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The dangerous habit of silence in Jammu & Kashmir

Nyla Ali Khan

 
Nyla Ali Khan
The conception of a representative government that would enable the devolution of administrative responsibilities to districts and villages; a socialist system in which the state would control the means of production so as to ensure the fairest distribution of goods, power, and service to its members; the good of society would be considered a responsibility of the state, but the state would serve as an administrator and a distributor, not as a disseminator of ideology or doctrine; instituting educational and social schemes for marginalised sections of society. 
This worthy manifesto has been replaced in Jammu & Kashmir with an agenda that encourages mainstream Indian financial institutions to play a decisive role in the State, through the fixing of prices on the national and world markets, cartels, and a variety of educational and cultural institutions. How representative are the new elites brought to power through the electoral process, or even unwitting or willing agents of mainstream powers and agencies?
 
Irreparable loss of lives
This is how I see the gist of the contemporary problem in Kashmir: a conflict driven by nationalistic and religious fervour, with each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, and each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to its own suffering and sorrow, while ignoring the irreparable loss of lives, unredeemable loss of productive years, unsalvageable loss of properties and sources of livelihood, and the deep-rooted sense of despair of Kashmiris.
The insurgency and counter insurgency in the State has gone through a series of phases since 1990, but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality, which cannot be superceded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. After the forces of separatism reared their heads in J & K, the Indian Union exacerbated the violence and disorder by deploying belligerent and tactless methods.
For instance, on 1 October 1990, Indian paramilitary forces razed the bazaar of Handwara, a town located in the Northwestern part of the Valley. This action, taken after a guerilla attack, resulted in the indiscriminate killing of a large number of civilians. Subsequently, the landscape was tarnished by shanty-like bunkers with firing positions adorned with Indian flags and nationalist slogans, underlining the brutal repression of regionalist and antiestablishment aspirations. 
The systemic erosion of democratic rights in J & K, which has been the underlying theme of India’s and Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir since the dawn of independence since 1947, cannot go on forever. Events that are celebrated in the rest of India are overtly mourned in Kashmir. 26 January 2011, particularly, showcased the apathy of the people of Kashmir to the absurdity, bigotry, and spectacle that the nationalist politics of the BJP created.
While the reaction of the State government to the melodramatic and blustering attempts of the BJP to hoist the Indian national flag in Lal Chowk was designed for the Congress palate, it should not erase our memory of the duplicity of the Congress in enabling Murli Manohar Joshi to hoist the Indian national flag in Kashmir amidst tight security in 1992. 
If the Congress oracular “High Command” had decreed that the “children of a lesser god,” Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, be indulged by allowing them to raise the Indian national flag, which is the principal ideological unifier across political and caste divisions in India, the State government, in all likelihood, would have complied. J & K is replete with such examples of political dogmatism, undemocratic methods, and state sanctified brutality. The territory has been benighted by reprehensible misgovernance and trammeled by a militarised culture.
 
Territory manipulated by New Delhi and Islamabad
J & K is an example of a territory manipulated by New Delhi and Islamabad reliant on the political and military prowess of their patrons. This strategy, which New Delhi espouses without making any bones about it, has had the adverse effect of stunting the development of civic and democratic structures conducive to suffrage and participatory democracy. The erosion of “indigenous” opposition in J & K has delegitimised the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism towards state-sponsored institutions and organisations. The exposure of Indian democracy as a brutal facade has instigated disgruntlement towards Indian democratic procedures and institutions in the state. The cause of the independence and/ or autonomy of J & K have been thwarted by both India and Pakistan. Beijing is also worried about the ramifications that Kashmiri independence would have in Tibet. 
In India, the BJP keeps harping on the balkanization of J & K along religio-ethnic lines, first propounded in 1950 by Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan.
I reiterate what I have reinforced in my earlier writings: I cannot emphasize enough the need to create access for marginalised Kashmiris to a community perspective, or a reference group. Avenues for rehabilitation must be created, so those who have been brutalized can work through the discourse of oppression and victimhood into developing the construction of their identities as survivors. Victims of brutality can politicise their identities within clear conceptual frameworks, instead of inculcating the “habit of silence,” which is a dangerous habit. 
We cannot refuse to deal with a landscape that has been radically transformed by struggle. The politics of representation cannot undermine the oppositional force of indigenous movements. A carnage that wiped out the bloom of youth, dreams of surpassing the banality of life, ambitions of carving their own destinies and charting their own paths, of many of our children, cannot be dismissed as the obdurate stubbornness of an uncivilized people or mere “summer unrest.”
I felt so hopeless and disillusioned for a while, because of how the terrible disturbances in Kashmir became mere collateral damages, and did not motivate either the State government or New Delhi to bring about structural changes that would substantially address inequities and injustices. Because of my despair at the hijacking of a haunting mass mobilisation by mainstream organizations and separatists, and at the dearth of coherent political discourses in Kashmir, I was quiet for a while, until I realised that it was important to avoid the “habit of silence” at all costs.
 
[Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma and former professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Her articles focus on the political issues and strife of her homeland, Jammu and Kashmir. 
She is the author of “Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism”; “Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir”; “The Life of a Kashmiri Woman”; and the editor of “The Parchment of Kashmir”. She has also served as a guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. 
She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.]
—-Counterpunch

Comment

Nyla Ali Khan

 
Nyla Ali Khan
The conception of a representative government that would enable the devolution of administrative responsibilities to districts and villages; a socialist system in which the state would control the means of production so as to ensure the fairest distribution of goods, power, and service to its members; the good of society would be considered a responsibility of the state, but the state would serve as an administrator and a distributor, not as a disseminator of ideology or doctrine; instituting educational and social schemes for marginalised sections of society. 
This worthy manifesto has been replaced in Jammu & Kashmir with an agenda that encourages mainstream Indian financial institutions to play a decisive role in the State, through the fixing of prices on the national and world markets, cartels, and a variety of educational and cultural institutions. How representative are the new elites brought to power through the electoral process, or even unwitting or willing agents of mainstream powers and agencies?
 
Irreparable loss of lives
This is how I see the gist of the contemporary problem in Kashmir: a conflict driven by nationalistic and religious fervour, with each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, and each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to its own suffering and sorrow, while ignoring the irreparable loss of lives, unredeemable loss of productive years, unsalvageable loss of properties and sources of livelihood, and the deep-rooted sense of despair of Kashmiris.
The insurgency and counter insurgency in the State has gone through a series of phases since 1990, but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality, which cannot be superceded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. After the forces of separatism reared their heads in J & K, the Indian Union exacerbated the violence and disorder by deploying belligerent and tactless methods.
For instance, on 1 October 1990, Indian paramilitary forces razed the bazaar of Handwara, a town located in the Northwestern part of the Valley. This action, taken after a guerilla attack, resulted in the indiscriminate killing of a large number of civilians. Subsequently, the landscape was tarnished by shanty-like bunkers with firing positions adorned with Indian flags and nationalist slogans, underlining the brutal repression of regionalist and antiestablishment aspirations. 
The systemic erosion of democratic rights in J & K, which has been the underlying theme of India’s and Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir since the dawn of independence since 1947, cannot go on forever. Events that are celebrated in the rest of India are overtly mourned in Kashmir. 26 January 2011, particularly, showcased the apathy of the people of Kashmir to the absurdity, bigotry, and spectacle that the nationalist politics of the BJP created.
While the reaction of the State government to the melodramatic and blustering attempts of the BJP to hoist the Indian national flag in Lal Chowk was designed for the Congress palate, it should not erase our memory of the duplicity of the Congress in enabling Murli Manohar Joshi to hoist the Indian national flag in Kashmir amidst tight security in 1992. 
If the Congress oracular “High Command” had decreed that the “children of a lesser god,” Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, be indulged by allowing them to raise the Indian national flag, which is the principal ideological unifier across political and caste divisions in India, the State government, in all likelihood, would have complied. J & K is replete with such examples of political dogmatism, undemocratic methods, and state sanctified brutality. The territory has been benighted by reprehensible misgovernance and trammeled by a militarised culture.
 
Territory manipulated by New Delhi and Islamabad
J & K is an example of a territory manipulated by New Delhi and Islamabad reliant on the political and military prowess of their patrons. This strategy, which New Delhi espouses without making any bones about it, has had the adverse effect of stunting the development of civic and democratic structures conducive to suffrage and participatory democracy. The erosion of “indigenous” opposition in J & K has delegitimised the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism towards state-sponsored institutions and organisations. The exposure of Indian democracy as a brutal facade has instigated disgruntlement towards Indian democratic procedures and institutions in the state. The cause of the independence and/ or autonomy of J & K have been thwarted by both India and Pakistan. Beijing is also worried about the ramifications that Kashmiri independence would have in Tibet. 
In India, the BJP keeps harping on the balkanization of J & K along religio-ethnic lines, first propounded in 1950 by Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan.
I reiterate what I have reinforced in my earlier writings: I cannot emphasize enough the need to create access for marginalised Kashmiris to a community perspective, or a reference group. Avenues for rehabilitation must be created, so those who have been brutalized can work through the discourse of oppression and victimhood into developing the construction of their identities as survivors. Victims of brutality can politicise their identities within clear conceptual frameworks, instead of inculcating the “habit of silence,” which is a dangerous habit. 
We cannot refuse to deal with a landscape that has been radically transformed by struggle. The politics of representation cannot undermine the oppositional force of indigenous movements. A carnage that wiped out the bloom of youth, dreams of surpassing the banality of life, ambitions of carving their own destinies and charting their own paths, of many of our children, cannot be dismissed as the obdurate stubbornness of an uncivilized people or mere “summer unrest.”
I felt so hopeless and disillusioned for a while, because of how the terrible disturbances in Kashmir became mere collateral damages, and did not motivate either the State government or New Delhi to bring about structural changes that would substantially address inequities and injustices. Because of my despair at the hijacking of a haunting mass mobilisation by mainstream organizations and separatists, and at the dearth of coherent political discourses in Kashmir, I was quiet for a while, until I realised that it was important to avoid the “habit of silence” at all costs.
 
[Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma and former professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Her articles focus on the political issues and strife of her homeland, Jammu and Kashmir. 
She is the author of “Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism”; “Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir”; “The Life of a Kashmiri Woman”; and the editor of “The Parchment of Kashmir”. She has also served as a guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. 
She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.]
—-Counterpunch

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Sri Lankan govt’s reform initiatives pick up speed

Jehan Perera in Colombo
 
In October 2015 the government surprised virtually everyone regardless of political spectrum, and friend and foe, when it co-sponsored the resolution on Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. From the time the war ended in 2009 onwards Sri Lanka came under pressure by this international body to investigate charges that massive violations of human rights had taken place in the closing stages of the war, which included war crimes.  Together with crimes against humanity and genocide, war crimes constitute the triumvirate of international crimes for which there can be no amnesty according to current international standards.  It may be a recognition of this that drives the opposition to insist that its leaders may face the electric chair.
Prior to October 2015, the Sri Lankan government headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had resisted the international calls for accountability for past violations of human rights and international crimes.  It strenuously denied the allegations and sought to mobilize international support in its favour.  Although the government succeeded in 2009 due to the willingness of the majority of countries at the UNHRC to give the government the benefit of time to work out a solution this victory was short-lived.  Thereafter on every occasion that Sri Lanka opposed the resolutions against it in Geneva, it lost and not surprisingly as the US itself led the campaign against the Sri Lankan government.
The co-sponsoring of the UNHRC resolution by both Sri Lanka and the international community was a victory for the government as it took the issue of dealing with the past out of the realm of contestation and fault finding to that of cooperation and accommodation.  Immediately the pressure put on the government by the international community was reduced.  The October 2015 resolution was also broadened to include a series of issues that went beyond a narrow focus on accountability for war crimes.    That resolution can be described as fulfilling the requirements for transitional justice in terms of international standards that are promoted by the UN as a matter of principle, not to punish countries but to ensure that they find sustainable solutions to their problems.
 
International framework
In the international framework, transitional justice refers to the movement from a situation of mass violations of human rights and autocratic governance to a situation of peace and good governance.  In this context there is a broad understanding of the different forms of justice, including criminal trials, but also restorative justice.  In the UN system, transitional justice means the “full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large scale past abuses in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” (www.unrol.org/files/TJ_Guidance_Vote_Marhc_2010Final.pdf)
When societies that have experienced long periods of conflict and human rights violations on a mass scale make the transition to a period where these are much reduced, it is important to sustain the process. The international community, and in particular the UN and its agencies, have identified several of the transition processes that could lead to sustainable improvement. In October 2009, the UN Human Rights Council issued a resolution on the UN’s approach to transitional justice that highlighted the need for a comprehensive strategy that incorporates both judicial and non-judicial measures.  These transitional justice strategies are meant to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations and authoritarian rule.  
The UNHRC resolution (12/1 Human Rights and Transitional Justice, A/HRC/RES/R/ 1 Oct 09) stated the importance of 
1. Truth seeking process that investigates patterns of past human rights violations and their causes and consequences can complement judicial processes
2. States have a responsibility to prosecute those responsible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law
3. Peace agreements endorsed by the UN can never promise amnesty for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and gross violations of human rights
4. Ensure that discrimination, the root causes of conflict and violations of all human rights are addressed.
Transitional justice may be divided into retributive justice and restorative justice.  Retributive justice is primarily about punishment after investigation, trials and prosecution which lead some kind of penalty.  On the other hand, restorative justice seeks to focus on the needs of the victims and the larger community.  It also has the goal of promoting political, economic and legal reform.   The most prominent example of restorative justice is the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid in the mid 1990s.  However, there are many who argue that without retribution in which perpetrators of crimes are held accountable and punished, there can be no stop to impunity in the future.  Sri Lanka is a country that is wrestling with these issues at the present time.
 
First fruits
One of the strengths of the present government is that it is a national government that comprises many key figures who were part and parcel of the former government.  President Maithripala Sirisena himself held high positions in the former government, including the post of acting Minister of Defence.  This combination has given the government a measure of political stability.  On the other hand, it is difficult for the government to tackle issues relating to retributive or punitive justice as a priority and more emphasis is being given to restorative justice.   Further, there has been concern that the forward movement has been slow.  
After the change of government there have been unofficial reports that the government is working on the full range of transitional justice issues, including those of punitive justice as manifested in a judicial accountability mechanism.  There have been reports that government delegations have been visiting foreign countries, and in particular South Africa and the United States but without disclosure of the contents of those discussions.  It appears that the government’s concern is that any premature public discussion on what it is proposing would be used by the opposition to utilize the power of narrow nationalism to derail the government’s transitional justice initiatives.
In the past fortnight the government has been sharing the first of its transitional justice mechanisms, which is the Office of Missing Persons.  This is meant to deal with the problem of disappearances, abductions and missing persons which has been dealt with in the past by a variety of governmental initiatives, the most recent of which has been the Missing Persons commission headed by Justice Paranagama.  The government has called for meetings with civil society organizations active in the area and also has had a preliminary consultation with those who have been direct victims.  It appears that every effort is being made to ensure that the legislation that establishes the Office of Missing Persons reaches international standards.
There are three other specific mechanisms that the government has promised, which are the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Office of Reparations and the Judicial Accountability mechanism.  Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera first sketched them out in September 2015 in the run up to the UNHRC resolution of October 2015.  It is reported that the government has proceeded far with these also although public consultations are yet to take place regarding them.  There is reason to believe that they too will meet international standards in their legal formulation as in the case of the Office of Missing Persons.  The real challenge will come at the next stage—that of implementation in the face of the past and present coming together in the government and opposition.

Comment

Jehan Perera in Colombo
 
In October 2015 the government surprised virtually everyone regardless of political spectrum, and friend and foe, when it co-sponsored the resolution on Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. From the time the war ended in 2009 onwards Sri Lanka came under pressure by this international body to investigate charges that massive violations of human rights had taken place in the closing stages of the war, which included war crimes.  Together with crimes against humanity and genocide, war crimes constitute the triumvirate of international crimes for which there can be no amnesty according to current international standards.  It may be a recognition of this that drives the opposition to insist that its leaders may face the electric chair.
Prior to October 2015, the Sri Lankan government headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had resisted the international calls for accountability for past violations of human rights and international crimes.  It strenuously denied the allegations and sought to mobilize international support in its favour.  Although the government succeeded in 2009 due to the willingness of the majority of countries at the UNHRC to give the government the benefit of time to work out a solution this victory was short-lived.  Thereafter on every occasion that Sri Lanka opposed the resolutions against it in Geneva, it lost and not surprisingly as the US itself led the campaign against the Sri Lankan government.
The co-sponsoring of the UNHRC resolution by both Sri Lanka and the international community was a victory for the government as it took the issue of dealing with the past out of the realm of contestation and fault finding to that of cooperation and accommodation.  Immediately the pressure put on the government by the international community was reduced.  The October 2015 resolution was also broadened to include a series of issues that went beyond a narrow focus on accountability for war crimes.    That resolution can be described as fulfilling the requirements for transitional justice in terms of international standards that are promoted by the UN as a matter of principle, not to punish countries but to ensure that they find sustainable solutions to their problems.
 
International framework
In the international framework, transitional justice refers to the movement from a situation of mass violations of human rights and autocratic governance to a situation of peace and good governance.  In this context there is a broad understanding of the different forms of justice, including criminal trials, but also restorative justice.  In the UN system, transitional justice means the “full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large scale past abuses in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” (www.unrol.org/files/TJ_Guidance_Vote_Marhc_2010Final.pdf)
When societies that have experienced long periods of conflict and human rights violations on a mass scale make the transition to a period where these are much reduced, it is important to sustain the process. The international community, and in particular the UN and its agencies, have identified several of the transition processes that could lead to sustainable improvement. In October 2009, the UN Human Rights Council issued a resolution on the UN’s approach to transitional justice that highlighted the need for a comprehensive strategy that incorporates both judicial and non-judicial measures.  These transitional justice strategies are meant to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations and authoritarian rule.  
The UNHRC resolution (12/1 Human Rights and Transitional Justice, A/HRC/RES/R/ 1 Oct 09) stated the importance of 
1. Truth seeking process that investigates patterns of past human rights violations and their causes and consequences can complement judicial processes
2. States have a responsibility to prosecute those responsible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law
3. Peace agreements endorsed by the UN can never promise amnesty for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and gross violations of human rights
4. Ensure that discrimination, the root causes of conflict and violations of all human rights are addressed.
Transitional justice may be divided into retributive justice and restorative justice.  Retributive justice is primarily about punishment after investigation, trials and prosecution which lead some kind of penalty.  On the other hand, restorative justice seeks to focus on the needs of the victims and the larger community.  It also has the goal of promoting political, economic and legal reform.   The most prominent example of restorative justice is the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid in the mid 1990s.  However, there are many who argue that without retribution in which perpetrators of crimes are held accountable and punished, there can be no stop to impunity in the future.  Sri Lanka is a country that is wrestling with these issues at the present time.
 
First fruits
One of the strengths of the present government is that it is a national government that comprises many key figures who were part and parcel of the former government.  President Maithripala Sirisena himself held high positions in the former government, including the post of acting Minister of Defence.  This combination has given the government a measure of political stability.  On the other hand, it is difficult for the government to tackle issues relating to retributive or punitive justice as a priority and more emphasis is being given to restorative justice.   Further, there has been concern that the forward movement has been slow.  
After the change of government there have been unofficial reports that the government is working on the full range of transitional justice issues, including those of punitive justice as manifested in a judicial accountability mechanism.  There have been reports that government delegations have been visiting foreign countries, and in particular South Africa and the United States but without disclosure of the contents of those discussions.  It appears that the government’s concern is that any premature public discussion on what it is proposing would be used by the opposition to utilize the power of narrow nationalism to derail the government’s transitional justice initiatives.
In the past fortnight the government has been sharing the first of its transitional justice mechanisms, which is the Office of Missing Persons.  This is meant to deal with the problem of disappearances, abductions and missing persons which has been dealt with in the past by a variety of governmental initiatives, the most recent of which has been the Missing Persons commission headed by Justice Paranagama.  The government has called for meetings with civil society organizations active in the area and also has had a preliminary consultation with those who have been direct victims.  It appears that every effort is being made to ensure that the legislation that establishes the Office of Missing Persons reaches international standards.
There are three other specific mechanisms that the government has promised, which are the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Office of Reparations and the Judicial Accountability mechanism.  Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera first sketched them out in September 2015 in the run up to the UNHRC resolution of October 2015.  It is reported that the government has proceeded far with these also although public consultations are yet to take place regarding them.  There is reason to believe that they too will meet international standards in their legal formulation as in the case of the Office of Missing Persons.  The real challenge will come at the next stage—that of implementation in the face of the past and present coming together in the government and opposition.

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Homeschooling is getting popular in Pakistan

Zubeida Mustafa

 
The paradox of education in Pakistan is that the children of the poor are not getting enough of it, while the offspring of the rich get a surfeit. Neither is good for the child.
The privileged class faces a dilemma due to the commercialisation of the education system. Mothers with young children complain about the burden of classwork and tuitions. What they worry about is the overload of studies that overflows from school hours to tuition time.
In this context, it is but natural that some enterprising mothers are looking for solutions. A novel one that is becoming increasingly popular is homeschooling. There are a few mothers in Lahore and a growing number in Karachi who have opted to withdraw their young children from school or have not sent them to school at all.
 
Current school system
All of them are dissatisfied with our current school system the highly elitist and the not so elitist. The most commonly heard complaint is that our schools rob the child of their childhood. Under the present system, the child is denied the joy of learning. The schools are suppressing critical thinking and destroying creativity, they say.
One angry mother pulled her children out of school when her daughter was appointed the monitor and asked to report those children who spoke Urdu in school. She found this distasteful.
Homeschooling one mother prefers to call it home education is thus the public‘s response to the authorities‘ failure to address the issue of pedagogy and the content of education adequately. The Karachi homeschoolers are loosely organised into two groups one in the DHA area and the other in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. The idea of getting together is not so much to regulate their working rigidly as to learn from one another‘s experience and make a collective contribution to their children‘s learning process.
Visiting the group in DHA gave me the opportunity to watch the children at work.
They seemed to be playing and having fun.
Actually, they were learning. It was Wednesday, when mothers meet at the weekly Book Club to draw up their work plans. There were nearly 20 children and eight or so mothers.
 
Real-life experience
When I joined them, one of the mothers was teaching the children from age four to ten something about plants. When the class ended the students trooped out into the garden for some real-life experience. As an introductory exercise, they had already visited a farm and studied the different species of trees there.
Since the mothers were highly educated themselves they appeared to be coping well.
Normally, a mother might be homeschooling her own children and also those from anotherfamily. There is plenty of interaction among them and the atmosphere was relaxed. The groups are of mixed ages with the older ones helping their younger siblings.
Forever in quest of solutions, many mothers had arranged for tutors for older children to teach subjects at a higher level such as science and mathematics. Ultimately, they aim to prepare children to sit for their ‘O‘-levels examinations privately.
 
Experiment holds promise
It appeared to be an experiment that held promise but many issues come to mind about which the mothers themselves are sceptical.
They say that the experiment is so new in Pakistan that they do not have a yardstick to measure its effectiveness. Unlike the US where homeschooling operates in a strictly regulated environment, home schools in Pakistan have no constraints. In the US and other Western countries, mechanisms have been created to test the children‘s progress periodically.
The mothers acknowledge that they had to muster courage not to conform; even now they feel they have to ultimately aim at fitting their child into the conventional world of higher education and professional life. One said she may ultimately move bacl to the US from where she returned to serve her country. She was candid enough to tell me that after a year of homeschooling her younger son still misses the regular school he had been attending earlier. But the older one who has learning problems says he would never want to go back to school.
What perturbed me was the limited social exposure of homeschooled children to diversity in society. One mother, who is teaching her children at home, told me that homeschooling mothers have to be ‘quirky‘ by their very nature. They have to have strong ideas about education and should be prepared to take risks. That is why they tend to come from the same socio-economic class with similar ideological beliefs.
Having studied in a convent school where a diversity of class, faiths and culture enriched the classroom environment, I wonder how children growing up in a secluded group with an identical outlook learn to coexist with the ‘other‘.It is time to seriously rethink education.Wouldn‘t it be advisable for parents to concentrate their efforts on reforms in the school sector?
www.zubeidamustafa.com
[The writer is one of the most well-known women journalists in Pakistan.This article was originally published by the Dawn, Pakistan]
—IPS

Comment

Zubeida Mustafa

 
The paradox of education in Pakistan is that the children of the poor are not getting enough of it, while the offspring of the rich get a surfeit. Neither is good for the child.
The privileged class faces a dilemma due to the commercialisation of the education system. Mothers with young children complain about the burden of classwork and tuitions. What they worry about is the overload of studies that overflows from school hours to tuition time.
In this context, it is but natural that some enterprising mothers are looking for solutions. A novel one that is becoming increasingly popular is homeschooling. There are a few mothers in Lahore and a growing number in Karachi who have opted to withdraw their young children from school or have not sent them to school at all.
 
Current school system
All of them are dissatisfied with our current school system the highly elitist and the not so elitist. The most commonly heard complaint is that our schools rob the child of their childhood. Under the present system, the child is denied the joy of learning. The schools are suppressing critical thinking and destroying creativity, they say.
One angry mother pulled her children out of school when her daughter was appointed the monitor and asked to report those children who spoke Urdu in school. She found this distasteful.
Homeschooling one mother prefers to call it home education is thus the public‘s response to the authorities‘ failure to address the issue of pedagogy and the content of education adequately. The Karachi homeschoolers are loosely organised into two groups one in the DHA area and the other in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. The idea of getting together is not so much to regulate their working rigidly as to learn from one another‘s experience and make a collective contribution to their children‘s learning process.
Visiting the group in DHA gave me the opportunity to watch the children at work.
They seemed to be playing and having fun.
Actually, they were learning. It was Wednesday, when mothers meet at the weekly Book Club to draw up their work plans. There were nearly 20 children and eight or so mothers.
 
Real-life experience
When I joined them, one of the mothers was teaching the children from age four to ten something about plants. When the class ended the students trooped out into the garden for some real-life experience. As an introductory exercise, they had already visited a farm and studied the different species of trees there.
Since the mothers were highly educated themselves they appeared to be coping well.
Normally, a mother might be homeschooling her own children and also those from anotherfamily. There is plenty of interaction among them and the atmosphere was relaxed. The groups are of mixed ages with the older ones helping their younger siblings.
Forever in quest of solutions, many mothers had arranged for tutors for older children to teach subjects at a higher level such as science and mathematics. Ultimately, they aim to prepare children to sit for their ‘O‘-levels examinations privately.
 
Experiment holds promise
It appeared to be an experiment that held promise but many issues come to mind about which the mothers themselves are sceptical.
They say that the experiment is so new in Pakistan that they do not have a yardstick to measure its effectiveness. Unlike the US where homeschooling operates in a strictly regulated environment, home schools in Pakistan have no constraints. In the US and other Western countries, mechanisms have been created to test the children‘s progress periodically.
The mothers acknowledge that they had to muster courage not to conform; even now they feel they have to ultimately aim at fitting their child into the conventional world of higher education and professional life. One said she may ultimately move bacl to the US from where she returned to serve her country. She was candid enough to tell me that after a year of homeschooling her younger son still misses the regular school he had been attending earlier. But the older one who has learning problems says he would never want to go back to school.
What perturbed me was the limited social exposure of homeschooled children to diversity in society. One mother, who is teaching her children at home, told me that homeschooling mothers have to be ‘quirky‘ by their very nature. They have to have strong ideas about education and should be prepared to take risks. That is why they tend to come from the same socio-economic class with similar ideological beliefs.
Having studied in a convent school where a diversity of class, faiths and culture enriched the classroom environment, I wonder how children growing up in a secluded group with an identical outlook learn to coexist with the ‘other‘.It is time to seriously rethink education.Wouldn‘t it be advisable for parents to concentrate their efforts on reforms in the school sector?
www.zubeidamustafa.com
[The writer is one of the most well-known women journalists in Pakistan.This article was originally published by the Dawn, Pakistan]
—IPS

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