Tuition mafia: a necessary evil – 02 Jan 2023

The cottage industry of private tuition centres and educational academies been mushrooming for years

The cottage industry of private tuition centres and educational academies in the country has been mushrooming for years and years. Is it the shirking of professional duties or systemic lacunae that is responsible for this para-educational system making inroads into the formal education system of schools and colleges?

Speaking of the systemic lacunae, at formal institutions teachers dart towards the early completion of syllabi at a breakneck speed. Teachers remain distracted by centrifugal extraneous activities. Teachers’ extracurricular activities turned into duties include exam invigilation, answer-sheet marking, election training and duty, filling pandemics related proforma, and the stuff. It creates non-serious ambience at the formal institutions.

At formal educational institutions, students feel stuck in the groove. There they abhor the strict discipline and lack of liberty to walk and talk, which are readily available at private academies. The restrictions of uniform and hairdo make their staying there quite bland. The term ‘schooling’ says it all. Truckloads of boring homework put students into a bonded labour. They get stultified by the deadening routine of periods and classes. But at private academies, students prepare their studies in an informal way. Here they are not stalked by dos and don’ts. They become quite friendly with the teachers. In such a milieu they feel free to ask questions. They also discuss their deficiencies in studies with sanguine hopes that they will be made up.

Ironically, though not surprisingly, parents show concern and remain in constant touch with the teachers at academies but they don’t ever bother to respond to parents-teachers meet by school or college administration (especially the public ones). Moreover, formal institutions sometimes are out of reach for some students whereas academies are present at every nook and cranny making their existence and importance undeniable.

In the matter of public institutions, parents cooperation is nothing but zilch. They even do not blame these institutions for bad performance of their children but they register their protest at academies for being remiss. Its cogent reason is that education is free at public institutions but academies charge hefty fees. Parents feel the financial pinch and punch by academies when their children produce zero outcome.

Unfortunately though, private academies treat students as some profitable commodities. The data in a study ‘Who Loses, Who Chooses’ — conducted under the aegis of Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring Report and Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi — shows 45% of students are getting education in private institutions and 25% in public ones. The study points out another puzzling paradox that the students of private institutions resort to tutoring more than those of government institutions. So far as the public institutions are concerned, the 25% can be exonerated as less than 2.5% of the annual GDP has been allocated to education throughout the 2010s by our governments. Lack of infrastructure and teachers’ engagement in out-of- school duties are the demotivating factors. But 45% of students of private institutions speak volumes of the mercenary motives of these institutions. Hence the monetisation of education has also made tutoring indispensable.

Academies capitalise on the failing system of public institutions and the poor financial condition of people. Nevertheless, they have caused more harm than benefit by weakening the formal education system. In our part of the globe, they have snowballed into a necessary evil. There is no denying that success of an educational institution or a teacher can be gauged by the number of students joining extraneous coaching classes. After all why would students hanker after academies when they are fortified educationally by their institutions and teachers? A devoted professional teacher and a genuine institution never leave their students on the mercy of tuition mafia.

Read more

Pro-women ruling – 02 Jan 2023

In a monumental judgment which protects women in abusive marriages, a Supreme Court bench has ruled on a case and said that a woman who suffers physical or psychological mistreatment has the right to divorce and the payment of maintenance for her and her children by her husband. The case, which first went to the courts in 2015, was taken to the Supreme Court by a woman who had been given a similar right by a family court, but this ruling was later turned down by appellate courts including the Peshawar High Court. According to estimates by local and international agencies monitoring the rights of women, somewhere between 70 and 90 per cent of married Pakistani women suffer abuse of one kind or the other.

The recognition that psychological humiliation and abuse is incompatible with marriage is an especially important one in this situation. For social reasons, far too many women are reluctant to move for khula or initiate divorce proceedings. Given our social realities, the orders that the husband must pay for the health, living and education of his children as well as money to his former wife are significant as well. The Supreme Court bench cited the Holy Quran to back the verdict and pointed out that marriages revolve around compassion and mutual respect. This is a poorly understood concept in a country where domestic violence runs rampant.

This is a very timely verdict by the Supreme Court, and one hopes marks the beginning of more justice for women trapped in abusive households. Of course, there are still enormous hurdles that need to be crossed. Many women are reluctant to part ways in a marriage simply because of the stigma they face. There is however a rising level of awareness in the country that living in abusive circumstances is not necessary. More and more women are standing for their right to not tolerate domestic violence. Other basic rights such as the paying of the dower on demand of the woman should also be upheld both under religious and legal mandates. The Supreme Court has set out a path. We can only hope that from this point on, it will be followed by other courts and that this will give women the courage to go to court and state that they are suffering verbal or psychological abuse so that the justice system finally starts delivering for the women of the country.

Read more

Honour in Ghairatabad – 02 Jan 2023

Get together a group of young girls and boys, sit with them, and shed your cloak of narcissism for a while. Establish a long association with them, trust them so they can trust you and give them space.

In this suffocating environment, provide such a space in which they can express themselves to you, and among themselves, without any fear, shame, and feelings of inferiority or superiority; and they can believe that someone of their age or knowledge will not judge them because of their different experiences and values.

Take the group to a space where no one is judging anyone, where nothing is being talked down to, where no one is being berated, and where no one is discriminated against based on their gender identity. Facilitate this group in a safe physical and mental place and encourage them to tell the stories of their past life or the moral, social, economic, sexual, marital, and domestic stumbling blocks they have faced. Listen to their stories, instead of sitting with them and judging them. They could share their feelings and experiences with you and among themselves. Then listen to what happens to each of them.

In this stifling environment of ours, you will hardly find people who are not sexually, economically or socially harassed. These stories of harassment are found in almost every household.

Someone has been harassed by his/her peers and teachers in school, and someone has been harassed in madrassah. Someone has been harassed by someone at home and someone in the neighbourhood. Some have been sexually abused or harassed by the elders of their neighbourhood or village. Some have been harassed because of their gender, colour, race, profession, language or family; and some because of their profession. Someone has been harassed because of their social status or because of their bragging, seniority, and sanctity.

Not only this, but people are also constantly harassed because of their thoughts, behaviour and ideas in these stifling hypocritical societies. In these societies, a person does not have his/her individuality, but is considered a part of a cannibalistic cultural whole where his/her freedom, identity, personality and values do not exist. The individuals are simply part of a herd and are forced to behave as a herd would. In such a case, if you are a woman, a child or a girl, you do not exist or have an identity either. All your decisions are made by elders, and they become masters of your body and soul.

Among the people living on the outskirts and peripheries of societies like ours, every day there are reports of the murder of a girl or a boy. In these cultures, it is happening with such frequency that no one is even remotely surprised by such horrific incidents.

Let us take a socio-cultural tour of one such area, Ghairatabad. I know the area well but have avoided its original toponym because of the wrath of the people living there. Ghairatabad, literally means a place built around the archaic misogynistic notion of ‘honour’. It is a beautiful valley in the northwest of Pakistan, but is entrenched in traditions due to which I would call it a cannibalistic society.

I have so far received 10 stories from this valley where younger girls and women were killed in the past few years, and these cases were not recorded in any report by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) which otherwise have recorded scores of similar cases from the rest of Pakistan and has given the details of these cases in its 2017 report titled, ‘Women, violence and jirgas: Consensus in Impunity in Pakistan’.

At least one woman or man is killed in Ghairatabad every week. There are massacres of men and women in the name of honour.

I happened to visit this valley last year. I dared to ask the elders why people kill those young girls and boys who run away and get married. The answer was that they do so to prevent such immoral incidents. When asked why these young boys and girls run away and get married despite knowing that the act will cost their lives, I did not get a decent answer. I asked an elderly pious man why these incidents continued to increase and saw anger on his face. The man said I was being disrespectful and stopped me from talking more.

It is a common practice in this area that a 70- or 80-year-old man can marry a girl aged 17 or 18 years, and surprisingly nobody gets startled at this for it is very normal for them. And in a majority of such cases, the grooms are often village headmen/sardars as well as clerics.

In the last one or two years, dozens of such stories have come to me from this area; a young girl was married to a 70- or 80-year-old man. She ran away from his house after some time, and then the family of this chieftain looked for the couple. The ‘honourable men; often spies on the runaways in cities, and to do so, they even disguise themselves like hawkers who sell clothes door to door. When they find the couple, they kill them, often cut their bodies into pieces, so that it would be a lesson to others. But, no boy or girl takes a lesson; instead, such cases increase.

In Ghairatabad, if a woman is seen in a non-traditional dress, men call the woman immoral and obscene. Once, a woman from the entertainment industry went to the area as a tourist with her colleagues. She was caught by the villagers and forced into marriage with her colleague. A cleric led the ceremony and the entire village, including children, gathered.

Many young men and women of Ghairatabad are fighting as proxies outside the borders of the country. From here every banned organization receives donations and recruits youth into its ranks.

A foreign ethnographer depicted a fierce image of the area in his research in the 1990s. It is now 2022, but the practice of honour killing, tribal enmity and family feuds have not ended yet. Perhaps these practices are in the interests of some powerful corners because such areas can provide them with proxy fighters. The only major cultural change seen here is the ‘language shift’ as the majority of the population is abandoning their native languages and identities and adopting the languages and identities of the dominant communities.

Ghairatabad is a pseudonym for this area, but if people look at any village – Pind, Kaley, Ghot, Gam, Lam, Kot – they will observe that each of them presents the same picture as that of Ghairatabad.

The writer heads an independent organisation dealing with education and development in Swat. He can be reached at:

Read more

Education crisis – 02 Jan 2023

PRIMARY grade students at public schools come mostly from the poor and lower middle classes and speak a range of languages as their mother tongue.

Unfortunately, when the latter is supplanted by Urdu, English or Arabic, the students find it difficult to communicate, let alone grasp knowledge.

Students from elite classes are privileged; they use advanced technology, watch TV at home and speak English with their parents and friends. What do their disadvantaged peers have to go through? Their schools lack sanitation facilities and potable water; they are malnourished, which has a negative impact on their academic growth. Even at that age, many of them have to supplement the family income. Before any comparisons are made, the public sector should receive more support as an `equity measure` Improving public education is the only answer, rather than worsening it in the name of privatisation or selecting the naturally gifted to study at elite institutions, as some have proposed. How can those institutes maintain their credibility if only natural talent is chosen? Instead, they must admit average and below-average students and make them outstanding. It may put their systems to the ultimate test but it must also be realised that it is not that our youngsters themselves are below par; rather, it is the badly managed educational system, which limits their abilities.

Picking up natural talent and turning it into a brand will only intensif y social stratification. Our English monarchs used the same strategy constructing certain elite institutes to train students who would carry on their legacy. `I l
Since independence, those in power have represented the same elite-grown entities.

What revolutionary services are available for the common man, especially in terms of education? We continue to think and act in the same way, polarising society and using education as a means to do so. Fee tokens for students in private schools, for example, `legalises` education as a commodity, which further strengthens power centres, all the time focusing more on `power as knowledge` rather than `knowledge as power` Education quality education is a fundamental human right that cannot be denied. More significantly, it is the obligation of the state`s public schools, and not the private institutions, to educate our children.

What should change is the key question. A systemic overhaul from the top to the bot-tom tier is required. shouldn`t it begin with an educationist as the education minister? On a lighter note, if there is not one in the political lot, then we`d better import one. ..

Let us consider the asymmetries in competence at the highest level, when an officer has sole control of everything from transfer/posting to policy formation. The officer may not be incompetent, but poor systemic arrangements will cut his talent down to size.

Is it logical to push a person to serve in completely different disciplines for varying lengths of times from Customs and narcotics, to education, followed by agriculture? How can we make sustainable plans and policies if an officer cannot be retained in a single sector for a longer term? Can`t we have specialised authorities in charge of education for the duration of their service? Similarly, there is a need to revisit teachers` appointments, promotions, and age of retirement. For example, `age-base d` promo-tÏon does not make sense. One study found that students learn more from younger teachers than from older teachers, while we pay olderteachers more and promote them to higher grades.

Another debate is whether every person requires formal education and whether we can assure this, given the high rate of population expansion. A proportion of the people may benefit from vocational education to become entrepreneurs and contribute to the economy. China`s success, among other factors, rests on expanding vocational opportunities for its common citizens, using schools as the primary mechanism for of fering open and flexible vocational education based on a government-market link. Their houses are small industrial enterprises that contribute significantly to the local economy.

Opening a number of private schools would suit the philanthropist, not the state.

States establish systems, develop and implement accountability measures, and ensure strict compliance. Our most common dilemma is viewing education in isolation from the socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural landscape in terms of learning design and supportive mechanisms. We hear all the time that political stability is positively correlated with economic stability, and that is indeed the case. The same can be said for education, which has sadly fallen out of sight.• The writer is an educationist.

Read more

Journalists` safety – 02 Jan 2023

A YEAR-END report by Reporters Without Borders sheds light on the dark reality of working as a journalist in countries where press freedom is constantly under threat. Spanning two decades, the report says 1,668 journalists have been killed across the world. Around 80pc of these deaths have taken place in 15 countries.

Tragically, Pakistan is fif th on this list, with 93 journalists killed since 2003. Afghanistan saw 81 deaths of journalists in this period and India had 58, making them sixth and eighth on the list respectively.

Nearly 80 journalists have been killed worldwide every year, with 2012 and 2013 being the years where violence peaked, largely due to the war in Syria. It says that reporters face the greatest risk in war zones, which explains why Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine are so prominent on the list. In Europe, Russia has Europe`s highest death toll, and the report notes that press freedom has worsened in the years since Vladimir Putin came to power.

Pakistan`s position on this list is a moment of humiliation for our leaders, and a testament to its weak democracy. It falls in the list of countries where no war is officially taking place, but where the situation is still not safe for reporters. The report notes that more journalists have been killed in `zones at peace` than war zones during the past two decades, `in most cases because they were investigating organised crime and corruption`. In Pakistan, journalists have been killed not only by militants and insurgents but also by unidentified state actors. The common thread in these killings is that truth and justice are elusive, and killers walk free while families look in vain for answers. The recent killing of Arshad Sharif in Kenya under mysterious circumstances only underscores this fact, and points to a chilling reality that Pakistani journalists and dissidents are not safe from threats even outside the country.

Not only is this a reason for our authorities to reflect on how badly successive governments have failed to protect journalists, but also the failure of all institutions the government, law enforcement, the courts to protect representatives of the fourth pillar of state. Freedom of press has been and still is under grave threat in Pakistan. The government must do more than issue token condemnations and investigation announcements. It must have the courage to name, try and punish perpetrators or risk being seen as a democracy only in name.

Read more