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Education at what cost?

March 05, 2011

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Education has been totally provincialised and with that the Federal Minister Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, also a painter, has been dropped in recent reshuffling. The World Bank aid to an English medium school chain after Bhutto's exit created a much more confusion and the distance between the children of lower and middle and upper classes has been increased manifold. The government schools which gave people like Iqbal, Abdus Salam, Faiz, Dr Qadeer Khan, Hafeez Kardar, Pitras Bukhari and Sir Shahabuddin have been placed at the lowest step mainly by the people who came from early English medium schools like St. Anthony of Lahore and Lawrence College or Aitchison who are now our leaders and rulers.

All that has created a very critical situation and anybody who wants to give good education to his children is now in miserable situation. A teacher-cum-writer-cum-columnist, Ataul Haq Qasmi, has narrated the story of a junior writer who came to Lahore from Mandi Bahauddin for better education of his children.

In his very pathetic letter he says that his daughter wanted to have diploma in a particular subject for which fee was Rs700,000 in four installments and the pre-admission entrance test was to cost Rs1,500, which is his three-days earnings.

The letter further carries the lines that during the entrance test, the father was praying that his daughter should not pass the test because he had no way to bear the expenses.

Mr Qasmi started his carrier as a teacher and he is all praise for the Danish Schools being established by Shahbaz Sharif. He is critical of the new private and costly system but it looks that he has forgotten the utility of the older system which he himself experienced. That never created that much class hatred as all other new systems are creating.

ZA Bhutto was perhaps the first ruler who really wanted to provide as much benefits to the lower and particularly rural classes and he put some burden on private transporters. Bhutto provided students mobility so that they could travel for education. The facility was withdrawn by his successors.

There is another point which the governments and teachers from Punjab have forgotten that not only the best but the cheapest education can be imparted through the mother tongue of the children but Urduised Punjabi intelligentsia is continuously refusing to listen to the rational voice.

And now the present rulers of Punjab with whom Mr Qasmi is very close, have no sympathy with Punjabi and scientific and natural approach (they all are Punjabi speaking but their geographical caste Kashmiri is perhaps a big hurdle in accepting this universally accepted concept of early education. Anyhow they will politically be known as Punjabi in other areas of Pakistan and the world at large).

Actually traders are always in search of profits (may be by creating shortage in sugar, petrol, gas, vegetables, and private education), therefore traders would like that there should not be any control on prices of commodities and in education that control is missing and with choice.

Who was the man who arranged the World Bank funds for the private English medium school established again by a family member of the traders community. It was Sharifs' minister in the past and still a member of their think-tank (probably). H H H H H

This year the World Mother Language Day was observed in Lahore with a protest demonstration against the language policies of the central and the provincial government which totally refuse the share of Punjabi language in the power which is judged from this point of view that how economic benefits are being given to speakers of any language.

So far the Punjabi language and all its other names like Seraiki etc. have almost no share in benefits. The reasons are; Punjabi has not been used as medium of instruction on any level, it is not being taught as compulsory subject at any level within the province, no official letter, appeal, application can be submitted to any government agency or the department because Punjabi has no official status.

Another factor responsible for the backwardness of Punjabis at large is that even in the Punjab Assembly a member cannot speak in Punjabi without the prior permission of the speaker.

Since 1920 not a single chief minister ever delivered his speech in Punjabi or Seraiki or Pothohari or any other dialect. Thus all Punjabis who know and speak Punjabi go unrepresented in state affairs. The successive Punjab governments have failed to do even paperwork to hear the voice of the people which they raise for their issues.

Such are the conditions in which the World Mother Language Day was observed in Lahore. A very small gathering was held under the banner of the local office of the Academy of Letters and another selected gathering at the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture.

No such function was held at any of the three universities -- Punjab and Lahore College for Women and Government College, where Punjabi departments exist. Perhaps there was complete lull in all colleges where Punjabi is being taught as a subject.

All teachers at the school level who have earned degrees of Masters in Punjabi complain that they are being deprived of those material benefits which are being doled out to Masters in other subjects, but they do not want to assert their rights nor do they support those organizations and workers who are working for the promotion of Punjabi, though they have no personal economic interest in such benefits.

In such discouraging situation two dailies of Punjabi included special articles on their Feb 21 issues. The senior daily is Bhulehkha and the junior Lokaai which started its publication from Jan 1.

A newly-founded organization, Punjabi Language Movement, with Nazeer Kahut as its convener had with the cooperation of some other Lahore-based organizations held a demonstration in front of the Lahore Press Club on Feb 20 and the next day staged a 'dharna' in front of the Punjab Assembly for four hours.

Though the English press gave good coverage to the first function, there was almost no representation of Punjabi teachers and students. Mainly, it was the show of some writers. The only Punjabi teacher visible on the first day was Dr Saadat Ali Saqib.

The only encouraging aspect of another function was that the director-general of the Punjabi Institute presented a resolution through which the Punjab government was urged to introduce Punjabi as a compulsory subject in primary classes.

Demonstration in favour of Punjabi is not a new thing. In the late sixties, advocate Mushtaq Butt had arranged protest marches from Mochi Darwaza to Punjab Assembly which was largely attended by writers including many of those who now earn their livelihood and enjoy a good social status through Punjabi teaching.

It was again in the seventies of the last century when among the young writers, Ilyas Ghumman, had arranged a demonstration on The Mall. Now Kahut is in the field but having different vested interests (particularly the teachers and students under their influence) have no more any interest in agitating the demand for the promotion of Punjabi.