Children have not failed to reach school; the school has failed to reach these children.
According to a UNICEF report, around 22.8 million children between the ages of five to16 are out of school in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, these kids can neither read nor write, as a result of which they are labelled as illiterate or uneducated. Some scholars believe that such labelling is unjustified because children do not stay out of school purposely or willingly. Their socio-economic conditions or even geographical locations don’t allow them to join a school. Therefore, children have not failed to reach school; the school has failed to reach these children.
The solution suggested in this case is a concept known as ‘de-schooling’, which is defined as ‘the process of adapting to a less formal education where children often take control of what and how to learn’. This refers to alternative modes of learning. Although such modes of learning already exist in Pakistan, out-of-school children cannot benefit from them due to lack of awareness, language barriers, and seemingly no financial rewards.
Initially, Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich invented the concept of de-schooling in 1971. He stated in his book that de-schooling ‘allows the learner to choose what they will learn, from whom they will learn, and why they will learn’. Some researchers believe that initiatives such as Khan Academy and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) exemplify de-schooling. Additionally, free massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered on platforms such as FutureLearn, Coursera, Edx and others are alternatives to school-based education. Even in the context of Pakistan, Sabaq.pk and other digital platforms are offering content which is accessible to anyone with a stable internet connection. However, thousands of children still cannot benefit from them.
Despite the fact that these resources are just a click away, millions of children are still unaware of them. Many children living and working in urban centres do not know about these platforms, let alone those living in rural areas. As a result of this gap, they cannot make use of such vital platforms. However, even if these children were to have knowledge of these modes of learning, they would still need some technological assistance to learn through them. In this regard, small scale awareness seminars can be arranged on tehsil levels to better reach these children. Furthermore, some hands-on workshops can be conducted so that children can learn how to access material through smart phones.
Apart from lack of awareness, language is another big barrier to overcome. Although some of the content on the aforementioned Pakistani digital platforms is in Urdu, the website navigation and a lot of other details and instructions are in English. This makes the content inaccessible in the first place. Additionally, the psychological fear of English spoken among other students keeps them from further exploring these websites. Translating the websites in Urdu or a local language can help children navigate through the tools easily with little or no technological or otherwise outside assistance.
More importantly, children spending time on learning through these channels will eventually be beneficial for their household incomes. Especially in rural areas and low-income households, children are generally not encouraged to seek education or any kind of activity without a purpose of earning. In such situations, they can never get an education, no matter how convenient it is. Not a single child will invest time in doing something that does not have financial rewards. After all, their families rely on them to provide for the household.
Ultimately, in my opinion, the idea is to incentivise learning by giving monthly scholarships to those who show a proficiency in a certain skill or in a subject. Their proficiency can easily be tested through annual or semi-annual exams in local schools or vocational centres.
Post COVID-19, we have seen how fluid education can be. Traditional ways of learning and attending schools in-person is no longer compulsory in order for children to learn. Online classes can do for children as much or if not more than having to spend hours inside a school. Thus, children can truly benefit from e-educational platforms if the government thinks seriously about educating all the children of this country.
In conclusion, our educational infrastructure will take years to develop if we want 22.8 million out-of-school children to be in school. De-schooling can be the way forward. With wonders of technology and so many digital resources available, we need to do very little to make schools reach these children instead of asking children to come to school.
Has Mahsa Amini sparked a revolution in Iran?
Mandating the removal of the hijab is as problematic as making it mandatory to wear it, and it needs to be condemned.
The death of the 22-year-old Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, after being in the custody of the ‘morality police’, allegedly for not wearing the hijab “properly”, has led to an eruption of protests across Iran against the current regime. Videos are making rounds on social media where a large number of people are taking over the streets, while women being at the forefronts are burning their hijabs and chopping off their hair publicly in protest.
Although this is not the first time a woman has been beaten up for not covering her head, the rage displayed this time sparked by the death of Amini has led to a public reaction, one that is unprecedented in magnitude.
The protestors have met with brutality of the state as the police have been trying to disperse the crowd through releasing tear gas, baton charge, and direct firing which has led to several casualties, while the state outright denied carrying out any of these actions. Despite the state’s brutal response, the protests have only grown in number. The protestors are defying the riot police in the face of death and standing firm. Intense anger is being exhibited against the regime as Iran is abuzz with chants like “death to the dictator” and “justice, liberty, no to mandatory hijab”. The demonstration against the hijab law and autocratic rule of the Iranian regime have extended from the capital and western Iran to all across the country.
The narrative being promoted by the western and Indian media about these protests being “anti-hijab” is misleading and uninformed since the protests are not against the hijab itself but against the forced obligation to wear it, which is an invasion of the freedom of citizens to exercise their will.
The large-scale protests in Iran depict the frustration of the public ripening over the years due to the autocratic policies of the regime. Ironically, the authoritarian government in Iran had also been brought into power first through a bloody Iranian revolution in 1979. The current demonstrations are also of the essence for a revolution to get rid of the regime or at least the draconian laws which reek of authoritarianism and dictatorship. The defiance of Iranians is indicative of their urge to protect their freedom, liberty and enforcement of their rights at every cost.
Earlier this year, a row over hijab was also witnessed in India after the Karnataka high court upheld the ban on hijab in colleges, a verdict which has been challenged in the supreme court. The right wing’s support for the hijab ban also clamp downs on an individual’s freedom of choice.
Be it Iran or India, forcing women to wear hijab or forcefully asking them to remove it ultimately becomes an issue of freedom of exercising personal choice, which is evidently taken away due to the state’s interference and intervention in these cases. Mandating the removal of the hijab is as problematic as making it mandatory to wear it, and it needs to be condemned. Yet, the protests in Iran cannot only be viewed solely in terms of pertaining to hijab; rather, they should widely be seen as the public’s resistance to the authoritarian laws and brutal treatment of the citizens.
The people of Iran have stood up against the regime and aim to overturn it to restore their liberty. The state is using its power to suppress the protestors which is only aggravating the situation by further enraging the citizens. Even if the protests fail to achieve a substantial end, the setback it has and will cause for the regime and the religious clergy would remain significant. The protests also suggest the loosening of the state’s grip over its citizens. Therefore, in the days to come, it will be important to see how far these protests will go as with every passing day, the momentum and strength continues to swell. The Iranian protests may or may not end in a revolution but can definitely be a step towards it.
Navigating today’s world as a Pakistani millennial mother
The ‘girl’ in us was indoctrinated, the ‘millennial’ learnt, and the ‘parent’ is still in the process of unlearning
The four words – Pakistani, millennial, woman, parent – serve as coordinates to locate the “presence” of several of my intersectionality on the map of life. But when taken into context, each word/label represents a separate journey of experiences for every woman my age.
I represent a faction that was born into privilege of sorts – in an upper-middle class family, to educated parents, who lives in a big city like Chicago – along with six million other people at the time. Every woman belonging to this faction has lived through a time that has not only seen technology flourish but has also seen the stature of woman and womanhood change manifold.
The ‘girl’ in us was indoctrinated, the ‘millennial’ learnt and the ‘parent’ is still in the process of unlearning. Finally, the ‘Pakistani’ in us is in an emotional turmoil and has a scattered sense of identity. In my opinion, primarily because as women born and raised in a dogmatic society, we cannot just dissolve into one.
As I parent my daughter, I find myself picking a “Frozen” for every “Sleeping Beauty” that I was bought as a kid. For every fragile Barbie that I was gifted, I present my daughter with an equally fierce Optimus Prime. The sons are now, for a lack of better word, ‘allowed’ to play chef, and rightly so, which in our time was downright abhorred. And while it may seem as the obvious thing to do, in this day and age (of woke liberalism), there is also a part of me and my faction that finds it hard to explain the concept of gender fluidity to future generations. As Pakistani millennials, we struggle with drawing the defining line between fluidity of societal gender roles and the metamorphosis of gender identity. Conceptually, the two are distinct, but in practical terms, our millennial minds might fail to translate it into core values while raising children born into the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
It was but second nature to understand unsaid and untold yet differing curfew times for teenage boys and girls in those times – things that few of us questioned. And those who did were labelled as a certain character. Now as a grown woman, I recognise the urge and need to protect the so-called “weaker sex” from the gnawing jaws of untamed men; I feel distraught at being robbed of the opportunity to err and learn. We can possibly encompass some men our age who were raised protected as well. Thus, giving rise to a generation of parents who have so much left to discover within themselves, while also expected to raise another human.
Much as the generation before us struggled to get women out of home-schooling into formal education, rendering the first women graduates of many kinds in many families, today’s woman is caught in the conundrum of prioritising family or career. Today, in the majority of homes, the ideal two-income household exists on the grounds that women take on both the traditional and modern roles. Nonetheless, even the ones with the more egalitarian approach still grapple with infamous parental guilt, popularly marginalised as “mom guilt”, a term that rages many storms in my mind (better to be addressed at a later time). And so, what may seemingly appear as a “picture perfect,” “instagrammable” life, often comes at the cost of severe mental trauma.
Those of us who are able to break free of the chains of mental confines eventually get absorbed into another rabbit hole of striking the balance between how much freedom, how much struggle and how much luxury to provide to our future generation. A generation that was born in the age of instant gratification and where knowledge of all sorts, both good and bad, is a click of a thumb away. While we juggle with this thought, we are often reminded of the stories narrated to us by our parents, of their miles-long commute on foot to get to where they stand today.
Navigating through existence has never been easy, but I would argue our times are the hardest. We struggle with many rights and wrongs, tussle with nonconformity and yet fancy some degree of traditionalism.
Kahlil Gibran aptly sums our struggles timelessly, in his book The Prophet:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
Can we claim to uphold the principles of Karbala today?
Today, we choose to submit to the powerful and abuse the helpless.
The sacred month of Muharram has come to an end. It’s now the chehlum of the martyrs of Karbala. I’m writing this piece as a reminder to ourselves of the reasons why we commemorate this tradegy. However, before I get into the details, I’d like to say that if someone thinks that mourning Karbala is just a Shia tradition, they’re unaware and part of the problem. What happened on the banks of Euphrates in 61AH is a tragedy that transcends even religion; it was a turning point in the history of humanity itself, but what were the core principles around it? After all, what was so incredibly important for the family and friends of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to sacrifice their lives like that?
The core principles of Karbala were truth and justice, standing up tall against forces of tyranny and oppression. These principles were supposed to be carried as a part of one’s very existence, not just blaring sermons about it over microphones every year in the month of Muharram, like it happens nowadays.
Now tell me, how many of us can claim to uphold this principle in our lives? In my opinion, it’s actually the complete opposite. We choose to submit to the powerful and abuse the helpless; we snatch away the belongings from widows and orphans; we deny our sisters their right of inheritance, we marry our daughters against their will, and kill them if they openly speak about marrying somone of their choice. We hire poor people’s children to babysit ours, and let them suffer and starve in front of our eyes while we feed our own children the sweetest delicacies in the world. Not only that, we add impurities to our food and sell medicines at ridiculously hiked prices when a pandemic strikes, purely to profit from other people’s suffering. We blame our government for not protecting the flood victims and shut our own windows when a homeless person knocks on them. We sacrifice animals in the name of God but call part-time butchers to save a few pennies, causing unimaginable pain to the animals in their final moments on earth. We molest men in mosques, children in schools, and women in their graves, while members of the transgender community spend their whole lives wishing they were never even born.
Perhaps Zahir Jaffer, like all of us, grew up listening to the story of the unimaginable massacre of Karbala. Yet he beheaded Noor Muqaddam in the same manner that Shimar had beheaded Imam Hussain (AS). Zainab’s rapist and subsequent murderer used to recite naats in mehfils of Milad-un-Nabi. In fact, he himself admitted that he went to attend one such gathering immediately after committing those unspeakable horrors to that angelic child. And no, these are not isolated incidents. Bashar-ul-Assad has murdered more Muslims during his regime than Israel has since its inception. Saddam Hussain was an absolute slaughter machine for his people. The Hazaras of Pakistan continue to face an organised extermination for decades. The whole Muslim world has been literally torn apart by the malicious conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, despite this terrifying carnival of carnage, we see people defending crimes of Bashar-ul-Assad, and hailing Saddam Hussain as their hero. The very standpoint of Karbala was to speak the truth against an oppressing regime that was promoting injustice against Muslims. Unfortunately, today those Muslims have become icons of oppression themselves.
Karbala is not a piece of land on the bank of Euphrates incarcerated by Yazeed and emancipated by Imam Hussain (AS). It’s a name for a place cooking inside a cauldron of injustice, broiling raging fumes of resistance, pounding ruthlessly against the mouth of the crucible. It’s a story of people who auction their souls to sustain their existence. It’s the plight of animals and the death of trees in the burning forests of Amazon. It’s the heaps of haggard babies in the laps of their hapless mothers sitting by the haunted graves in Africa. It’s the march of humans wearing yellow stars to their extermination camp in Auschwitz. It’s the folktale of generations lost waiting for their homeland in the daunting desert of Palestine. It’s the blinded eyes and the bleeding hearts of the enslaved Kashmiris imploring the mighty custodians of the world’s biggest democracy for their right of self-determination.
How people choose to celebrate their events or mourn their tragedies remains their personal matter as long as their practices don’t disrespect others’ beliefs, but I have the honour of having a very special affiliation with Prophet Muhammad (PBUP) and his family. I find it utterly disrespectful to send blessings on them on one hand and wrong a helpless being on the other. Please, I request you once again to not interpret this for Ahl-e-Tashee. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this idea is about our very essence as human beings. The perfect example of this quality was displayed by our beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH) in several different ways. One particular instance that is often spoken about frequently was when the Holy Prophet (PHUB) showed concern for a lady who disrespected him when she fell ill, despite how she treated him. These qualities were reflected in his grandson too, when he respected the rights of his absolutely monstrous enemy under the scorching sun. Hence, it’s simply unbearable for me to see ourselves telling tales of Medina and Karbala during Ramazan and Muharram and then resuming our reality of corruption and oppression as soon as that period comes to an end.
No, all of this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to be good wherever and whenever we can, neither does it imply that I have given up on humankind completely. It only means that our yardstick for justice should be the same for everyone and that we need to mend our ways before it’s too late. Miracles stop happening when the belief in their existence is gone. The long stream of Nile can once again become water with our faith but yes, right now, it’s flowing with blood.
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