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Category Archives: education

Truck art for education

An initiative that spreads pro-girls’ education slogans via truck art is hoping to change mindsets in Kohistan and around the country

Truck art for education

“It’s an initiative that I am so proud of because the local community has owned it,” says documentary filmmaker and rights activist Samar Minallah who developed the concept of a culturally relevant advocacy initiative through truck art. “The brightly painted trucks are like moving billboards that amplify a message from one part of Pakistan to another. My visit to Kohistan further reinforced my belief in using art and traditional motifs and designs for raising awareness,” says Minallah. Kohistan, according to the Alif Ailaan Pakistan Education District ranking 2015, is the worst performing district educationally in KP.

According to local teachers, children of primary schools of Pattan look forward to attending their newly painted classrooms decorated with bright indigenous symbols from Kohistan.

Using indigenous sensitivities and art in mind, Minallah interviewed local people for their opinion and collected local embroidery motifs created by village women as the preparatory research for the project, to incorporate in the final drawings and paintings. “The aim was to not only raise awareness about the importance of education for girls but also to honour local art and crafts, and develop a sense of ownership for the local community members,” she says. The total number of trucks that have been painted till now with these messages is 30.

“The feedback has been great because indigenous art and tools were used to convince local communities about the importance of education for girls, so it found acceptance and appreciation,” said Dr Ziaur Rehman Faruqi who is Head of Programmes at National Integrated Development Association (NIDA), and is actively involved with the project ‘Girls Right to Education’ in collaboration with UNESCO and both the federal and provincial governments. In the spirit of collaborative efforts, Faruqi shared that they have brought on board not just local leaders and parents but also the religious clergy and the political leadership for what he called a “holistic approach”. “This could not have been achieved otherwise as Kohistan had multiple issues like ghost schools and teachers.”

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School children of Kohistan took part in interactive painting activities .

According to local teachers, children of primary schools of Pattan look forward to attending their newly painted classrooms decorated with bright indigenous symbols from Kohistan, shares Minallah, adding that truck owners from Punjab have reached out to the artists to have their trucks painted with similar images and messages. “One of the local mosque imams asked if his mosque’s name could also be added on the newly painted bridge along with the pro-education empowering messages,” she says. Local people take selfies and photos from their mobile phones in front of these bridges of Sholgara, Dubair and Bisham adorned with important messages such as

Bhai aur behen mil kar school jaain, Zindagi main ilm se roshni jalaain (Both brother and sister should go to school and bring to life the light of knowledge) and Apni aulaad ko taleem ka tohfa daen (Give your children the gift of education).

Atif Khan, Minister for Education, KP, shares how education of girls is now being seen as a priority. “We are especially working on education for girls. Examples are that 70 per cent of all new schools we are working on are schools for girls, and also 70 per cent of the work to provide missing facilities in schools is focused on facilities for girls,” he says. As an incentive, female education managers in backward districts like Kohistan are being paid 50 per cent extra. Lauding the initiative to sensitize communities towards the right of education for girls through truck art, the minister said that traditions don’t change overnight. “Just constructing schools and passing bills is not enough. It is the mindsets that have to be worked on.”

“Work on this project has made me happy. It made the girls and their teachers happy. The classrooms looked beautiful. The girls would join in painting with me,” said Shaukat Khan, the painter who has till now painted these positive messages with colourful drawings on three bridges and eight classrooms in far-flung parts of Kohistan. “Initially the locals resisted. They were even upset. But once they saw the finished work, they began to like the idea. Change is starting to happen,” said Khan. Khan, a father of four daughters and one son, is an artist from Swat, who has made sure his daughters are going to school “because girls must get an education”.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/truck-art-education/#.Wh–5UqWbIU

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Fresh thrust on social sciences and liberal arts

Academics question quality of education and lack of level-playing field for the youth of Pakistan, laying emphasis on the importance of fostering a sensibility for social justice at a conference at Habib University

Fresh thrust on social sciences and liberal arts
Closed doors of narratives that open only for a select few, and educational disciplines that act as isolated bubbles — that is the academia we mostly see. But in a postcolonial world, Pakistan is seeing a fresh thrust on social sciences and the emergence of liberal arts educational institutes. When scholars open their doors to the public and invite them to engage in conversations that problematise and aim to solve issues, you know that there is progress.

Talking of Pakistan’s struggle with education at the core of development, postcolonial higher education is an often ignored part of it. “One of the major demerits of postcolonial education has been that ‘education’ has almost exclusively meant ‘technical education’. In contrast, pre-modern forms of knowledge were very sensitive to the fact that knowledge was an end in itself rather than a means to something else,” said Dr Shahram Azhar, Assistant Professor, Social Development and Policy at the Habib University (HU), Karachi. Recently, HU held its third ‘Postcolonial Higher Education Conference’ highlighting the specific historical and educational challenges of the postcolonial world, under the theme ‘The Inheritance of Injustice’.

The educational system replicates and reproduces the inequality that exists in society, and this is completely unacceptable. A country that does not provide opportunities to its weakest members of society cannot prosper.

Sharing his views with TNS, Azhar added that resultantly, we have ended up with people with a lot of technical expertise but the inability to creatively apply those techniques to our unique social and economic conditions. “We’ve essentially been trying to copy and paste Western models of knowledge and thinking. What we have inherited is a colonial way of reasoning about the world; colonial education was precisely the production of knowledge for colonised subjects, rather than citizens.” In a world where the aim of learning is earning, Azhar’s words ring true.

In a divided and polarised Pakistan, liberal arts and a better thought out system of education can play a positive role. “The place where Pakistan finds itself today is rife with ethnic and class bias, gender disparity and religious bigotry. People often blame this on lack of political leadership but one of the reasons for this intolerant attitude and lack of civic responsibility is our failing education system. From the earlier dictatorial times when state funding would be diverted towards the sciences and very little towards social sciences, it has set in an attitude towards education as a means to an end instead of an end in itself,” said Dr Sabyn Javeri, award winning writer and faculty member at the HU, who was part of a panel at the conference. Her paper was on “Teaching Feminist Fiction in the Pakistani Undergrad Classroom.”

Speaking to TNS, Javeri said that one of the things that a Liberal Arts education does is that it provides you wholesome, all-rounder access to learning. “It is interdisciplinary, a mix of science and humanities. It promotes broad-mindedness, tolerance and pluralism, which is very necessary in a country as diverse as ours. This singular approach to studying where science students are not exposed to literature or even the fact that reading out the text book is not encouraged, is promoting a dangerous, extremist mindset.” She said that encouraging students to question was a core advantage of this system.

Azhar’s views echo the same thought. “A liberal arts education, like that at the HU, strives to change the irrational way of looking at education by incorporating a sensibility for social justice, equality, egalitarianism, peace, and tolerance in students so that they can creatively apply the technical knowledge that they acquire to improve the lives of others around them.”

However, unless the academia and scholarship play their part, achieving the goals Azhar mentioned, seem impossible. In his opinion, while academic scholarship can play a central role in fostering pluralism, it would depend, in turn, on the degree to which it can foster a sensibility for social justice. “This must happen at multiple levels: at the level of producing new research and knowledge, at the level of designing curricula that transfer that knowledge to students, and at the level of how that knowledge is transmitted to students. We have to develop sensitivity to diversity; religious, cultural, political, linguistic, gender, class — within our education systems and this must happen at all levels of the process of producing and disseminating knowledge,” said Azhar.

However, reality remains that while such an educational system is the ideal, few have access to it. Azhar candidly termed the current level of inequality in Pakistan’s social system ‘vulgar’.

“The educational system replicates and reproduces the inequality that exists in society, and this is completely unacceptable. A country that does not provide opportunities to its weakest members of society cannot prosper,” Azhar said. She finds this very disturbing. “On one hand we have world class universities like the IBA, LUMS and HU, but how many people have access to them? With the level of state education, only pupils hailing from a certain class, pass the stringent tests of these prestigious institutes. Yes, there are scholarships and equal opportunity policies, but how many from under-privileged backgrounds have the awareness to make use of these policies. And even within class, there is gender bias.” A conference like this one really helps, she said, adding, “People are thinking about it and that’s always a good sign.”

Talking of solution to this jarring disparity, Azhar mentioned multiple solutions that require a multi-pronged approach. “First, it calls for active participation of the well-to-do sections of society. They need to step up and create other charitable institutions that make it possible for members from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds to access higher education.

“Secondly, we need more state support. Ultimately, a model like the HU can only be replicated at a higher level via state support as there are limits to what private institutions can do,” he said.

As a third tier of the solution, he mentioned the need to democratise education and educational institutions. Students, then, must be made to participate in the process of deciding what they study, the policies that govern their lives, and how those policies should be executed. “We cannot have a democratic society if schools, colleges, and universities are undemocratic.”

 

Farahnaz Zahidi

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The writer is a freelance journalist with a focus on human rights, gender and peace-building. She works in the field of Corporate Communications.

The question of Quality Education

It’s not just the number of out-of-school children that is worrisome, but also the quality of education they are provided

The question of quality

One day, when in a meeting he was required to answer some questions put by the district officer, his vocal chords gave up. “I couldn’t produce a single sound from my throat. Teaching from 6am to 6pm, all alone, was not easy.”

Decades later, nothing much has changed. Today, there are 55 children studying in his school in Charnor, with only one teacher, his son who took over his father’s job after he retired. “My son is not paid; he is a volunteer. We hope that the Sindh government will actually hire more teachers as is being promised,” says Mal.

A government school officially, it’s made up of three small huts, with neither toilets nor electricity. Foreign philanthropists helped fund a solar water pump, so the school has water, a luxury in Tharparkar. The curriculum is provided by the government. Grades 1, 2 and 3 are taught on one day, and grades 4 and 5 are taught the next, all clumped together in small rooms in the unrelenting Thar Desert heat. With one teacher teaching 55 students of five grades all subjects, and a lack of resources, the quality of education is low down on the list of priorities.

Read also: When the going gets tough

While the Pakistan Education Statistics Report 2015-16 proudly states that the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in grades 1-12 has reduced by 3 per cent a year from 25.96 million in 2012-13 to 22.64 million in 2015-16, 22 million plus are still OOSC in Pakistan.

What’s worrisome is not just the numbers, but also the quality of education the children going to schools are provided.

“Teachers are not motivated enough to excel in such an environment and perform their duties in a perfunctory manner which is a setback to the learning process of the children,” says Varisha Khalid Nabi, Member, Board of trustees, The Justuju School, Karachi. Schools like Justuju are numbered, but are rays of hope, fighting against the odds.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says.

The Justuju School started five years ago in the underprivileged Azam Basti in an attempt to bridge the gap between government and private school education. It began with 30 students; today it is 270 students-strong. The school runs on donations, yet is known for the standard of education and teaching, and the drop-out rate is close to zero. The parents of these children might be poor and uneducated, but have recognised the importance of quality education, which is why they vie for admission here. The key is the emphasis on the teachers’ training. Their academic department is pro-active in equipping teachers with the required skills sets, and has formed alliances with organisations that facilitate trainings and evaluations.

“We started the school to provide education parallel to any good private school. Quality education shouldn’t just be the privilege of the rich but a right of every citizen,” says Varisha.

Pakistan’s educational crisis, in the opinion of Abbas Husain, Director, Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC), is multi-layered. “Our crisis is not just of resources but also of attitude,” he says, adding that the infrastructure is just one of the factors to quality education. In his view, Pakistan’s dilemma is that “the smart child is being taught by the inept teacher. The teacher is no longer the fount of knowledge. The student has access to sources of knowledge that the teacher doesn’t,” he says, and continues that it is unfortunate that many senior teachers refuse to keep up with the times, ignoring the use of tools like the internet.

At senior levels, if schools don’t provide education that keeps up with the times, students may drop-out, and join specialised institutes instead.

Teaching methodologies are important if the bar of the quality of education is to be raised in Pakistan. “A student-oriented approach is used in privileged schools which is non-existent in public schools,” says Asma Munir Salman, teacher and founder of APNA Shelter Home and Learning Centre in Islamabad.

Her experience has been both as a teacher in upper tier schools and also as the person behind APNA, a school providing quality education to underprivileged children. She cites teaching techniques like collaborative learning, group discussions, and use of analytical and reflective approaches. “But in public schools, they’re still using the ‘chalk and talk’ method even in this technological world,” she says. “They feel intimidated by their students if asked questions. They make them cram information without making them understand. I have come across teachers who solve math problems on the board themselves and make their students copy them down and learn them.”

Husain feels that upper tier schools don’t even have the alibi of a lack of resources. They charge exorbitant amounts as fee, yet still lag behind technologically. He says that teachers today are focusing on “professionalism, which is the status of the profession in society, but not on professionality, which is having the required knowledge and skill sets.”

When asked about the makings of a good classroom, he says that the answer lies in three things: “respecting the child’s individual voice, providing a safe space for the child to grow, and accepting all kinds of diversity in the class”.

The onus to not just give quality education but also to keep the children in school, then, largely lies on the teachers, and on their training and growth. “Teaching is a prophetic profession. People should be tested and chosen to become teachers only if they can be as sincere to the students as they are to their own children,” says Mal.

As Husain sums it up, education in its best sense should allow children to have role models in every domain of excellence.