Thursday, December 7, 2017
Published on Nov 22, 2017
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) managed to draw a massive crowd at a rally to mark its 50th foundation day.
The party claimed that the turn out at the gathering was between 70,000 and 80,000.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s speech departed from some of his previous speeches where he frequently had to refer to the achievements of his late mother, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and grandfather, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to claim legitimacy for his leadership.
This time, however, the young PPP chairman seemed to have come of age as a political leader. Bilawal’s speech laid out the vision for the party ahead of the next year’s general election. However, in at least one way, the PPP chairman’s speech was not a departure from the past. Rather, it appeared to be a conscious attempt to recover the lost ideological footings of the party whose foundations go back to one of the most vibrant mass movements this country has seen in 70 years.
Nonetheless, the PPP and its young chairman will be mistaken if they take the Parade Ground rally to be a sign of the party’s country-wide revival.
There is no empirical evidence — from by-polls to opinion surveys — that suggests that the PPP is anywhere close in the race for the top two parties in the largest province of the country. For all intents and purposes, the PPP for now remains a party confined to the southern province.
If it intends to truly live up to its basic postulates, it needs to go back to the source of its power — the people of Pakistan. It is going to be through mobilisation of a cross-section of society on wide ranging socio-economic issues concerning everyday lives of ordinary citizens that the PPP can make possible its revival as a popular liberal and a progressive force.
Alongside this, the PPP must also keep open the possibility of an issue-based electoral alliance ahead of the next general election with parties that stand for strengthening of democratic institutions and civilian supremacy.
At this juncture, it may prove useful for the PPP to recall Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s saying about situations of social crises where ‘the old is dying and the new is yet to be born’. The task for Bilawal and his supporters is precisely this: to figure out a way to connect with ordinary Pakistanis from Gilgit-Baltistan to Karachi and Gwadar in a way that they can pose their trust in the PPP’s ability to deliver efficient and effective governance without compromising on its liberal political principles.
Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday criticised madrassas that have mushroomed nationwide for mostly teaching only Islamic theology, saying the country needs to “revisit” the religious school concept.
Modernising madrassa education is a thorny issue in Pakistan where religious schools are often blamed for radicalisation of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.
General Bajwa’s remarks, apparently off-the-cuff during a prepared speech, were a rare example of an Army chief criticising madrassas, which are often built adjacent to mosques and underpin Islamisation efforts by religious hardliners.
Bajwa said a madrassa education in Pakistan was inadequate because it did not prepare students for the modern world.
“I am not against madrassas, but we have lost the essence of madrassas,” Bajwa told a youth conference in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.
Bajwa said he was recently told that 2.5 million students were being taught in madrassas belonging to the Deobandi, a Sunni Muslim sub-sect that shares the beliefs of the strictly orthodox Wahhabi school of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula.
“So what will they become: will they become Maulvis (clerics) or they will become terrorists?” Bajwa asked, saying it was impossible to build enough mosques to employ the huge number of madrassa students.
“We need to look (at) and revisit the concept of madrassas... We need to give them a worldly education.”
Pakistan has over 20,000 registered madrassas, though there are believed to be thousands more unregistered ones. Some are single-room schools with a handful of students studying the Holy Quran.
Security services have kept a close eye on madrassas associated with radicalising youths and feeding recruits to Islamist militant outfits that have killed tens of thousands of people in the South Asian country since 2000.
But only a handful of the schools have been shut down, the authorities’ hand stayed by fears of a religious backlash.
Islamist hardliners hold great sway in Pakistan, with the capital, Islamabad, paralysed for nearly three weeks last month by a blockade staged by a newly formed ultra-religious party.
Bajwa said poor education was holding back the nation of 207 million people, and especially in madrassas. “Most of them are just teaching theology. So what are their chances? What is their future in this country?”
The military last year proposed a plan to deradicalise religious hard-liners by “mainstreaming” some into political parties, a plan initially rejected by the civilian government but which now appears to be taking form.
The recent report released by an education advocacy organisation must be a cause for concern for the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa government. Despite its efforts over the years, it appears that the government still hasn’t been able to identify all factors responsible for children dropping out of schools.
The 2016 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has noted that the number of school-age children in the province who remain out of school has increased by a percentage point from 13 percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2016.
Nonetheless, 86 percent of all school-age children (six to 16 years) are enrolled in schools across KP. This figure has been achieved after the provincial government undertook an innovative approach to increasing enrollment involving vouchers for girls to facilitate travel to and from school, and bicycles for boys. A second shift of classes has also been added to accommodate children.
The increase, albeit nominal, in number of out of school children must not be taken lightly. Experts must be consulted to explore all possible factors that may have led to this phenomenon.
In one of the reports, an education expert has alerted to the possibility of corporal punishment having a role in the matter. Our teaching practices have long involved teachers doling out harsh physical punishments to school children which discourage attendance as well as learning. A 2005 study by UNICEF and Save the Children had identified 43 different types of punishments given to children at schools, and 28 at homes. Though it has been 12 years since that study was undertaken, we do not have any other study available in the public domain to ascertain if there has been any decline in focus on corporal punishment.
The presence of such practices illustrates that our teaching methods are obsolete and in need of immediate revision. For starters, the syllabus taught at teacher training institutes as well as at masters level needs to cover lessons on the ill-effects of corporal punishment.
A focus on corporal punishment shows that instead of relying on positive reinforcement, our schools are still using fear-based incentives to make children learn. An anti-corporal punishment legislation is the need of the hour. The government in KP and across Pakistan need to integrate passage of such legislations into a comprehensive programme to identify factors that lead children to drop out of schools, and many others to not enroll in the first place.