Skip to main content

OPED: Pakistan at the Frontlines of Educational Reforms



Originally Published by Global Affairs / May 2017. Written before the Mashal Khan tragedy in Mardan




A terrifying document surfaced the other day on the social media that suggested a possibly extremist agenda in the education department in KPK - Pakistan. The letter dated 2015, ostensibly from Pervez Khattak directed DCTE Abbottabad to seek input from proscribed groups - the ASWJ for devising the curriculum. It was an alarming discovery and the comments that followed on the twitter timeline of the social activist who shared the story were even more alarming for they appeared to support making terror outfits stakeholders in the academia.

In a different part of town a few good Samaritans put forward a timely proposal that promised salvation for young Pakistani’s at the mercy of the hardliner’s pen.

Representatives from 7 organizations presented a pilot project launched to defuse the ticking time bomb of bigotry and hate. They dubbed it - ‘Badal Do’ – ‘Ignite the Change Within’ - a compelling vision that brought out a message of inclusivity, empathy, compassion - a commitment to embrace all the colors of Pakistan, a revival of its original values based on social justice and equal rights. In a word - humanity. These were attributes the society desperately needs at the moment; a belief system that can alter the fabric of life.

The scale was ambitious. Their overarching plan however had earmarked the perfect place to start - with the children. The audience that day was made up of educators and the idea was to ignite the spark where it could have the most impact and gradually filter down to society.

It was a well articulated design that offered hope to the masses; a way forward for its ‘at risk generation’ in an increasingly polarized world. It appeared to be the perfect antidote to the poison peddled by the media and mullahs and mullahs on the media.

It was ironic that they had identified a key element needed for the success of Operation Radd-ul-Fassad though the term counterterrorism did not figure in any of their conversations. Instead they delved into training for teachers – for field trips to promote a deeper understanding of the cultural bonds they share and historical contours of the cities they lived in. They suggested the need for children to identify heroes from within communities, seek out role models in imaginative ways to tackle gender biases and nullify class differences. They offered a quaint little skit performed by school kids that dealt with changing mindsets – that countered mean attitudes, deep seated prejudices and petty differences with humor and grace.
It was not an alien concept at the heart of their dream - ideals that forged this nation had been dusted off and presented for consideration.

By taking a stand, they did the unthinkable. Generate optimism about the future darkened by conflict, distrust and melancholy. It was telling that the luminaries featured in their ‘In Memoriam’ section reflected the very diversity they were hoping to safeguard. These were the pillars of society like Sister Mary Emily, Dina Mistry, Bishop Lobo, Fatima Surriya Bajia, Gool Minwala etc who had contributed to Pakistan’s greatness. Their names served as reminders of their country’s tolerant roots and deep potential.

The people at the helm of this project represented a cross section of corporate society. It was clear that they meant business for they unveiled their striking vision early in the day, without much fanfare, customary red carpets, mandatory celebrity appearances or vacuous displays of wealth and privilege. No long drawn out speeches or political heavyweights sapped the energy. And there was surprisingly little coverage in the mainstream media, perhaps because of the missing glitz and glamour that has become the staple of most events. Even the piteous condition of the chosen venue (Arts council, Karachi) reflected the misplaced priorities of the authorities and the resolve of these pioneers.

The pitch itself was brief yet powerful in its simplicity. It was a revealing moment that proved that society is not ready to surrender, and that they intended to fight till the last.

These were architects on the frontlines of educational reforms who insisted that their concept was fluid – they had allowed it room to grow, adjust, and expand over time. Since a battle for the soul of a nation was already being waged in different theatres, the theme went well with the message of the COAS Qamar Bajwa who deemed every citizen of Pakistan as a soldier in this war. Some are already in the trenches.

Such initiatives show the next generation a way out. There was no shortage of motivation on that sunny day in March. This was not a pipedream to be left at the mercy of self serving politicians, though the local government had reportedly thrown their weight behind the project. It would be a people’s movement that aspired to reach every citizen and make them stakeholders in their children’s future.

They also intended to reclaim the shrinking spaces – art, culture, literature - leaving room for free thinkers to rebuild the foundations of a kinder, more accepting Pakistan. There were cafes that would introduce the cuisine of different cities and allow conversations to promote an appreciation of their diversity. A platform along the lines of Ted Talks where educators could speak about their experiences and the lives they changed; where all employees regardless of their social standing would be welcome provided they had something worthwhile to share. The power of theatre, radio, film would be harnessed to take their message further.

Present day Pakistan has a very high threshold for corruption, fanaticism and violence. Introducing these values in such a toxic environment is bound to be a challenge. There will be resistance from those whom the broken system benefits. Who misuse its flawed principles to rally street power, contaminate impressionable minds and silence liberal avenues of expression. Their voices are loud enough to drown out any debate on rationality, ride rough shod over human rights and chase mirages of blasphemy for political expedience. The nation’s voice must be louder.

Which is why it is imperative that movements such as these be protected, and the authors of this new script encouraged. Whoever wins this battle controls the future of Pakistan. Wresting that power away from the keepers of the hardliner interpretation of an ideology and giving it back to its rightful owners will be a test of the citizen’s commitment to their children’s future and their own.

Their strategy, even in its simplified form was viewed as a lifeline. Should ‘Badal Do’ succeed in implanting seeds of tolerance; it could be the ideal narrative needed to counter the hate peddled by some that has been exploited by extremists in our midst and is increasingly gaining traction. That leads to shocking outbreaks of violence like massacres at a shrine in Sargodah at the hand of faith healers, or unleashing mob justice on minorities. That makes it ok for Nobel laureates to be disowned and their families targeted because of their religious beliefs while murderers of sitting Governors are honored with monuments by radicalized factions. Terrorism may be a global threat but conditions that allow it to take root and thrive have been ripe for sometime.

Rolling back these trends begins with awareness, introspection and education.

It is worth a shot. And if this experiment succeeds, a version of it can perhaps be transplanted on the seminaries in need of reformation which is one of the primary tenets of the famed National Action Plan - NAP.

Follow BadalDo @BadalDoPk

Image Source: BadalDo Twitter

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

OPED: The Great Exodus

Published, Global Affairs Feb 2017

The MIG 21 parked in the Pakistan Air Force Museum Karachi is not exactly a war trophy – it belongs to an Afghan defector who flew by one day and landed at Peshawar air base sometime in 1989 / 1990. He was seeking refuge in Pakistan. There had been others before him. Three decades later, young Afghans are still seeking greener pastures – and making headlines because among them is a trailblazing female pilot who had made her nation proud but preferred to stay behind in the United States while on a training tour.

Pakistan has been doubling as Afghan nationals’ second home for over three and a half decades – hosting some 1.5 registered and 1 million unregistered. It ranks amongst the top three largest refugee communities in the world. The stream of defectors, asylum seekers, migrants and refugees kept flowing while the Reds retreated, Taliban invaded and all through the American occupation.

That surge has been unexpectedly quelled.

There’s a migr…

BOOK REVIEW: Outclass Teams: Secrets of Building High-Performance, Result-Oriented Teams / Author: Qaiser Abbas

Thanks to Possibilities Publications for the review copy

Published by Daily Times / Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Runaway Teams beware. Qaiser Abbas is an organisational psychologist, author of books like the Tik Tok Dollar and the upcoming Leadership Insights — and one canny facilitator who introduced Pakistan to the concept of ‘Management by Adventure’, or as he likes to call it, MBA. His mission of rescuing wayward teams from doom makes him dash in and out of companies on a regular basis. Prompted by the success of such expeditions, he proceeds to refine these insights for a book on team-building and a lecture on group dynamics.

As someone who specialised in using experiential learning methodology in outdoor training, Abbas swears by well-structured one-day team-building programmes over time spent bonding over social activities. His recent book takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon to determine the value of team-building, show the expertise needed to ensure…

KARACHI DIARIES: MASTERCHEF Comes to Pakistan

Published in Economic Affairs / May 2014 P-20

Last year ‘MasterChef Australia’ S04 contestant came to town. Amina Elshafei, described as an ‘unassuming young lady from Sydney’, had been brought in by the Australian High Commissioner’s office and spread the joy of fusion cooking as part of her good-will mission. Around the same time unconfirmed rumors that MasterChef was headed to Pakistan were floating around. By April 2014, the rumors had officially been laid to rest.


‘MasterChef Pakistan’ is set to go on air by 3rd May 2014. The press conference in AVARI (Karachi) threw together an elegant presentation topped off by a divine hi-tea. The MasterChef franchise is already a household favorite, and makes everyone a judge of culinary prowess, and the lead authority on cuisine. Sidra Iqbal, the host for the evening, had also noted this amusing trend, listing Pakistani food as the ultimate source of drama.


His Excellency, the Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Peter Heyworth while …

BOOK REVIEW: Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, February 26, 2011
Under the Title: A Play-book for Losers
Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal
Author: Rujuta Diwekar

Master: “You are free to eat.”

Po: “Am I?”

Master: “Are you?” —
Dialogue from Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Po, the Kung Fu Panda, doubted his mentor/master much like readers will doubt a nutritionist guru when she hands over an exclusive pass to eat and, yet, maintain a strategic advantage in the fight against fat.

They need not.

A thriving industry feeds off of ignorance about weight-related issues. And when health and happiness become collateral damage in the mad dash for the finish line, it is time to alter the game plan.

‘Nutritionist to the stars’ Rujuta makes this lonely trek to the promised land a joyful experience where food is not the enemy, and learning the art of making better judgment calls is on the menu. Since she labels the struggle with weight loss a tamasha (spectacle) at the very outset, r…