe, howling mobs were easily moved into action by fiery preachers -- a phenomenon that Pakistanis hearing Friday khutbas can easily understand. Driven by doctrinal differences, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Baptists freely slaughtered each other for many centuries. In the 16th century, the Thirty-Year War between Catholic Germany and Lutherans (principally in France) left Europe awash in blood. The population of Germany was nearly halved in this period -- and this was in times when weapons of war were relatively primitive!
The peace process began with secularism, which made its debut through the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. Without it, religious wars would have consumed European societies and states. Yet, one notes that the founders of modern secularism were religious men who did not think that secularism was a threat to religion. As George Jacob Holyoake put it in 1648, "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
A similar argument is possible from an Islamic point of view. Some Muslim scholars see no contradiction between secularism and Islam. They point out that the Holy Qu'ran does not mention the state (dawlah) anywhere. Although the Holy Prophet (PBUH) created the Medina state, there was no written law, much less a constitution. There was no taxation system, police or army, or mechanisms for providing amenities or education. Each tribe followed its own customs and traditions. Lacking a Qu'ranic basis for the state, Muslim rulers in later centuries would freely invent laws to suit their needs but which they would claim to be immutable truths. The clergy was pressed into service for this end.
Shall we not learn from the past? That theocracy is a dead end? Any serious move in the direction of a sharia state in Pakistan could lead to civil war. This is not a temporary difficulty but a fundamental one. Since there is no Pope in Islam, there is just no way of answering which sharia is the right one. Hanafi, Shafii, Maaliki, Hanbali? Will all, or most, Pakistanis ever accept any amir-ul-momineen (leader of the pious) or a caliph? What of the Shias, who reject the very notion of a caliphate? For those who say unity is possible, here is a simple challenge: get one religious leader from each of Pakistan's Islamic sects. Let them sit around a table and see if they agree on any significant matter related to governance, taxes, penal code, banking, or economy.
Looking ahead: even devoutly religious people can accept that genuine faith flourishes when individuals are free to choose, without having religion imposed upon them by their government. Surely, the church, mosque, synagogue and temple all inform humans in some way. But peace and progress lie in giving Reason the stewardship in matters of science, technology, economics, commerce, trade, industry, finance, public affairs, warfare, education, research, public discourse and debate, arts and literature. Laws (personal, family, civil, corporate, criminal, international) and social ethics (including sexual ethics and morality) must be made by humans for humans. The rightful domain of religion is in personal conduct, beliefs, worship and conscience.
Pakistan's chest thumping ultra-patriots must listen closely. The country has fallen far behind India and is high on the list of the world's failing states. It is futile to search for tiny bits of contrary evidence, such as the increasing number of mobile phone users in the country. Except for atomic bombs -- which even a wretched North Korea has succeeded in making -- Pakistan's achievements are few. This failure owes squarely to a skewed world view and wrong attitudes towards progress, ethics and morality. Even though the clergy are not formally in power, they actually run much of the show and are largely responsible for mis-educating the Pakistani mind. The longer they remain unchallenged, the more protracted our suffering.
While I am optimistic in the long run, the victory of secularism in Pakistan is assured only if there are enough thoughtful people who can make it happen. There is little danger of a religiously fractionated society like Pakistan becoming a hardline theocracy. But the clergy could continue to rule in religiously delineated communities. To the extent that this happens, our people will continue to remain scientifically and culturally backward, wallow in self-pity and drown in conspiracy theories, and have only one message for the outside world: give more.
Reason says we should follow successful states. But history has no example of a successful sovereign religious state, much less one in modern times. While Israel appears to be an exception -- and is secretly envied by many Pakistanis -- this success is likely to be temporary. Israel is deeply dependent upon the largesse of its patron, the United States. It also has fast-breeding, ultra-conservative Sephardic Jews who yearn for a Jewish state and want to forcibly impose their antiquated laws. They could soon overtake modernised and secular Ashkenazi Jews, forcing Israel into primitivism. Surely, it would be unwise to take this racist, religious state as our model.

The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Art Of Being A Loser

I'm exhausted. Not because I have trekked a lofty mountain to have a silent solitary place to write this piece and neither am I a married man with five noisy kids & a fat wife who stinks of fried onion. I'm just tired of a task so common its become a habit for all of us, a common routine, a social phenomenon.
Walking in a newly built, urban and stylish mall you might come across a teenager trying on a pair of jeans and his friend exclaiming “Yo man, that’s cool!” Or you might see a girl tuned to her I-pod listening to a metal-band without the slightest clue what it’s all about. Or the worst case scenario you see someone posing for a photograph with giant shades, one arm neatly folded against the belly with the palm supporting the other arm’s elbow, face held between the thumb and the index finger.
These common acts of idiocy, seemingly benign, speak volumes about our behavior as individuals and social animals. Admit it fellows. No matter how educated our race becomes, originality will still remain an illusion.
Our English teachers used to emphasize upon the importance of building up our vocabulary. Why? It will give us a chance to express ourselves more accurately, more precisely, more factually, more appropriately, more spot-on. See, that’s one advantage of having a good vocabulary. But who has time for such unnecessary complications when easy shortcuts are available. And hence kicking aside the old –school grammarians, some new easy-to-use words for all occasions were coined that went across the board and slapped the teachers and the other wannabe sophisticated population across the cheek(read: butt). Every good thing or having attributes please-worthy to the person became “cool”. And from there onwards, just like the Ice-agers had run after fire, the Barbarians after blood, the 1st BC onward-ers after metals and the Medievalists after land; the 21st century people decided to follow a quest for glory like none before had followed. It was the quest to be “cool”! And if you are not cool enough for the 21st century’s superficial standards, you’ll get the worst possible punishment. The punishment being so harsh and socially demeaning that many of its affectees will go jump from the tallest building in the locale (that’s Ayub for Abbottabad) while the rest will take an over-dose of Panadol-Extra or Brufen (for these are the only medicines they know) and get killed by the careless hospital staff. The punishment being: the poor soul will be termed as a “loser”!
Did I just hear someone say “duh”? If yes then you are indeed spot-on my dear. It’s a major wtf-ing moment for us all. Let’s just sit for a while and reflect upon our own selves now and let’s try to bring a more elaborate meaning to the term loser.
Is a carpenter’s son - who lives in a two bedroom house, doesn’t know what a PSP or Avatar is, speaks Hindko, listens to those “sajjan meray sajjan” type songs and recently got into a good university because he did have some brains afterall – a loser or the one with a rich dad – who drives the latest car in town, has a muscular body complete with a six-pack, wears the most stylish shades and t-shirts, has a girlfriend too, doing business from a C-grade private university so that he can sit in a comfy chair at his tycoon-of-a-dad’s one day- a loser?
Yay! The unanimous answer is the carpenter’s son. His name is Shamrez. Ew! What a paindoo name! He wears shalwar kameez. Eww! That’s so uncool. He listens to those Hindko songs. Cheapo! And guess what. His dad is a carpenter. Aww! I feel bad for that loser now.
Driven by the overtly consuming materialism around us and in a constant desire to be one of the glitzy & glamorous, we ignore someone really close to us who constantly screams for freedom and a chance for self-expression. That someone is “our self”. We forget to be ourselves; we are either that guy on the TV who wears black, does his hair in a gel-back style & talks in the “Yo” format i.e. “hey yo. Waddup” or we are the girl from the house next door who listens to Pink Floyd, drives a Civic, shops at Bareeze and sports an I-phone.
From driving while reclining on the seat & only one hand at the steering to mimicking Munna Bhai’s accent at college; from doing hi-fives and punching your friends backs because the coolest gang at your previous school did so to wanting to have a love-affair because that’s what happened in the latest Bollywood flick; from wheeling on bikes with torn jeans and chains dangling from necks to playing Akon’s “I wanna love you” on full volume to show off the car’s new woofer speakers in a busy market. Our lives are loaded with people whom the young and hip part of our society call “cool”.
And that’s why I was tired. I was tired of being cool all day long. My cool muscles need a rest & my cool hair need to be washed with my cool shampoo because my cool gel is all dry and flaky now. If a person has been brought up in an elitist environment then this behavior is understandable. But how do you explain the behavior of a normal middle-class family person who dresses up in those skin-tight bright-red clothes, talks in the “yo” accent, constantly bombards you with the latest news about his favorite actors and finishes it all off by telling you that he has “trapped” a new girlfriend and left the old one for she was boring? Wow! I’m impressed!
And that my ladies and gentlemen is the diary of a true and bonafide loser i.e. the guy who wants to be cool. Let’s hear it for these paradoxical winners because no matter how cool they seem to the eye, they are losers indeed.
Who says being a loser is an easy job?

Someone spank our butts please!

A brief visit to GoogleTrends exposes the sardonic truth that has long been shunned and denied by our “Islamic” society. Voila! The word “sexy” is most searched in the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan. But do not be ashamed. Our spiritually beloved Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and the extremely wannabe-liberal India are also in the top 5.
So what does this mocking fact teach us? That morality and religious piety have failed to cordon and stop the apparently magnanimous lustful appetite of our population. And at a time when we, calling ourselves the citadels of Islamic values and ethos, shirk and seethe at the merest mentions of anything related to the very natural process of sex; the progressive and forward-looking minds of the world (including Iran) are busy devising new policies and methodologies of imparting an education to the masses, that seems like a cry in the wilderness for our country, that is sex-education.
The need:
When renowned sexologist Wilhelm Reich said “All worries and troubles arise from unsatisfied sexual impulses”, he was undeniably correct. Why does a 7th grade student quickly jump to the Reproduction chapter soon after buying his first science book? (Only to be left dejected and confused for we only teach the frog’s version)
Children below 11 and 12 seldom show interest in any “dirty” activity. At the onset of puberty, where the body undergoes very obvious and discomforting physical changes, the mind also takes a sexual turn. That’s not perversion or religious transgression. Its normal hormonal biochemistry! However, unfortunately enough, for all those queries arising in a naive mind there is no suitable person to elucidate except for that part-and-parcel-of-our-culture XYZ bhai in the street who has quite a reputation for being sleazy, whose usual explanations come with the aid of cheap pornography.  
A major chunk of our youth has seen, and is seeing, porn; a fact very well put on display on the GoogleTrends. The reason in the beginning is always curiosity. Then why not give a proper channel to these very normal and natural feelings? Why leave our highly talented and energetic youth at the mercy of pornography, pedophiles and sordid rogues? If, keeping mum when a child asks his parents what happens after marriage or hurriedly changing the Greenstar commercials, is called modesty; then what is having one of the highest porn viewership rates in the world called? Qiyamat Ki Nishaani?
The myth:
The first myth: England is a very “modern” country; modern implying female soldiers and a highly liberal social setup among others. The reality: Neither does the British government allow women to take part in direct-combat roles in the military, nor do they allow topics like sex to be discussed publicly or even educationally. The result: Britain has the highest unlawful teenage pregnancy rate in Europe.
The second myth: Telling children about sex corrupts their minds and makes them more prone to getting trapped into social-evils. The reality: A). we are not “telling” them about sex; a seventh grade student won’t understand much about the anatomy of the human genitalia and the complicated hormonal activity involved anyways, neither does sex-education mean engaging a student in sleazy talk. Education is always age-appropriate and details are only revealed according to the mental development and the need of the student. B). when a nation is consciously and proudly labeled conservative; considers sexual talk, feelings & behavior highly illegal and immoral and simultaneously it exposes itself to an extremely obsessed with lust-and-love media with a shameless neglect; and the results are reaped in the form of colossal proportions of child abuse, illegal abortions, domestic violence, homosexuality, pornography and sexually transmitted diseases; does the proud and priestly talk of minds being corrupted remain even valid? Education is a power; it’s a means of familiarizing the minds and equipping them with the muscle to make the right decision.  We have lost too many a people to wars and terrorism; we don’t want to lose more to the ravaging jaws of the present day media and the ever corrupt society.
The third, and the funniest, myth: Pakistan is an Islamic country hence sex-education is prohibited. Firstly, Islam doesn’t ban sex-education; many Ahadith and Quranic Ayaat are about sex themselves. Secondly; calling Pakistan an Islamic country should definitely be the joke of the millennium. Only one fact of 80% homes having domestic violence is proof enough to refute this argument! If the Muslim society of our country has no qualms about women being burnt to death for that extra spoon of salt that they put in the food then they should at least have the shame not to drag religion into education either.
The reach:
The Government of Iran has made it mandatory for all to-be-married couples to undergo a Pre-marital sex-education course. Many researchers claim that the Iranian sex-education is “better and more extensive” than its American counterpart. Where the US has adopted a more abstinence-only approach towards sex education, the Iranian system provides counseling on all issues of reproductive health, birth control and even satisfaction (gasp!). All social evils related to marriage like extra-marital affairs, divorces and unhappy marital lives can be successfully tackled through this means. Consider what benefits our society will obtain if marital problems are dealt with before they even start to appear.
Japan has made sex-education compulsory for all children aged 10-11. Consequentially never will one find Japan’s name in Google trends porn directory.
Let’s face the reality. Neither does Pakistan have a country-wide co-education system nor will you see women in bikinis parading in our streets. Despite all the social inhibitions, pre-marital sex is rampant and automatically so are illegal abortions. Without finding a doctor who is willing to abort the child, many young girls fall victim to greedy midwives or choose to abort the baby themselves by injecting poisons in their bellies or pushing probes into their uteri. Many of them end up dead. Those who shockingly survive have their future lives destroyed once their husbands find out the secret on the nuptial night.  And then comes the bitter old saga of a modern day slavery replete with violence. All because of our incapacity and myopia to consider and educate our youth about a process we all desire behind closed doors.
Our country is third-world. People die daily of tuberculosis, malaria and countless other simple diseases. Moreover, evils like homosexuality and unlawful sex are on the rise ever since our media opened its doors to inspirations from Hollywood and Bollywood and their undying obsession with sex. STDs are high-risk diseases. Syphilis and gonorrhea, the commonest of STDs in Pakistan, start invading the nervous system if not treated within a stipulated time-period. Are we, a nation with hospitals already understaffed and overloaded with patients in critical conditions, ready to sustain a subsequent rise in patients suffering from sexually transmitted diseases?
The backlash:
A widespread frenzy came into play once media reported a certain school in Karachi apparently carrying out sex-education. The reality was that students of class 8th were being taught reproduction in a Biology lesson from a Cambridge book. The Secretary for Education of Sind had to visit the institute and made the principal seek an apology from the parents and the authorities. The secretary could boldly be heard on television stating to the principal “This is not US, this is not UK, this is Pakistan!”
If this is the reaction of educated individuals, the response from the clergy clan isn’t hard to imagine. Moreover, children walking back from schools with books titled “Reproductive health: Grade 7” and “Essentials of Sexology” won’t be a very pleasant sight for the parents as well. The most important court of law, that is the society, will term it highly immoral and disrespectful; something of the magnitude that is able to quake the very roots of this pseudo-religious culture.
So what is the realistic practicality of sex-education in Pakistan? Should it be considered a dream too far-fetched to be turned into reality? Should it be implemented with full force completely ignoring the wails and sirens emanating from the ignorant mouths of our country men and women? Or should it be imparted but subtly, without being included in the text and curricula, but surely taught age-appropriately in the class? Whatever the answer to these questions may be, the fact remains the same as Will Durant said “No great civilization is conquered unless it has been eaten away from the inside”.