Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Adhe Adhoore Khwab: My Impressions

Adhe Adhoore Khawab: My Impressions
Fauzia Reza

In 'Aadhay Adhooray Khawab' the obvious ingredients of the theme—the noble purpose of education, passing on the torch, etc.—aside, the narrative poetically touches upon several of the “universal laws” one might encounter as an amateur student of philosophy, human psyche and related disciplines. Before I proceed to elaborate on this unusual aspect of the book, a word on the subtleties in the text, for I find these to be tantalizingly rich and singular: what is left unsaid is often of far more significance than that which is clearly elucidated. Take, for instance, the case of how one might go about defining the nature of the relationship between Professor Saharan Rai and Ms. Imtishal Agha—well, on the obvious level it would appear clearly platonic, and yet there is a clear enough allusion to an element of jealous concern on the part of one when the other is reported to have shown more than the needed level of grace and hospitality to a third party.

Back to the universal laws: the novel begins with Professor Rai’s visit to a city where he has, in the past, worked as a teacher. He is scheduled to stay in a hostel that he describes as desolate, and, it turns dark as soon as he steps in. To add to the melancholy and mystery, there is only one other resident of this hostel. The Professor's name sort of suggests that his family may have its roots in the Ganges-Yamuna belt. A significant proportion of the residents of this area are known for their belief in past lives, hence the law of incarnation. Did the Professor and Ms. Agha had the occasion to be under the same roof in a past life and never got to meet? Does this meeting represent another chance in this life for the two to convene and address the Professor's 'Adhay Adhooray Khaab'?

One interpretation of the law of attraction is that “we attract towards us all that we require”. It does not promise that this is what we want. Ms. Agha is ostensibly in search of a purpose in life, while the Professor feels a calling to leave his dreams in safe hands. Ms. Agha perhaps does not 'want' to teach in the shabby classroom of the school in the village; perhaps she wants to be in the comfortable UN set up, but, her spiritual fulfilment requires her to be in that classroom. And, this appears to be an excellent match with the Professor’s “requirements”.

Enough about the “laws” for one review, let me touch upon another one of the finer subtleties: the communication between Ms. Agha and the Professor via dreams. That dreams provide a key channel of intuition is reasonably well accepted. Mona Lisa Schulz in her groundbreaking major work on intuition well being and brain science ‘Awakening Intuition’ says: ‘…..dreams are a primary source of intuition, a channel through which crucial guidance is broadcast and vital images televised to us about matters that are critical to our lives…..the key to getting intuitive information from dreams is to remember your dreams. You must also be willing to listen to and accept the information they broadcast to you.’ In her dream, Ms. Agha sees the Professor suggesting to her that she should teach the kids in the school in her village. Subsequently, in real life, Professor Rai expresses his desire for Imtishaal Agha to help educate the community in her village, perhaps subtly alluding to a bond of communication between the two on multiple frames.

A word about the expression: the novel is written with a nice, spontaneous flow. It is interesting to see chunks of English added as the characters talk to each other i.e. “woh aik aam say insaan thay….very unassuming” (p.29). This gives it a realistic touch, for that is how today’s spoken Urdu has evolved. The theme, combined with the subtleties, should make for the basis of an excellent television play or a movie. I could literally visualise the beginning with Imtishal Agha’s first day teaching at the school. There, noticing Agha’s reaction to the mention of Professor Rai, a little girl student remarks: ‘So, you were that fond of him.….?’

Monday, August 30, 2010

Concepts of quality

Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Dawn, 30 August, 2010
Quality has become a buzzword in the domain of education. Various forums propose a number of measures that can be used to enhance quality in the sector. Yet part of the problem is the lack of clarity in educational institutions and amongst their managers about the concepts of quality.

A related concern, especially for managers of educational institutions, is how to measure quality. In pursuit of some workable strategies for ensuring, sustaining and measuring quality, a number of methods and techniques have been explored by the corporate world, which conveniently defined the notion of quality in terms of efficiency and productivity.

This definition may encompass the requirements of a business organisation, where the emphasis is on maximum productivity and efficiency. But the meaning of quality that used to refer to individuals has become linked with systems and processes. A successful organisation needs to have efficient and effective systems, but the dominance of inflexible systems has reduced individual freedom and the space for creativity.

There is a problem with this definition of quality, i.e. efficiency and productivity, when it is applied as it is to educational institutions for the simple reason that schools are different from factories and businesses. According to leading UK educationist Stephen Ball, “Schools are complex, contradictory, sometimes incoherent organisations.” In schools we deal with knowledge and human beings. Knowledge, unlike the products of a factory, is tentative, subjective, relative and variable. By contrast, in factories consistent efforts are made to ensure that the product is identical regardless of the unit where they are manufactured.

Interestingly, during the past two decades in Pakistan, education has been turned into a growing industry where quality is viewed only in terms of efficiency and productivity. A number of commonalities can be found between schools and corporate organisations in the wake of the ‘corporatisation’ of education.

The criteria of success and quality are also borrowed from the corporate world. For instance, lately total quality management (TQM), which is purely a business strategy to implement and ensure quality, has been applied to educational institutions. In keeping with similar jargon, TQM has become a socially desirable requirement and many educational institutions have rushed to implement it.

The obvious attraction for managers of schools was that systems would dominate individuals and their performance could be measured in quantitative terms. The annual reports of teachers revolved around the quantification of their performance. In doing so, it was forgotten that there are certain aspects of quality that cannot be measured quantitatively. The quantitative evaluation of performance forces teachers to document every single job they do and over-represent themselves by making their performance reports more convincing. In doing this, the real essence of quality gets lost in the ‘noise’ of meaningless numbers.

Curiously, the success of schools is also measured through its visible features. Stephen Ball rightly observes that, “procedures and techniques which are intended to make schools more visible and accountable paradoxically encourage opacity and the manipulation of representations.”

Many of the jobs performed by labour in a factory can be carried out by machines and robots since factory products are predictable, uniform and visible. However, this cannot be done in an educational institution where a teacher deals with living human beings with individual sentiments, passions, likes and dislikes.Unfortunately, in some educational institutions, technical gadgetry such as multimedia machines and overhead projectors has taken over the teaching process and the role of the teacher has been reduced to that of an operator pressing the button. Such classrooms are devoid of vibrant knowledge and lack the dynamic process of critical thinking.

As systems and processes dominate the working of a corporate organisation, schools are also impacted by this trend. Now, teachers are reduced to mere implementers who use a textbook and are provided lesson plans and assessment questions. Thus the thinking part of the job is done by others and teachers act as mere consumers.

In some cases teachers of different branches of a chain of schools are given lesson plans designed by the secretariat. Such a highly centralised system views teachers as mere actors who do not, cannot and should not think or reflect on their own. Interestingly, the evaluation of faculty performance does not require a teacher to think or reflect before, during and after on his/her teaching.

The expectations of the management from teachers influence, shape and determine their practices. Schools need to wean themselves away from the visible aspect of quality to the invisible part of it, i.e. the quality of learning processes in classrooms. The visible part of quality would prompt teachers to gear up all resources to demonstrate their performance in terms of numbers. The problem with this method of assessment, however, is that there are certain aspects of quality that cannot be broken down into small units that can be measured and thus cannot be assessed through numerical criteria.

It is important to understand that business organisations and schools are very different entities. One deals with commodities and the other with living beings; one believes in the uniformity of products and the other should encourage diversity; one encourages mechanical implementation and the other should advocate reflective practice. Applying the quality criteria used by corporate organisations to schools may draw a misleading picture.

The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Retaining Faculty

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
DAWN, Monday, 16 Aug, 2010

AN educational institution needs vision to move forward. A number of factors contribute towards realising the mission set by an educational institution but the most crucial one is its faculty. It is the faculty that sets the tone of academic quality in an educational enterprise.

In Pakistan we see significant quantitative expansion in terms of new schools, colleges and universities. This expansion became more visible with the advent of private-sector education. The increased number of educational institutions on the one hand provided opportunities to students to acquire education, and on the other, opened new avenues for jobs for faculty.

The hiring of faculty has become a major challenge for educational institutions. Yet a much bigger challenge is that of a high turnover, since a number of faculty members switch organisations. The sudden loss of faculty members impacts on existing academic plans of organisations in a negative manner.

What are the reasons for the high turnover rate? What steps can be taken to ensure their retention? An oversimplified response is that people move to other organisations for more money, therefore they can be retained by increasing their salaries. This may be true to a certain extent but it is not the only reason for faculty switchovers.

Let us first look at the remuneration factor. With the introduction of private-sector education there has been a sizeable increase in the salaries of faculty members. A number of qualified faculty members left public-sector educational institutions for handsome salary packages in the private sector.

Money can be a major factor in retention but there are other factors as well, some of them much stronger. One of them is the culture of a certain educational institution. This refers to the academic freedom available, the team of professional colleagues, opportunities and sources of creativity available to faculty members.

This factor plays a very important part in motivating a faculty member to continue working at a place. Another important factor is the respected ‘brand name’ of the educational institution. The quality of students is important to set the tone of academic standards. The poor quality of students may have a negative effect on teachers’ pedagogy. But if it is a good institution, then it would attract students of quality. A faculty member working in a good institution feels a sense of pride being associated with it. In such case, he or she may not be swayed by the salary factor.

Another strong factor in faculty retention is the opportunity for upward mobility. If a faculty member feels that there are no further opportunities for upward mobility and the career path is blocked s/he would start thinking about making a move. Good organisations are always concerned about the career path and professional development of their faculty members. This may include short-term training courses, scholarships for further studies and leave for studies. These opportunities not only help empower faculty members but also create a feeling of ownership amongst them.

The work environment plays an important role in the retention of faculty members. This includes the infrastructure, such as the institution’s building, furniture, cafeteria, grounds and temperature-control arrangements. If the educational institution is located at a distant place which is difficult to access, and if there are no basic facilities available on campus, it would de-motivate the teaching staff.

Furthermore, the work environment includes the quantity and quality of work assigned to faculty members. Sometimes they are overburdened, which usually happens in schools and colleges where a teacher is given an extra load to teach. At times, the work assigned to a faculty member is not relevant in terms of his or her qualifications. In this case, the faculty member would not be very happy carrying out his/her assignment.

The security element is vital in the retention of faculty. What will a faculty member get at the end of his/her tenure? Good universities have attractive pension and/or gratuity plans for their faculty members. They are concerned about the wellbeing of their employees and offer them health insurance and other benefits. Beyond these benefits, some universities give interest-free loans to their employees. To further facilitate their employees, some universities provide subsidised accommodation on campuses. Such gestures tend to develop a mutual sense of ownership.

The system of rewards is crucial for the retention of faculty members. The feeling that good work is going unnoticed is painful; good performance should be acknowledged. Such acknowledgment could be verbal praise, a letter of appreciation, a bonus or higher increments.

Research is an integral part of a university. Though all universities acknowledge the importance of research, very few universities provide opportunities to their faculty members in terms of well-equipped libraries, access to academic journals and above all, time for carrying out research. Similarly, opportunities to disseminate the results of research through publication in journals or presentations in a conference are an important step. Good universities encourage their faculty members by giving them rewards for publication and sponsoring them to present in international conferences.

The retention of faculty is considered the foremost priority of good universities. A high salary is an important factor but the work environment, security and faculty’s wellbeing are also factors that play an important part in the retention of faculty. Of similar importance are the educational institution’s reputation, the chances for upward mobility and research, opportunities for professional development and academic freedom.

The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics, and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review: Adhe Adhoore Khawab

Adhey Adhoore Khawab – A Story of Shared Visions
Review by Sufia Sultana
Sufia Sultana
Whether you are a practicing teacher, teacher educator, social reformer, activist, a student or a reflective citizen, this book has been written for you.

Adhe Adhoore Khawab is a unique and heart-rending story, penned by Dr Shahid Siddiqui, a prominent educationist. The book is termed as a ‘trend-setter in Urdu literature’, by Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, a renowned Urdu critic. The story begins with monologues of three major characters, Professor Saharan Raey, Imtisal Agha and Tassawur. The characters narrate their story in each chapter one after another and develop the plot in a unique fashion creating suspense for the reader, which is kept alive all through. The story is very forceful, captivating and interesting, so is the style of narration. The reader needs to open the first page, when the rest are read and turned, he does not know even.

Shared visions and dreams bring people closer, irrespective of socio-geographical distances and become the binding force between Prof Saharan Raey: an activist, and a passionate and sensitive soul, Imtisal Agha. Imtisal is not a direct student of Prof Raey, they meet in a dramatic style, as plotted by “The Celestine Prophecy”.

The plot revolves around a reflective, unorthodox and revolutionary Professor Raey, the protagonist of the novel; and individualistically unusual Imtisal Agha. Prof. Raey is the mouth piece of the author, who believes that education is not restricted to getting a degree and securing a better job. Rather it is a tool to bring a social change. It is education which can awaken any nation from slumber. Imtisal shares her views with Prof. Raey that she doesn’t believe in passive education rather envisions a vibrant and dynamic education.
The story, written in the background of lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, leaves a long-lasting impact on the readers, as they can identify themselves with the characters and the situations. Professor Raey’s imprisonment followed by torture is the most moving part of the story ending with a ray of hope as Imtisal takes on Professor Rai’s unfinished mission.

This novel is written in a unique style, easy conversational language and short pithy, often three to four words sentences, make it a master piece. In the history of Urdu literature, all those who tried didactic approach believing in art for life’s sake, have been very unrealistic and unattractive for the readers. The literature produced by this school of thought lacked the element of literary taste. The characters are either purely angelic or absolutely satanic in their nature. Contrarily, art for art’s sake, created life-like realistic, true and grey characters; but most of the time devoid of didactic element or social reformation.
Dr Siddiqui is an ardent believer of social reformation through literature and education; he writes in his article ‘Education and Social Justice’ published in the daily Dawn:

‘EDUCATION and society are considered to have an important relationship in which both inform, impact and transform each other. Education is viewed as a necessary condition for socio-economic development, emancipation and freedom; then there is its relationship with social justice’.
The novel demonstrates an incredible blend of aestheticism and didacticism. No novel of this amazing brevity could fulfill the needs and demands of two entirely different doctrines. This has been the forte of Dr Shahid Siddiqui’s writings that at no point ever his pen loses the artistic and literary beauties while instructing the values even. The novel covering the varied grave themes of education, politics, justice, coercion, gender discrimination, love, social change and agitation, etc., in a poetic style, interspersed with beautiful images from nature to minimize the severity. The images have been dexterously used as the agents to inform the upcoming changes.

If you are interested in pleasure reading, this novel is suggested; if you want to read a motivational, inspirational life-changing book you are recommended to go through it. Hence, whether you are a practicing teacher, teacher educator, social reformer, activist, a student or a reflective citizen, this book has been written for your.

Author: Dr Shahid Siddique
Published by Jahangir Books
Enterprise: 2009
Page: 176
Price: Rs.250/-
Buy online:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Adhe Adhoore Khawab: My Reflections

Book Title: Adhay Adhooray Khawab
Author: Dr. Shahid Siddiqi
Publisher: Jahangir Books
Pages: 176
Reflections by Amna Khalid

“Adhay Adhooray Khawab” by Dr. Shahid Siddiqi tells the story of a Professor who is a role model for his students. He makes them realize about the great values of life. His main interests are education; sociology and politics. According to him, the love with your dreams and ideology is the best kind of love. In his view, education is a powerful tool to bring change in society. He talks about critical thinking and social change. When his students start their agitation against the injustice in their country, the authorities try to suppress them. At this moment, professor Rai plays the role to protect his students but he becomes the victim of torture.
Amna Khalid
As the author himself is an educationist, he has expressed his thoughts, ideas, feelings and dreams through the role of Professor Rai. He has presented his thoughtful insight in the form of a story. Professor Rai is not a traditional teacher who is rigid and authoritative. He has his own way of teaching. He knows the art how to motivate his pupils by reaching their minds and hearts. According to him a good teacher should listen to his students, give importance and respect to them, and he should be kind towards his students. In addition to knowledge, teaching methodology and teacher’s attitude, creativity of a teacher is another important factor.
This novel not only gives us the information about new ideas of education but also tells us something beyond that. Some societies want their people to become literate only because they can read and understand the instructions given to them by their authorities. In this way, they teach them the lesson of slavery. The author gives emphasis on the importance of critical literacy as it can be used to bring change in society. The author links the education with ideology. Education should not be neutral and passive rather it should play an active role in society. It can be helpful to minimize the social and financial gap in society. The author has skillfully highlighted that one of the main problems in our society is of social injustice. To eradicate this problem we should make connections between schools and other social institutions through informal education. We cannot claim our success unless we make a connection between education and society. He shows how a teacher can raise awareness in his students.
The intended audiences of this book are teachers, students. This book is appropriate for its audiences. The purpose of writing this book is to give the awareness how education can play an important role in the betterment of a society. The author is successful in achieving his goals. The scope of his work is high. He has supported his arguments by giving the example from real life situation of our country. The book is developed orderly and clearly. The author’s writing style is narrative and language is simple and easy. The prose is highly readable and appropriate to its intended audience.
There are two main characters in this novel Professor Saharan Rai and Imtashal Agha that have the relationship of student and teacher. They have common dreams of social equality, justice and freedom. In the end Professor lost his life during the struggle of the realization of his dreams but his mission does not end here. His student is now going ahead to accomplish it. The novel is written mainly in the settings of educational institutions and hostels. As far as the title “Adhay Adhoray Kawab”is concerned, the author has justified it.
The author has covered the subject adequately. He has thrown light on the realities of life which demand critical thinking. There is a novelty and originality in his work. He presents the features of life which are no more the part of our lives these days. Here students are active and curious to gain knowledge, and teachers are intellectual and inspiring. Everyone has some dreams and is full of zeal and zest. The book has some illustrations, e.g., Emile Bronte’s Wuhthering Heights, Gramsci, Foucault’s idea of Knowledge and Power, Symbolic Violence of French Sociologist Bourdieu, etc. In would suggest teachers to read this book and recommend it to their students.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Education as Power

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Monday, 02 Aug, 2010

THE important link between education and power was first theorised by the Italian thinker Gramsci whose book Prison Notebooks contains lucid thoughts on education. According to his view of civil society, schools occupy an important place leading to the ‘spontaneous consent’ of marginalised groups.

How does this happen? French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu explained the process by using the term ‘symbolic violence’. According to him, it is through symbolic power that dominant groups impose their thoughts, choices and preferences on marginalised groups. Schools, as Bourdieu hypothesised, create ‘habitus’ or socially approved norms that are acquired by students in the form of ‘official knowledge’. Since official knowledge is constructed by dominant groups, it is always biased in favour of their interests.

Schooling controls minds and is instrumental in developing a mono-cultural society where a certain mode of thinking is considered the supreme form of knowledge. Diversity and variety, in such a society, is discouraged and an artificially constructed hierarchical knowledge system is developed. It was this impact of schooling on society that received the scathing criticism of Ivan Illich in his classic 1971 book Deschooling Society. The manifestation of power finds its way in the form of school buildings, the social class associated with the school, faculty and language. It is important to note how education imparted by different schools is instrumental in constructing and perpetuating unequal relationships of power.

The relationship between the powerful and powerless defines the notion of power. Thus education is engaged in the highly political act of constructing the unequal nature of the relationship between dominant and disadvantaged groups. It is important to note that power is not just about having more money; other dimensions of power go beyond material capital. Some of these dimensions are referred to by Bourdieu in the form of cultural, social and symbolic capital. Education plays a significant role in cultural capital as it deals with different forms of knowledge and leads to different educational outcomes.

Similarly, good education from a good school may lead to the acquisition of social capital that is essentially networking. ‘Symbolic capital’ refers to the resources available to a person on the basis of his or her position. All these are different constituents as well as manifestations of power. Education also has an important share in the construction of social, cultural and symbolic capital. It is in this context that quality education becomes crucial as it enhances one’s chances of acquiring the capital that is linked to power.

A related question is: who has greater chances of acquiring quality education? An obvious answer is that those who already have cultural, social and symbolic capital are more likely to have access to quality education. In other words, the rich, the influential and dominant societal groups have access to quality education that in turn perpetuates the unequal social relationships between the haves and have-nots.

In Pakistan, most attempts to view and interpret education were based on the quantitative paradigm where enhanced numbers, in terms of schools, students and teachers were considered the only criterion of quality education. This approach to education focused only on number-crunching and evaded the essential political aspect of education that deals with power. The oft-trumpeted slogan ‘education for all’ becomes meaningless as it is not just education but the quality of education that is important. For instance, having a similar degree from two qualitatively different schools would mean a huge difference in terms of the promise of better life chances for the student.

The emphasis should thus not be only on an expansionist approach to education. The question ‘what kind of education?’ is more important, as all variety of education does not equally pave the way for socio-economic development or promise individual freedom. In Pakistan, most of the public-sector schools are deprived of state patronage. The result is the perpetuation of the same old pedagogical practices that emanate from a behaviouristic paradigm, where the emphasis is on the transmission of knowledge, culture and values. Most of these schools constitute perfect examples of how ‘taken-for-granted knowledge’ is imposed on the young generation through a powerful social institution. It is this process of imprinting the dominant version of knowledge that is referred to as ‘symbolic violence’.

The question then is: how can education emerge as an effective tool for resistance, development and emancipation? The answer lies not in the quantitative expansion of education only. There is a need to revisit the pedagogical practices and infuse the spirit of enquiry and reflection among students. This is only possible when we empower our teachers socially, economically and academically. Teacher-training institutions can play an important role in this, but unfortunately, most of Pakistan’s teacher-training departments and institutions are engaged in merely churning out large numbers of trained teachers every year.

Such teacher-trainings programmes/courses are usually based on stereotypical courses taught through conservative pedagogical methods. There is no conscious effort to create a link between theory and practice. The majority of these programmes make little room for critical thinking or reflective practice. Their only objective seems to be a passport to get a job. A substantive change is required in the curriculum and pedagogy of teacher-training programmes.

Only thinking teachers can develop thinking human beings in their classrooms. It is classroom interaction that is closely linked with quality education — the kind of education that is likely to enhance the chances of acquiring cultural, social and symbolic capital.

The writer is a professor and the director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics, and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.