A is for Allah, B is for Budget

PMLN has been trying to pull the wool over the country’s eyes in Balochistan by claiming that the education budget has been raised. In basic terms this is not an incorrect statement because the amount of funds has been increased. However as education watchdog Alif Ailaan pointed out, this is only trying to hide the fact that education funding as a percentage of the budget actually decreased since last year.

Students in Balochistan may still be better off than students in KP, however, as that province is handing over hundreds of millions from the budget to Maulana Samiul Haq’s extremist madrassah that has been termed as ‘University of Jihad‘.

Even for those who do not attend madrassah, though, the lines are being blurred. Government is working on a new plan to turn students into parrots as whole of education system will be dedicated to memorising Quran in Arabic. The new proposal would make Quranic education mandatory for all schools.

Already Pakistan has sunk to the bottom of global education rankings, scoring only 9.2 points out of 100 in a recent survey compared to India who scored 60.9. The whole country is suffering from negative effects of religious extremism, and still government is giving hundreds of millions to extremist seminaries. How can we expect anything to improve if we continue to follow the failed policies of the past?

There is no shortage of religious instruction in this country. What is missing is critical thinking. Teaching students how to think will not only improve our education rankings in the world, it will also help to counter extremism and sectarianism because people will not be so easily fooled.

Education Has Become a National Security Crisis

classroomEducation is important, not just so that a child can learn to read and write, but so that a nation can prosper. Researchers with the United Nations found that “each additional year of education boosts a person’s income by 10 per cent and increases a country’s GDP by 18 per cent”. This should make education a central part of national policy in Pakistan where economic growth has lagged for decades despite the country being located in one of the fastest growing economic regions of the world. Actually, Pakistan is second from last in economic growth in the region. The only country worse is Afghanistan, which has been a war zone since more than 10 years.

South Asia Economic Growth 2015If we are lagging in economic growth, and education is a proven way of boosting economic growth, what is our current education policy? Once again, we are almost at the bottom. Not only of the region, but of the entire world.

Pakistan has the second highest concentration of out-of-school children in the world after Nigeria

Some efforts are being made to improve things. Punjab government has successfully enrolled in school 18,622 children from brick kilns. However, it is a drop in the ocean of the problem. 360 schools were destroyed in Fata this year. And while 18,622 children have been enrolled in school in Punjab, 1.6 million children are out of school in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s education emergency is not new, but it is not improving and it is pushing us towards economic disaster for coming generations. Education is a matter of uplifting the poor and improving girls empowerment, but treating this emergency as such has been a failure till date. We need to treat the dire education emergency for what it is: a national security crisis.

Why Varsity Students Are Vulnerable to Extremism and How To Change It

Saad AzizSaad Aziz is an unlikely poster boy for terrorism. The son of a good family, educated at some of the nation’s top schools, Aziz appeared to be everything that any parent would want for their child. Inside, though, a terrible storm was building. How did this promising young man turn into a monster? This is a question that must be dealt with because, as is finally coming to light, Aziz is not the only well-educated jihadi in our midst. We look for answers to this question not out of mere curiosity, but in hopes of finding a cure for the disease. Thankfully, it might be easier than we think.

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Should we ban anti-Pakistan ideas? Or debate them?

classroom

When I was a boy, I was would hide outside the door and listen when chacha would visit and he and my father would spend hours discussing and debating politics late into the night. Chacha was a diehard Jamaati, and my father was an unapologetic socialist. It was always interesting to me to listen as the paths of their opinions and beliefs would easily come together and then just as easily part ways. It was like a dance of ideas taking place to the tune of life and society. One afternoon, I tried to impress my father by telling him about something I had heard Qazi Hussain Ahmad say and how it was obviously nonsense. To my surprise, my father took a stern look in his eye and asked me to explain myself. I repeated again what I had said before. For the next half hour my father grilled me with questions, all defending the Jamaati Amir’s position. I felt confused and on the point of tears when my father finally dismissed me.

Later that night, he called me in where he and my uncle were talking. “Beta,” he said, “have you thought any more about our discussion earlier?” I looked down at my feet and told him that I didn’t know what to think, that I thought he would have agreed with me. I could feel the men looking at me and I was burning with embarrassment. My father put his hand on my shoulder and said, “What I think is not the point. You put forth an opinion that wasn’t really yours. Even if you think you believe it, it will always belong to someone else until you understand not only why you believe it, but why someone else might not. Only then will you have fully embraced the idea, and only then it will be yours.” My uncle smiled and said, “Your father and I enjoy these talks so much not because we have any hope of converting the other. I gave up on talking any sense into him years ago.” My father laughed. “The point is we loved these debates because it is through debate that we understand each other’s point of view, and it makes us think more about what we believe and why.”

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Sacrificing reason on the altar of ideology

Censored textbook

Imran Khan says education is key to the success of the country. At first glance, this sounds like an intelligent (if obvious) statement. Let’s look at the PTI chief’s comment in more detail, though. Here is what he said:

He said that the country was suffering from two parallel education systems, adding that if he comes into power, the PTI government would introduce a uniform education system across the country. He said that education was the backbone of any developed society, but in Pakistan, the government never gave importance to the most important issue.

To understand what this means in a practical sense, we can look at what education system the PTI has introduced in KPK where it is already in power.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led (PTI) government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has agreed to revisions in the curriculum for government schools here – including the removal of pictures of schoolgirls with their heads uncovered – for the new academic session commencing April 1, 2015.

The PTI’s coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) raised objections over the curriculum which was approved in 2006. The JI said Islamic chapters had been removed in 2006 syllabus; the party also wanted secular chapters removed from the textbooks. The religious party asked for the removal of “objectionable” materials and the addition of 18 Quranic verses to grade 9 Chemistry book…verses on jihad were removed from the ninth-grade Islamiat textbook and added to the grade 11 course.

According to Directorate of Curricula and Teacher Education (DCTE) Director Bashir Hussain Shah, the provincial government has accepted all of JI’s demands.

This is a glimpse of the education system that Imran Khan promises to make uniform across whole of Pakistan – one that is founded not in facts and reason, but in ideology.

Actually, this system is becoming uniform already – the PTI just wants to speed up the process. Even without the guiding hand of PTI, Karachi University recently banned Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, from attending a conference because of his views on 1971. Dr Imtiaz Ahmed got off easy. Dead of Islamic Studies at University of Karachi Mohammad Shakil Auj was murdered in the street for promoting a liberal interpretation of Islam.

LUMS administrators were cowardly in a different way when they allowed Pervez Hoodbhoy’s contract to expire with no explanation given. They may have felt that this would allow them to do the deed while denying the reason, but the message was heard loud and clear by anyone paying the least bit of attention.

In Islamabad, a dean and students advisor were sacked after it was discovered that a Model UN programme included information about Israel. It should be noted that Israel is a member state of the UN. Or was IIUI modeling the UN of its dreams instead of the UN of the real world? Either way, how can students be expected to succeed in the real world when their education is based on a fantasy one?

Most reports on education crisis in Pakistan focus on abysmal enrollment numbers. However even full enrollment of every child in the country will not provide an educated population if our education system is one that sacrifices reason on the altar of ideology.