Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

Access to Education: Pakistan’s demonic downfall.

April 5, 2011 3 comments

I attended the Toronto District School Board’s “Take Civic Action” Conference not too long ago, where I was invited to speak to Grade 9 and 10 students on topics of youth empowerment, social activism and communal mobilization. I aimed at highlighting the works and accomplishments of TakingITGlobal, the largest online community of youth interested in global issues & creating positive change via mechanisms of social media and technology. Sort of like the ‘facebook’ of youth activism and social-global issues.

As the day proceeded, I found myself reflecting and comparing the education system of that of Canada to that of  various parts of the international community. Before proceeding let me attest to the reality that I am in no way suggesting that the education system of that of Canada is not saturated with disparities, BUT, I do however want to allude to the reality of the increasing opportunity when considering the access to education when compared to countries like Pakistan, for example. (my reference to Pakistan is a direct reflection of my personal interactions with various members of the Pakistani community hence my first-hand take on the dynamics unfolding within the Pakistani education system)

In Canada, and in most countries for that matter, (comprising the ‘West) is seen as a provincial responsibility ensuring the attainment of education up to and including high school. Access to education in Pakistan however, does not serve as a preamble for social or economic progression in the near future. Gender disparities,  the social hierarchical positioning of an individual, income, religious affiliation and perhaps the most infuriating of all, the structure of the education system in Pakistan all serve as challenges to achieve a substantive level of access to education.

The society that limits access to education and knowledge is short-sighted and destined for extinction, like the societies described in Collapse by Jared Diamond. Furthermore, along with people’s pursuit of social justice one needs to also embark on the pursuit of equal opportunities in education. Plato in “Utopia” makes reference to every citizen, regardless of sex, outlining that we must receive education from an early age, and that this should be the earliest concept of equality of educational opportunity. Education provides the bedrock for reducing impoverishment and enhancing social development.  In Pakistan, there has been a downsizing trend for the quality of education but moreover, the transparency of curriculum made available to students in various schools is questionable as different schools provide arraying levels of education  (i.e. all Middle schools lack the uniformity when considering their text books/resources/etc)

Madrasas (religious schools housed at local mosques), state-owned schools, English governed schools and private schools are the various components of the educative framework in Pakistan. Although Canada also consists of both public and private schools, does curriculum vary by leaps and bounds in such a way that it further perpetuates class difference, taking away from any opportunity to erode the clashing of civilizations? Are students in Pakistan belonging to the lower classes able to even fathom the idea of attending a private and/or prestigious school within Pakistan? Why has the education system become reflective of the social and economic classes of Pakistan? Why the arraying curriculum? Are school’s like Karachi Grammer School, Frobels, Aithison College, Beaconhouse, American School Franchise  (and many others for which I would have to re-engage into conversations with certain individuals to remember and that in itself would be an unbearable task for me)  not aware of the students that are being pumped out of their system?

The ‘elite’ schools of Pakistan are producing replicas of individuals who acclaim to be ‘elite’ as they are able to converse in English, shunning and considering their very own culture to be tainted with traits of backward and outdated.  If access to education wasn’t atrocious enough, such ‘elitist’ schools have further contributed to ejecting students who, in some cases, further foster the already created social hierarchies within Pakistan. [Case and point:  Consider the social interaction of some Pakistani students abroad and their pre-conceived notions of each other based on the school they’ve attended within Pakistan]

Access to what may be considered ‘decent’ education is undeniably tied to the class structure looming within Pakistan. This included geographical placement (and 70% of Pakistanis live in rural areas) so if one does not live in a major city your hopes for a post-secondary education are drastically low. When shedding light on job prospects and a prosperous future, the decline ratio between that of the Cambridge system (targets upper and upper-middle class) and the Urdu medium system (this encompasses government schools catering to the ‘rest’ of the population) is dramatic and continues to rise exponentially.

From Nicholas D. Kristof’s article, formulated in Nov 2010 and published in the NY Times states

One reason Pakistan is sometimes called the most dangerous country in the world is this: a kindergarten child in this country has only a 1 percent chance of reaching the 12th grade, according to the Pakistan Education Task Force, an official panel. The average Pakistani child is significantly less likely to be schooled than the average child in sub-Saharan Africa.

Such numbers are not surprising, but it seems that they have to be parroted time and time again to shake up the myopic vision of upper-class Pakistan.


Dear Pakistanis…it’s more than just a cricket game!

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Today, millions embarked and witnessed the unfolding of a historic event; the semi final match between Pakistan and India as the ICC World Cup 2011 continues to poke at the hearts of many.

This sporting event was one of the first for which I not only got up for at 5am but stood by also finding myself standing affirmatively by the men in green in a state of submersion as I engulfed myself with the world of Cricket.

Pakistan unfortunately was defeated, allowing for the masses in India to illustrate the behemoth of all celebrations. All in all it can be said that Pakistan truly displayed astounding talent and exceptional sportsmanship to have made it thus far.

For a Pakistani who is geographically situated far from the mother country, such a match became the vehicle for being transported back to Pakistan, in every way one can be mobilized. And that’s what this is about…the role that sports (in particular cricket for the Pakistani people) play in harmonizing and further creating an “imagined community” as Benedict Anderson would so eloquently allude to first in 1983. Furthermore, it allowed me to reflect on the role sports play when considering the outburst of Nationalism and mobilization of the masses.

Can such outbursts of nationalism further foster a growth igniting self-consciousness for the people of Pakistan?…and for Pakistani’s dwelling within foreign frontiers?

When considering the amalgamated groups of Pakistani’s that watched this sporting event together it is safe to say the religious and ethnic makeup of such groups was diversified. There were diminished lines of boundaries in the areas of interaction, bondment, co-existence and mutual respect.

Than why the separated lines and boundaries of co-existence within Pakistan? Why the acts of blasphemy for example? Why the impinging imposition of economic and social hierarchy? why the aggregated demand and need for corruption, lack of access to education and imbalance within the horizon?

The streets of Pakistan, I’m told are itching with disappointment and anxiety. But let’s stop in our tracks and take a look at what these players have achieved…!

They’ve brought citizens of their nation together under the umbrella of that very ‘imagined community.’ How you ask? Transport yourself back a few hours and reflect on your thought process when it came to the future of the team and the level of joy and understanding you exhibited. I can vouch for myself and attest to the reality that for the duration of this game I was just as much of a Pakistani, Muslim, Woman and Believer as the individual next to me. I was co-harmonized with the millions of Pakistanis that were up at the crack of dawn with me…we were all equal!  

When will the ‘imaginative’ evolve into a platform of reality?

Yesterday, any and all Pakistanis, regardless of their geographic location, religious affiliation, economic standard, political connection and/or ethnic make-up could converse, trust and depend on their fellow Pakistani…even to be updated with the score of the match. For us outside of Canada, the joy of running into a Pakistani on the train, bus, school or restaurant was as significant as finding a piece of home as it provided the psychological attainment of having a common ground.

So you see its more than just a game. With every pitch and every hit. Within ever catch and every fall. With every cheer and every dismissive word…the men reminded us of merely one thing; Unification! And I saw the ability within the people of Pakistan to obtain and execute that unity and Nationalism. Therefore, it’s become evident that the ability and drive is there. Than what are we missing?…a cricket match to re-ignite the rationality that will serve us to become better citizens? Let’s hope not…

So as you sit there dwelling on the lack of progression to the final on the part of the Pakistani team today, I’m sitting here asking you all to reflect on something beyond that as progression is one that is measured by the willingness to realize and evolve towards obtaining a larger goal. The goal to unite, the goal to speak and to be heard…the very premise on which Pakistan was coined!

…well that’s my take on it!

Kudos to the Pakistani cricket team for their heightened efforts and for illustrating the essence of what one may call a torch-bearer! These men have truly left us all with some pivotal thoughts to unravel and tackle. Vitruvius indeed!

Blasphemy Law and Orientalism: Persecution of the ‘Other’

February 18, 2011 1 comment

In May 2010, 93 Ahmadi victims of gun and grenade attacks at two mosques in, Lahore Pakistan, of the Ahmadiyya Movement, a religious sect in Islam,  in Lahore Pakistan reminded the international community once again of the atrocious acts of violence that continue to unfold and gain momentum  when considering religious persecution in Pakistan. In Dec 2010, Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of 5, was sentenced to the death penalty for committing “blasphemy” and continues to languish behind bars. In early January 2011, Salman Tasreer’s (Governor of Punjab) assassination received endless outcries from the global community as well as that of the national community within Pakistan including NGO’s and women rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Women’s Action Forum.

Crimes such as these have toppled, and furthermore, have served as an infringement, on the already lagging divide that has been operative in Pakistan since the late 1980’s between Pakistan extremists and Pakistan’s religious minorities and liberal communities.

In addition, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minorities, has stated in The Dawn newspaper that the Government of Pakistan will not repeal the Blasphemy Law as it may fuel militancy. On February 8th, 2011, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani assured Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the government does not plan on amending the blasphemy law.

 As one continues to be bombarded with such acts of infamous evils, it seems to be a feasible option to look deeper into the meanings of such acts of alienation and subjugation.  Consider the impeccable work of Edward Said’s surrounding  Orientalism. According to Said, Orientalism is a process whereby the East, or the Middle East (perhaps in this case the South Asian peninsula) continues to be eroticized (Exoticism) and differentiated by Western hegemony to further classify the East and its inhabitants as ‘the other.’ Resorting to such a mechanism of differentiation has further perpetuated a process of creating binary opposition as that of The West and The East, one has created unified and homogeneous units of classification and identity.

Hence, the Orient, signifies a system of representations that are framed by political forces. The Orient exists for the West, and is constructed by and in relation to the West. The Orient therefore, presents itself as the “Other” (alien) to the West.  Orientalism therefore, is a manner of regularized vision, writing and governance, dominated by pre conceived understandings, imperatives and perspectives that go on to create ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient. It is the image of the ‘Orient’ expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship.

Edward Said, grouped such an analysis framing it so it remained to perpetuate itself as long as The West existed on the left and the East on the right. Edward Said has left behind a legacy allowing for us all to further unravel the area of Orientalism and ‘The Orient’ as per personified vis-à-vis Arabs, Africans, South Asians, East Asians etc.

Let’s take this analysis a step forward shall we? Can Orientalism internally within the East, where a system of social hierarchy is created as a basis of governance? Are there examples of the ‘Orient’ when considering the internal contexts of societies? Are there members within these societies that have to endure the political, social and economic ramifications as they are eroticized and perceived as the ‘other’?  

When considering the analytical connections between that of Orientalism and Blasphemy Laws that continue to conquer the psyche of those around us, one has to question the underlying assumptions that form(ed) the foundations of Orientalism. It is only after a close review of the premise can one find Blasphemy Laws to be an internalized example of Orientalism in the present day. There lies a parallel when comparing the paradigm and ‘gaze’ with which the West perceives the East to be. That similar subjugating paradigm infiltrates the minds and bodies of those within Pakistan, Indonesia and other parts of the East. Hence, whereas Orientalism is often understood to be a phenomena capitalizing on two main communal settings; The East and the West, it is time that we consider the presence and execution of ideological thinking within these two units of classification. Orientalism and the creation of the ‘other’ to further legitimize hate crimes, religious persecution and the creation of mechanisms to further outcast and alienate members belonging to religious minorities needs to be strongly condemned.

Pakistan’s list of challenges and committed wrongs has long exhausted itself to a point of no return.  It is with heightened dismay that I say…Shame on you Pakistan!

I can only resort to the words of the forefathers of my beliefs and continue to pray for the future of a secular and flourishing state of Pakistan.


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