An acute identity crisis

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  • There is no reason the standard of education cannot be improved

In the wake of Faizabad, the PTA — in its wisdom — shut down news channels on television, as well as social media such as Facebook. It was as if they wanted to ensure that members of the public not knowing which streets to avoid were caught in the violence that our people had unleashed upon themselves. Which is why, since they were not on air, I decided to phone one of those television channels that reports on Lahore alone, to see if they knew whether routes to the airport were safe and accessible.

“Salam alaikum,” I said when a female operator picked up my call. “Bibi, could you please put me through to someone who can tell me if the road to the airport is clear?”

“I will,” the lady responded. “But first, I would like to point out to you that it is rude to call anyone ‘Bibi’. If you talk to a lady in an office. You should call her ‘Madam’ or ‘Miss’.

I would have reminded the ‘Madam’/‘Miss’ of certain respected personalities whose names are preceded with Bibi, but she had robbed me of my breath, and I thought it better to save what was left.

That incident well illustrates the national disease called ‘Acute Identity Crisis’, the one that has penetrated every muscle and bone of the nation.

I wrote last week of madressahs that fell far short of being schools because they taught nothing but religion and that too of a certain brand, a system of ‘education’ that created graduates unfit for jobs other than teachers and Imams in madressahs and mosques, or else as terrorists.  But this now is a system of education that has wrecked this country by carefully nourishing a social divide, and by hacking away at the identity of the nation.

A social divide as stark as the one that exists in Pakistan is like words on the screen picked out in distinctly different fonts and colours, some visibly placed in the centre of the page, others crowded together in the margins, like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Together, the two prevent the formation of a coherent society

A social divide as stark as the one that exists in Pakistan is like words on the screen picked out in distinctly different fonts and colours, some visibly placed in the centre of the page, others crowded together in the margins, like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Together, the two prevent the formation of a coherent society.

A society in which a divide is reflected right from the start in schools is headed for trouble, and yet there is no apparent effort to unify the English and Urdu medium schools in Pakistan, the first associated with the haves of society, the second with the have nots. There is no effort to level the playing field to ensure that in terms of education at the end of the day both sets of students graduate with similar advantages. Instead, the two languages are used as weapons rather than rich sources of literature and separate doorways to the world. It has resulted in the creation of Urdish, a bastardised collection of words that make little sense and less beauty, and in silly perceptions such as the one held by the operator whose yearning for a highfalutin persona led her to ignore the existence of the ‘Bibi Fatimas,’ and ‘Bibi Khadijas’ of her life. Such a system of education does that, it keeps facts and practicalities out of sight by replacing them with mindless aspirations.

Our cook’s son now apologises by saying “shit!” but he has no ambition to learn the alphabet, English or Urdu. You hear mothers tell their children “washroom ja kay hand-wash karo,” and people rolling their R-s for some reason, and saying ‘jeera’ rather than ‘zeera’ like their favourite Bollywood celebrity. The word waqt has gone out the window with the concept of time itself, and ‘sho-ping’ is the national pastime for women. Such things will happen when education fails to present any intelligent goals. The maulvis at Faizabad might have been dislodged from the roads (although they ain’t gone nowhere), but this loss of identity has created a drifting nation that is not likely to discover its foundations without a lot more work. What those foundations are is a contentious issue. It’s best to start with giving everyone the capacity to answer that question for themselves.

There is no reason the standard of education cannot be improved. The only things standing in the way are apathy and corruption. And of course the misconception that sees education as a threat. Well it is a threat, but only to the things that should be threatened, such as power in the wrong, few hands. To the nation as a whole it is a source of strength and progress.