About Me

My photo
Easy going, open to ideas, optimist and objectively subjective


Friday, 20 August 2010

Floods and credibility deficit

If you have to choose between the devil and deep sea, where do you go? The West(and the rest of the world) perhaps don’t feel they have much of a choice. That is why they are reluctant to come to the rescue of the Pakistani people. Ironically the people of Pakistan seem to be as indecisive (helpless?) if not more, as is the rest of the world to make any clear cut choice between the two ‘evils’: corruption/inefficiency/indifference/lack of vision and will and obscurantism/extremism. Donors of every kind should perhaps err on side of the ‘lesser evil’. There are so many ways to help without going through govt or the Taliban way. And for the international community to win the Pakistani population and drag them away from the extremists, this is perhaps the best opportunity. The Americans, who have not been faring well in terms of reputation in Pakistan for quite sometime, have been winning hearts and minds through their generous rescue effort in the current floods. That should be a model for other people around the world if they have genuine interest in the welfare of humanity and who have the rationality not the bracket a whole nation of 180 million with some extremists in their country. That surely is not the case. Conservative thinking might be prevalent but Pakistani people like the rest of the humanity are biologically capable of rational thinking, progress and development. Indifference on the part of the international community on one pretext or another will push millions of people to the extremist camp, who will be more than happy to jump on the opportunity

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Education: Beyond The East and West Myopia

Education: Beyond The East and West Myopia

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

Recently (August, 15, 2010) I read two ‘interesting’ articles published on the Education page in Dawn. The first article titled, ‘Game of deceit’ [ http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/education/game-of-deceit-580 ] by Ismat Riaz, has been written in the backdrop of the current crises of the fake degree phenomenon of our parliamentarians. The author rightfully calls it fraud and links it to the prevalence of injustice in our society. The author laments the fact that this kind of cheating and fraud lead to ‘regression’ in the society and ‘erodes its sense of fairness and honesty which should be the hallmark of progressiveness’. The author argues that as a consequence of conferring fake degrees on unqualified people, our universities have lost their credibility. According to the author, "transparency and accountability have been eroded from the matriculation examination which is why the international O and A levels have become popular as alternatives within the system in Pakistan. At least, if nothing else, their results can be accepted as reliable in terms of transparency in fair and honest checking of examination papers". The author brings in support for introducing morality and ethics into education through ‘Western’ philosophers such as John Dewey and Edmud Burk and seems to tacitly appreciate their moral standing and progressive educational philosophies based on democracy, freedom and fair play. In order to elaborate the harms of ‘fraud’ she quotes Edmund Burk, a ‘Western’ philosopher saying, “Fraud is the ready minister of injustice”. There is however an interesting twist in her argument when she compares these ‘western’ philosophies for upholding morality in the society with Zia regime’s making of "Islamiyat compulsory in schools as part of the Islamisation programme of that era", which she thinks had the "underlying purpose" "to inculcate moral and ethical values through the study of religion." It doesn’t seem easy to accept this assertion without a pinch of salt though. Zia’s motives seem to be going beyond this simple face-value claim. Overall the author seems to be of the view that by ‘unfortunately’ ignoring ‘progressive’ (Western?) philosophies such as reconstructionism and progressivism through the adoption of which the West "has been able to radically change its societies by equalising educational opportunities for all and laying the foundations of a qualitative and progressive society", "Social evils have worsened and equity is a distant dream" in Pakistan. As a whole the gist of the article seems to be an appreciation for Western educational philosophies and progressive education system which has culminated in phenomenal development in every field of life in the West.
Ironically, the same page which carries this article, carries another article titled, "Westward bound" [http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/education/westward-bound-580 ] by Afshain Afzal, which seems almost a complete contradiction of whatever is proposed in the above article. It is a classic example of a jump from the paradigm of ‘inclusion’ to the paradigm of ‘exclusion. From education for internationalism to education for narrow natinoalism. The author bitterly announces the unlucky news, "top universities from the USA opening campuses in Islamabad is fetching new hopes for the elite class here. Their children would obviously be able to bag the top jobs while also saving the parents millions of rupees being spent in sending them abroad for further studies". One feels like asking: is it a bad thing for top USA universities to open campuses in Pakistan? Is it unfortunate if our ‘elites’ educate their children inside Pakistan and save ‘millions of rupees’ rather than keep, as they do now, sending them abroad and spend those millions there in foreign countries? Is it indeed bad to construct an ‘Educational city’ in Islamabad? Before moving further to fully deconstruct the author's thesis of opposing foreing universities' campuses, it would be in order to mention just a few benefits of these campuses in Pakistan. First of all the cost of a degree from a foreign university through its local branch would be enormously reduced (in terms of travel cost, and living cost in a foregin country)and students from those strata of our society who cannot pursue education in those foreign countries would be able to get the same or almost the same level of education at a much lower (less than half on a rough estimate)cost in their own country. Investment by foreign universities in the form of establishing local branches in Pakistan would enhance cooperation in the field of education between our local universities and academia and those foreign universities. By establishing these local campuses not only our middle classes and lower middle classes would have access to foreign univeristies' education but also it will create enormous opportunities for jobs in the local educational market for our people. These foregin university campuses by providing world class education would bring in competition for the local educational institutions and universities who would strive for excellence in order to compete with these rivals. Politically speaking it is an irony that we are happy when these foreign/western nations sell us their weapons and fighter jets and tanks and missiles at exhorbitant prices but we are not ready to accomodate their educatinoal institutions as those are a 'danger to our identity and ideology'!
The author, for all we know, somehow associates the establishment of "foreign schools and university campuses’ with "running away from our identity"! "Foreign or western institutions, no matter how high in stature they might be, would promote western values while failing to make provision for Islamic aspects in their way of teaching", writes the author! It is difficult though to know the logic behind any such assumption. One is inclined to ask: How many ‘foreign or Western’ institutions are already working in our country, on the basis of their impact in terms of imposing Western values on us, as the author concludes that they would promote “Western values while failing to make provision for Islamic aspects in their way of teaching”? Besides what are those harmful ‘Western’ values and what kind of ‘Islamic aspects’ does the author think are in danger of withering away? The author says, “Subject to law and public morality, we in Pakistan encourage the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures. Not allowing the Muslims to have a public education system of their own, which protects their religion and culture, poses a danger for the ideology of Pakistan.” One is inclined to ask the author,if she could let us know who is not allowing Muslims to have a public education system of their own and thus causing a danger to the “ideology of Pakistan”? Does the author think that by establishing a few university campuses in Islamabad, the Westerners will be able to take hold of our entire public education system; and “cause danger to the ideology of Pakistan”? Isn't is the case that our existing educational system and our curriculum is almost entirely based on 'Western' educational philosophies both in the fields of natural and social sciences? What presently is so 'Eastern' or 'Islamic' about it anyway, that will be endangered by the establishment of a few 'Western' university campuses in Islamabad? What is so rational about wrapping iron curtains around ourselves, our people and our country? Why is our 'identity' so fragile that it cannot stand the weight of a few foreign university campuses? This again belies logic.
The real eye-opener is the paragraph where the author says, “Turning back the pages of history… It would be a matter of interest for many to note that Aligarh University initially came into being as a conspiracy against the Muslims in order to produce a pro-western educated lot. It was a tool in the hands of British imperialists and their handful of sympathisers, who wanted to destroy the religion, culture, traditions and values of the people of this region.” Hmmm! so what does the author here think of the ‘original founder’ of the ‘Two Nation Theory’, the very basis for the creation of Pakistan and the founder of the Aligarh movement: Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan? Was that great Muslim thinker, the originator of the Two-Nation theory, the basis of the demand for Pakistan, a ‘conspirator’ against the Muslims and their identity then? This is immediately followed by a school girl level reasoning (contradiction?), “Today, no one can deny that Aligarh University is a well-reputed institution. However, it has very little to do with the struggle for Pakistan. In the same regard, although, certain leaders from the university became active members of the Pakistan movement, they had different ideologies as compared to the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Allama Mohammad Iqbal”. Interesting isn’t it, if one can twist logic to its ultimate limits.
The author subsequently, out of the blue, comes up with a ‘message’ on the value of indigenous education from the Quaid-i-Azam trying to put a stamp of validity and approval on her argument but obviously remaining oblivious to the finishing words of message, “…bring our educational policy and programmes on the lines suited to the genius of our people consonant with our history and culture, and having regard to modern conditions and vast developments that have taken place all over the world [emphasis mine].”
The author in the end has an interesting suggestion for us, “We must rebuild our educational system on the foundations of the Islamia and Jamia Millia schools, colleges and universities”. Well, why go so far back in history? Why not instead follow the models of their recent counterparts which are flourishing in every nook and corner of our blessed country at the moment and the graduates of which are now dragging us back to the cave era in every way they can? The author gives examples of a number of universities, from which campuses should be including in the ‘Education City’, including ‘Khyber University’. I wonder if there is any university in Pakistan by that name. Finally the author comes up with her ultimate piece of wisdom: allowing foreign universities to establish campuses in the "heart" of Pakistan (Islamabad), according to the author is akin to nullifying the very creation of Pakistan! And what does she think about herself writing in ENGLISH, a ‘Western’ language in an English language newspaper which somehow promotes this ‘foreign’ ‘Western’ language? Doesn’t it feel like a conspiracy against our ‘identity’ as well?

The writer is a PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

Saturday, 14 August 2010

My dream for Pakistan by Muhammad Ilyas Khan

I would like to highlight my ideal of Pakistan as a country:

1. Education should be at the top of our priority list with at least 20 percent of our annual budget spent on providing quality education to the people of Pakistan.

2. As a sage once said, 'If you want to see the condition of a nation, see the condition of the teacher'. So teachers should be the most valued (in the real sense of the word) people in the country.

3. Our hospitals should be our second best priority after education

4. We should establish complete peace with our neighbouring countries including our arch-rival India

5. We should spread a network of playgrounds in each and every city and town and village of our country

6. There should be a network of libraries in each and every of our cities and towns with latest books, magazines, journals available, and with computers and internet facilities

7. Immediately there should be complete ban on pressure horns on roads and streets and gradually the ban should come down to any kind of horn, of course people need to be educated through electronic and print media against indiscriminate use of horns

8. There should be a centrally controlled system of mosques in each and every city and town. The Imams should be properly educated, trained, should be at least secondary school graduates and should be recruited by the local administrative authority. They should be paid adequately for their services with the help and cooperation of the local population. The Friday sermons and teaching of these Imams should be monitored closely and they should be trained and persuaded to present the peaceful, inclusive, humanitarian face of religion to the people and not to turn religion into a sectarian, exclusivist, ideology that breeds extremism and violence in the name of religion

9. Democracy should be embraced, nurtured and practiced in the true sense of the word and for that to happen efforts should be made to take the power centre out of the feudal class and to bring it down to the reach of the common people. The first step in this regard is for political parties to themselves become truly democratic and shun hereditary and dictatorial practices prevalent inside their ranks

10. A Pakistani nationalism based on an international, humanitarian outlook should be nurtured through a nationwide system of inclusive education. The purpose should be to broaden the horizons of the Pakistani youth to feel a part of the rest of the world instead of looking at every other nation as an enemy out to destroy our dear country. For this the concept of 'positive national ego’, should be promoted. This will help the Pakistani youth feeling a responsible part of the rest of the humanity and shouldering the burden of the world instead of asking others to always extend a helping hand to our sinking ship.

11. Strength in terms of economic and social development should be our primary goal driving our national policies and not just military might and our capability for destruction. Live and let live should be our motive from now onwards if we really want to continue to exist and flourish in the comity of nations in the twenty first century.

12. Rigorous measures should be taken to control our dangerously growing population, which is already beyond our means. Poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and a false understanding of religion are primary source of this menace. The role of religious leaders is of special importance in this regard. A majority of rural population devotedly listen to the sermons of our Imams who unfortunately actively encourage people to produce more children and discourage from population control which they think of as an act against God. This perception must be changed and religious leaders must be educated, trained, made aware and later on used as a task force to create awareness among our people against uncontrolled population growth.

13. For me one of the indicators of the degree of civilization of a society is the way women are treated in it. Women emancipation through a process of education and awareness among the masses should be one of our top priorities. Pakistani women are exemplary in their devotion to their families and the welfare of those around them and this extraordinary source of our strength must be taped by giving them their due place in the social, economic and political spheres of our national life. Again the role of religious leaders is of primary importance in this regard, who unfortunately think of women as nothing more than a tool of domestic utility and use their enormous clout as opinion makers against the freedom and autonomy of our women. This trend needs to be changed and women brought in our national life as equal partners and stakeholders.

14. We should, as a nation make it a core principle of our national ethos, that a society cannot live for long in the presence of injustice and endemic corruption. It should therefore be one of top-most priorities to clean up corruption in our legal system, to have an independent, well-paid judiciary and an excellent, efficient and corruption free police force.

15. And last but not least let our armed forces once and for all decide not to ever interfere in our political system and confine itself to it constitutionally rightful place: that of the guardian of our (primarily) external security and (if need be) the internal security. Let soldiers be soldiers and not political leaders. Let us for the coming thirty years at least try democracy in its true sense and then decide which way to go. Let our democratic system correct its own course without anymore interference. Let us show to the world that we can be truly professional in our respective fields, whichever that might be, as soldiers, military officers, teachers, doctors, politicians, lawyers, judges, engineers, bankers, religious leaders, farmers, labourers, craftsmen, technicians, journalists or people from any other profession.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Libraries (and priorities) ours and theirs

Libraries (and priorities) ours and theirs

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

Peshawar, once ‘a city of flowers’ beauty, peace and tolerance has become the centre-stage of bigotry, extremism and violence. For its more than two million people, there is only one public library which is in real poor shape, with almost obsolete facilities and most of the books lying on its worn out shelves are outdated for any practical use. The library is first and foremost used as a reading room by the jobless youth for a look at the job advertisements in the few newspapers lying on a table there. These daily newspapers are probably the only up-to-date reading material available in the lonely public library of this huge city! Now contrast that with this one: Leicester city in England is the city where I am studying for my PhD for the last two years. The total population of the city is just about three hundred thousands i.e. only about one-tenth of the population of Peshawar. This small city has 24 well-equipped, well-resourced and excellently organized public libraries. Besides there are many libraries present in the numerous schools, colleges, universities and other educational centres of the city.
The catalogue of latest and up-to-date books cover almost all aspects of life from education to medicine, politics to economics, philosophy to religion, history to economy, and literature to linguistics; in short on virtually any field of human knowledge. Books, CD’s and DVD’s are available for small children, for juveniles, for the young adults and researchers and for the old scholars; books for serious study and for leisure and entertainment. Promotion of reading is the sacred aim of these libraries and they are doing their job with utmost honesty, dedication and enthusiasm. The extremely friendly and efficient employees would go to any length and breadth to seduce people to read. If you have any mobility or access problem and cannot come to the library you call or email the Home Library Service and they are at your door step to provide you with reading needs.

The libraries extend the facility to every member to borrow up to twelve books at a time for up to three weeks, and this borrowing period can be extended just by one phone call, online or through an email. Keeping in view the multi-cultural and multi-lingual character of the British society and the metropolitan make-up of their socio-economic fabric books are available in these libraries in more than twenty different languages. Books and other reading material can be reserved, or renewed by phone, on- line or in person twenty four hours, seven days a week.

The libraries have sections for children, young people, teenagers and families, where they can share in all kinds of activities such as storytelling, socializing, competitions. There are also books, videos and even ‘talking books’ available for toddlers and babies. For 0-3 year olds there are ‘Free Book Start’ packs! Then there are mobile libraries (library set up in a beautiful colourful van) for young children, which make regular rounds of the various parts of city to provide books and other reading material to young children at their homes.

Every library is equipped with computer and internet facilities which are free to use. “Don’t worry if you’ve never used a computer before, mice don’t bite…neither do librarians! We’re here to help beginners & people of all ages”. All details of library books and other material and resources are available online twenty four hours. The spirit behind this excellent library structure throughout the UK is the importance that people and governments in the developed world give to the intellectual development and promotion of knowledge among its populace. It gives one an idea about their priorities and the direction that they are moving in.

But where are our priorities? A look around the city of Peshawar tells me the direction of our priorities. During the rule of the previous government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa millions of rupees were spent on constructing a magnificent provincial assembly building and on erecting many replicas of missiles in various public spots in Peshawar besides consuming enormous amount of paint on blackening off every female face on billboards and embarking on a jihad against ‘female’ mannequins in bridal dress centres . Would that that money had been spent on establishing a few well-equipped libraries in the city. Ironically that provincial government of the pious ‘won’ the election with ‘book’ as their election symbol.

Now that much water has flown under the bridge since then we have to say ‘no’ to our old guns and bombs with which we are slaughtering only ourselves and say ‘yes’ to books! China, Japan and Germany are excellent examples of the success this course can bring. In the meantime the west and the developed world, if they are really sincere in their slogan of eliminating terror and war, too, have to change their course. Bombs and guns are not going to take them to their goal of a peaceful world (if that is the aim); a helping hand from them in our endeavour to educate our illiterate millions will surely help. A missile costs millions and adds only to ignorance and extremism, working against its very purpose. A library costs much less and like a candle reduces the strength of that darkness!

Imran Khan put in his name, fame and energy to build us the cancer hospital, Ibrarul Haq is doing a great job in the same field. Shahzad Roy and Jawad Ahmad are serving us by establishing and supporting schools and Abdul Sattar Edhi gave us the emergency relief and other humanitarian services. Inzamam-ul-Haq (who a while ago came to the city of Leicester on a Tableeghi mission and I had the good luck of shaking his hand and listening to his sermon in a mosque), Junaid Jamshed and Saeed Anwar are out on their proselytising mission. Wouldn’t it be a great idea for them to turn their attention to the establishment of libraries in this country starving for the light of knowledge, besides calling people towards virtue and against vice in the far off lands? And Jansher Khan,Shahid Afridi, Younas Khan and Rahim Shah and other such men and women of means and fame can do a lot in this regard for Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshehra and Abbotabad and many other cities and towns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is burning with the fire of ignorance and starving for the light of learning.

The writer is a PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK.
Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com