Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Paradize Forgotten

Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Pakistan Today, 29 May,2011
Seventeen months before, on January 4, 2010, the Hunza river flow got blocked by massive landsliding at Ataabad, a small village of Gojal, Upper Hunza. The cracking mountain gave way to large stones that came down with lightning speed and destroyed whatever came in their way. It was night time and the dwellers of the village were sleeping after day’s hard work. Some of them could never wake up to see their paradise again- the paradise of Gojal (Upper Hunza) known for natural beauty of shimmering glaciers, fruit orchards, wild flowers, water springs, and mighty river Hunza. Nineteen people died. But this was not all; it was just the beginning of a long and tiring phase of miseries that was to transforms the economic, social, and educational fabric of this locality.
There is an urgent need to confront the issue on an emergency basis as the delay is adding to the gravity of problems.
As a result of the landsliding, river Hunza’s flow was obstructed by the debris that led to the formation of a lake that swelled and expanded and covered an area of almost twenty seven kilometers. The rising water of the lake devoured fields, houses, animals, and fruit orchards. A long portion of Karakoram highways was submerged and so were some important bridges between Aaeenabad and Hussaini. According to an estimate, 47 houses were damaged and a number of fruit orchards were destroyed. Three hundred animals were killed and the cash crop of potato was ruined. This was a heavy blow to the economic structure of the area and people over night turned from haves to have-nots.

The landsliding was not just an event but an unending process of mental torture, loss, fear, frustration, and helplessness. The impact of the lake was felt at multiple levels. The immediate outcome of the submersion of Karakoram Highway was that the whole area of Gojal, containing 25,000 thousand people, got cut off from the rest of the country. After the lapse of 17 months, they are still surrounded by water.

There is only one hospital available in the locality and even that is without sufficient resources. In the absence of roads, people have to use boats for communication. The private boats, however, are quite expensive. Besides the expenditure, the catch is that the boats ply only in fair weather and in smooth waters. If there is some emergency and the weather is rough, there is no way that one could get out of the confines of Gojal and reach some hospital in Gilgit.

What has happened since January 4, 2010? During the long period of 17 months, the people of Gojal suffered economically, socially, physically, and psychologically. Nothing much has happened that brought any tangible improvement in the lives of the people of this paradise. Have we forgotten the 417 families that were internally displaced? What happened to the promises made by the government to these people? The rehabilitation process that required prompt action has been going through the mazes of bureaucratic steps. The IDPs needed the money urgently to construct their own houses and leave the temporary abodes. A number of parents are unable to pay the school fees of their children. Hunza, that boasted an exemplary literacy rate, was struck badly by the Ataabad disaster. Seven schools were damaged and the alternative arrangements are not ideal at all.

Seventeen months after the incident, we are still facing an uncertain situation about the artificially formed lake. Initial promises, that the obstruction would be removed in a couple of months, evaporated in the air. The FWO despite their long engagement with the lake could dig only 15 feet. Their biggest success could be the creation of spillway which equaled the magnitude of inflow and outflow. This is certainly not the ultimate solution. The lake is still there and so are the problems related to it. The most recent happening is melting of Ghulkin glacier that has increased the level of water in the lake. With summer setting in, the glaciers have started melting which would certainly mean increased inflow of water that could prove dangerous to the population living in the area.

There is an urgent need to confront the issue on an emergency basis as the delay is adding to the gravity of problems. There is a growing realisation on the part of the local people that the work on the lake, which has been underway for the last one and a half years, is slow in pace and needs to be accelerated. If there is an issue of lack of resources, we should seek help from the neighboring country China that has superior technological capacity to deal with the challenge more effectively and efficiently. Meanwhile, the announced money for the IDPs needs to be dispersed as soon as possible as it is already too late and the anxiety is building up in the local community. There are protests on the streets to highlight their demands and the government cannot afford further delay. Let’s not forget our beautiful paradise of Upper Hunza and the stranded people there who deserve a better and quicker response from the local and federal governments.

The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. He can be reached at

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Devolution and beyond

Dr Shahid Siddiqui

Since independence Pakistan has been mostly ruled by the such civil and military governments that were pro-centric in their approach and were not very keen to listening to the justified demands of the provinces. The 1971 war that led to the separation of East Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh was not triggered instantly; rather it had a long history of a sense of deprivation by the people of East Pakistan. Similarly in 1955 West Pakistan all the provinces and states were bracketed together and were given the name of One Unit. This decision prompted a prolonged movement that successfully ended on 1 July 1970 when the provincial status of four federating units was restored after abolishing the one unit.

The provincial autonomy remained there as a popular demand and became an integral part of political discourse. Some major political parties of the country supported vociferously this demand. A concrete step towards this direction was when two major parties PPP and PML (N) signed the Charter of Democracy on 14th May 2006 that promised provincial autonomy. A committee, headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, was formed in April 2009 for the constitutional reforms. The committee worked for about a year and, as a result of seventy seven meetings, prepared a comprehensive document. The 18th amendment was approved by the national assembly and the senate and was formally signed by the Presidents of Pakistan on 19th April, 2010.
Though drafting the 18th amendment was considered as an important achievement, and rightly so, but the real challenge was to implement the constitutional reforms. For this purpose an implementation commission was constituted that was headed by Mr Raza Rabbini. The eight- member multi party Implementation Commission, held fifty meetings ,i.e. at least one meeting a week to sort out the dynamics of devolution. Realizing the potential challenge of financial implications a committee was set up to look into the financial implications involved in the devolution process. The committee held six separate meetings. Four meetings of the Commission were presided over by the Prime Minister and in one all the chief ministers participated.

If we look at the performance of Implementation Commission the Commission has devolved ten ministries, nine selected functions of six federal ministries that fall under the abolished Concurrent list. It has been recommended to create a Capital Administration and Development Division after the approval of the Federal Cabinet. The National Economic Council has been notified according to new composition defined by the Constitution. The Federal Board of Revenue has been advised that no taxation proposal is made about a subject that is not included in the Federal Legislative List or was part of omitted Concurrent Legislative List. During its work the Commission ensured that any legislation, activity or function, if had to be retained in the federal government had to be supported from one or the other entry in the federal legislative list or any article of the Constitution

One genuine fear was that certain employees of devolved ministries might lose their jobs. This luckily didn’t happen as none of the employee was laid off or retrenched. Rather the employees of these ministries working in the main secretariats were adjusted in other federal ministries. The Election Commission of Pakistan was informed about the new mechanism of the appointments of the Commission members. After clause by clause review relevant offices and authorities were informed about necessary action. The good news for the provinces is that office buildings, furniture, fixture, equipment and transport in use of devolved ministries will be handed over to the provinces. Inventories of moveable and immovable assets are being maintained for this purpose.

The process of devolution cannot take place unless the bureaucracy is taken on board. The Commission, realizing the central role of bureaucracy, sensitized the civil servants on the consequences of the 18th Amendment at a meeting with the Federal secretaries. The hard work put into the drafting of 18th amendment and then implementation process met various hiccups but consensus lasted for almost two years. However, some recent developments are casting shadows on the future of this historic initiative. The first set back was the decision of PML (N) to pull out from the Commission. As a result Senator Ishaq Dar, who was chairman of the Implementation Commission, resigned. PML (N)’s pulling out could be significant as it is the ruling party in the largest province of Pakistan. The other political development that could have a negative effect on the working of Implementation commission is PML (Q)’s coalition with the People’s party. This development had a serious repercussion as Senator Raza Rabbani, under protest, resigned from the position of as Federal minister.

The Civil society and the thinking citizens of Pakistan are watching these developments closely and carefully. Will the implementation of the 18th Amendment be completed July 1, 2011? If it happens on the given date, it will coincide with the date of abolition of One Unit and restoration of provincial status to the federating units. In such case I July should be celebrated every year as provincial autonomy day.

The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Observations on Adhay Adhooray Khwab

Diya Manaal

Reading Adhe Adhoore Khawab for the third time I couldn’t resist jotting my observations. Lyrically written this piece of art and literature touches on multiple facets of life and shows the connection between school and society. The idealized characters of Professor Rai and his enthusiastic students provide blue print for those who are involved in educational endeavors and the epic character of Imtisal presents the promise of the youth that they will not let the dream of social justice, social change and people’s empowerment defer or die.  Imtisal's character is not painted with gaudy strokes to cut her out as a glamorous character   On the contrary she appears before us as an unassuming  but determined girl whose character impresses the readers and acts as a role model for them.

The melodically representations of the lives that individuals like Prof. Rai, Tasawor, Beinish, Afsheen, Shumail and Imtisal live in AAK pick on different delicate issues like loneliness and solitude, identity and social roles, benefit and utility, love and relationships, development and freedoms, which make our daily lives complex and sophisticated yet excited and worth living. These very attributes of the book make it an enjoyable read. The author of AAK plays with the words and expressions just like a skillful magician, who holds the audience attentive and excited throughout the show.
I really enjoyed reading it. Allah kare zor-e-qalam or zeyada!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Impressions on Adhe Adhoore Khawab

Mohammad Nawaz Khan
The Aga Khan University, IED
Adhe adhore khwab is an extra ordinary novel written by Dr. Shahid Siddiqui, a renowned educationist and writer of Pakistan. This Urdu novel is a story of professional leadership artistically linked with the contemporary social issues. Ideas in the novel are so interconnected that one cannot leave it till s/he reads it to the last page. The expressions in the novel touch the hearts of readers and make them smile and cry. While reading this novel, one can easily feel the subtleties of the bigger issues in the society which the author has beautifully painted through the power of words and creativity.

A marvelous, inspiring and creative piece of work produced by the renowned teacher and author.
 I have not read many Urdu novels but I am certain that this novel has no comparative in highlighting educational issues, particularly, the teaching and learning processes in our educational institutions. The in-depth message of the novel reveals that teachers are the important elements in the society who have the potential to transform the society. The novel inspires the readers to struggle for the cause of educational development to impact the political situation which is not favorable. Different roles/characters in the novel significantly bring meanings to the novel that clearly depicts the creativity of the author. For example, the main character of the story, Professor Saharan Roy, is a caring and humane teacher who knows the worth of his students. He helps and guides his students more than their expectations. The helping out of the professor is vivid from his teaching in the classroom.  He wants to give students an identity and make conscious efforts to prepare them for future life.  Unfortunately, in our mainstream schooling we miss out on the dynamic educational philosophy of Professor Roy.  A marvelous, inspiring and creative piece of work produced by the renowned teacher and author.
I must recommend this book to all those who are engaged in transforming education, to read it, as we need to understand the true meaning and multi-disciplinary approach to education which is the need of the time and the future of the contemporary generation.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Filling in the Gaps in Education Management

Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Published in SOUTHASIA
Vol 15, No 5,  May 11
Education being a significant factor in human development is a part of national and international agenda in the contemporary world.  In a World Bank report, Knowledge for Development (1998-99) it was suggested that knowledge gaps between the developed and developing countries lead to economic gaps between them. This is in line with the increasing awareness in the contemporary about the significance of knowledge economy.  The countries that are leaders in the development largely rely on their human capital, enriched and empowered through education which is contemporary in nature and relevant in purpose.  The literate, skillful, and healthy human capital of a country paves the way for its progress and development.

Realizing the significance of education in the process of socioeconomic development Asian Development Bank (ADB), established in 1966, offered partnership to the South Asian countries to fund them achieving the educational goals.  This was in line with the professed mission of the Bank, i.e., “prosperity and poverty reduction.”  In Strategy 2020, an ADB document, it is claimed that “Change is at the heart of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) experience.” To realize the dream of change it is crucial to enhance the life chances of the people living in this area by enhancing the educational opportunities and ensuring maximum access of the masses.  To obtain this goal ADB has lent sizeable funds to the South Asian countries in the areas of technical education, teacher education, distance education, and management, etc.  According to Loxley, “Educational lending since 1991 amounted to about US$3.8 billion or about 6 percent of total ADB lending…in 2001, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Papua New Guinea borrowed about half of the total ADB lending.”
The biggest challenge we face in South Asia is acute poverty.  A large portion of population is forced to live below the poverty line.  This is linked with the low rate of literary in the region.  In 2005, South Asia’s average literacy rate was 58 per cent, net primary enrolment stood at 87 per cent and 13 million children were out of school. If we compare these figures with those for 1995 we see some improvement. But this improvement falls far short of what is required.  The MHHDC’s 10-year review suggests improvement in some indicators of education in South Asian countries but efforts and resources seemed to be insufficient. The 1997 report had lamented that “South Asia is the poorest, most illiterate and least gender-sensitive region in the world.” This should have been a wake-up call for South Asian governments to speed up initiatives for improved systems of education to combat the challenges of access, quality and dropout rates. Unfortunately South Asia “continues to be the most illiterate region in the world containing around 379 million illiterate adults — the highest absolute number amongst all regions in the world” (MHHDC report, 2007).

The lack of access to schools is just one challenge South Asia is facing.  A more serious problem relates to the quality of education that students receive in schools. Teachers’ absenteeism, outdated curriculum, transmission based pedagogy and memory oriented assessment system are some hard facts we come across in the mainstream schools of South Asian countries.  ADB seems to be aware of this problem.  In South Asia Economic Report (2007), produced by ABD, the foreword highlights the need for a competitive and contemporary education.  According to the report, “The region’s education system must be transformed for the countries to be able to adapt to the new realities.  Quality education is needed at all levels, and technical, vocational, and higher education should be aligned with emerging global market demands.”

Why didn’t reforms in South Asia bring the desired results in the last 10 years? Why couldn’t enhanced literacy rates lead to equal distribution of opportunities and benefits? The experts have tried to look for the reason in low allocations for education. The average allocation for education in South Asia is less than three per cent which is on the low side. Low utilisation is another aspect of the problem, as is inappropriate spending. A few experts consider the governance of education as the root cause of the problem. Another reason could be lack of stakeholders’ involvement and ownership of proposed changes.  A number of research projects couldn’t deliver in the absence of effective monitoring and accountability systems. Some educational reforms were confined to the cosmetic changes at surface levels and could not focus the deeper sustainable part of change. Another reason of not having visible change in educational sector is lack of coordination among different educational initiatives in the region.

All these analyses are based on certain truths and are quite convincing. The only problem though is that we usually try to analyse the educational issues in isolation. We must understand that education is not a neutral and passive phenomenon whose dissection can be carried out on a sterilized table in a lab environment. On the contrary it is a highly political phenomenon that needs to be studied in relation to society.  While we try to find the answer to the problem, we need to take into consideration the socio-political systems of South Asian societies. With a few exceptions, most of the South Asian countries are directly or indirectly ruled by military governments. In some countries, civilian autocratic governments are in power. Most of these governments have a limited and confined view of development that hinges on the physical side of development — dams, roads, shopping plazas, etc. In this kind of development the human aspect, for example education, health and gender parity are either ignored or underestimated. Most of these countries have a political system that discriminates against the poor and marginalised groups. It is this unfair socio-political system that acts as a resisting force and hampers educational reforms.
To make the educational reforms more productive it is important that the desire of change and nature of reform should emanate from indigenous context or the local partners should own the proposed change and process to reach desired change.  The change sought by the reforms should not be superficial but deeper in nature so that it is a sustainable change.  An effective mechanism of monitoring, governance and, accountability should be built in to make sure that spending is appropriate, the governance is focused and the desired goals are targeted.  In some projects a large chunk of money was spent on building the self image of the then political rulers.  This leads us to the most important factor in the success of reforms, i.e., political will of the state.  This requires a political government that is democratic in nature and is committed to build a welfare society based on the aspiration of masses.  ADB’s funding and interest in development of South Asia can have much better impact if the above mentioned factors are in place.

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

Sunday, May 1, 2011

LUCY by Wordsworth

TRANGE fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover's ear alone,
What once to me befell.
When she I loved look'd every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening moon.
Upon the moon I fix'd my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.
And now we reach'd the orchard-plot;
And, as we climb'd the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy's cot
Came near and nearer still.
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature's gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.
My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopp'd:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropp'd.
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a lover's head!
'O mercy!' to myself I cried,
'If Lucy should be dead!'