Monday, August 1, 2016


Effective education and even handed justice are both crucial.
 To be just and effective a law, bill or ordinance must be accompanied by effective implementation, always presuming that the law itself is well drafted which it not always is, as for example in the case of the Qisas and Diyat ordinance (remember the Raymond Davis case). Poorly implemented, ill drafted laws reduce justice to crime and inappropriate punishment. It is the same with education which if unsupported by effective teaching and well written and attractively presented books produces little more than basic literacy. This is the case with Pakistan’s government schools and many private schools.
In any case laws can only go so far. Laws against honour killings, against violence, gender discrimination and sectarianism are little more than deterrent, some less effective at deterring than others. It is impossible to disagree with the argument that genuine change comes with education because education effects the way people think. And yet education in Pakistan is so lacking in tools, trained teachers, books and curricula.
As a new recruit to teaching young underprivileged girls spoken English I tried to introduce my students to alien environments using simple English books, explaining them as I went along. Harry Potter took a lot of work and is not worth the effort if time is limited. There was little interest in the story itself, and only in some of the events; I learnt more about my students during the exercise than the students did about the Potter world. The concept of a headmaster and teacher being involved in a child’s life was alien but the idea of an ill-treated orphan sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs was not. Hogwarts was of interest. ‘That’s a school!’ the girls exclaimed. And ‘Such a large building!’ when I showed them pictures.  The concept of a boarding school was novel until one girl waved her hand dismissively. ‘Like a madressah,’ she said, and well yes, madressahs often include boarders, although it’s hard to imagine Hermione in a madressah where Snape would fit right in.
Used as they are to religious stories and little else even in their English curriculum our children do not lack imagination but are unused to using the faculty. They also lack the experiences in their daily lives to make the exercise easier.
Literature for all children but particularly disadvantaged children must take this and several other factors into account. If no effort is made in this respect there is nothing but the existing prosaic moralising texts to fall back upon, with the attitudes that accrue from them.
A writer involved in producing books for children spoke about writing a story in which the characters were animals that spoke to each other. The board appointed to evaluate her manuscript rejected it saying that she was teaching the children lies, because ‘animals do not talk!’ These are the attitudes that accrue from dull moralising texts.
Children need stories that interest them, stories they can relate to. If writers are restricted by people who lack imagination and are hemmed in by taboos they are left with nothing but prosaic moralising, although organisations like the Oxford University Press are producing some wonderful material. This is not the material used by government schools however.
Pakistan is host to many issues as most countries are. We are plagued by sectarianism, intolerance, bigotry, gender discrimination, yet our teaching, based on rote does not encourage enquiry and debate. With some thought each of these issues can be addressed.
In the US following the assassination of Martin Luther King a primary school teacher at an all-white school located in an all-white neighbourhood initiated a school exercise with her third grade students. She divided the class into two groups, one composed of blue eyed kids, the other of brown eyed kids. One day one group was given privileges the other was deprived of. The other day the groups were reversed along with the privileges, simulating a situation created when one race considers itself superior and possesses privileges other races do not. The experiment led to tears in some cases but in almost all the children learnt a lesson about racism by experiencing it firsthand. The adults interviewed years later described how these lessons about racism learnt in childhood had stayed with them all their lives, and how because of that experiment they were able to empathise with those who suffered racism.
In such ways each of those issues mentioned above can be tackled, doggedly, systematically, a zarb-e-azb against ignorance and regressive mentality. Justice and transparency are being denied to the people of Pakistan, the police resists registering FIRs, murderers are able to buy their freedom, the Hudood ordinance requires four eye-witnesses to rape although not everyone is raped in the middle of the street. Qandeel’s father by registering an FIR himself citing his sons as his daughter’s murderers on the report perhaps intended to pardon them later. Who knows? The laws are there to support him. The police often does not take cognisance of cases that have no complainants (where is the State in such cases?), the Capital Gains Tax will not as of now be applicable to property sold by members of the armed force (why?? Are they not citizens of Pakistan?), and not mentioned yet is the ill-conceived Cybercrime bill which gives the State (a State that does not use the powers it already has when it should) further powers it should not have.
In just such a way a decent education is being denied to the people of Pakistan. That education must be forced out of the State and system, as when an FIR was determinedly lodged against Senator Hamdullah for abusing Mervi Sermid, as when the State became the Complainant against Qandeel’s murder, to prevent her family from pardoning her murderers.
The education we possess at present is so startlingly backward, irrelevant and inadequate, and so hostile to women that the Hermiones of Pakistan have a hard time surviving in normal schools much less madressahs and many of them end up dead, victims of that so called ‘honour’ that Pakistan appears to possess and lovingly nurture by means of its education and laws together.

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