What is the education sector’s biggest failure?

It has failed to teach our children the value of human life and dignity as well as to impart economic skills to the majority. Most significantly, it has proved to be the dividing factor that has stratified society.

How can we fix this?

Revamp education. Remove inequities. Focus on the teaching — what you teach, how you teach and in which language you teach.

How do you rate our textbooks in terms of their Urdu versus English divide?

Those published by the textbook boards are equally bad irrespective of the language they are written in. The private publishers have produced excellent textbooks in Urdu. Look at the OUP books in Urdu by Amna Azfar. They are better than many English books because our children can relate to them more easily. The Book Group’s textbooks for higher classes, with excerpts from the works of our men and women of letters, make solid reading. The Citizens Foundation has developed its own science books in Urdu and I can assure you they are better than many books in English.

What is roughly the ratio of practical knowledge being imparted versus ideological nationalist content in our textbooks?

I am sorry to say that the ideological content is disproportionately heavy. This is counterproductive. A child is alienated especially when he sees those values missing from practical life which the books exhort him to adopt.

What is the capacity of our mother tongues at present for them to be introduced as mediums of instruction at the primary level?

Private schools which are teaching in local languages (Behbud schools and The Citizens Foundation use Urdu and the Indus Resource Centre schools use Sindhi in Sindh) say they have no problem getting good textbooks. And I believe them. If schools that are performing better turn to the local languages, publishing in them will get a boost.

How can the state be made more responsive to the demands of modern education?

The constitution now recognises education as a fundamental right but the state’s indifference is shocking. Parents now want education for their children but feel helpless. The time has come to create public pressure on the government. This should come from the parents and concerned citizens as well as the media.

What do parents need to do to better educate their children?

Parents should start taking interest in their children’s education rather than shunting them off to tutors after school hours. If they monitor their child’s schoolwork, make the school accountable for its performance, organise themselves into parents associations they can bring about change. Parents who are not educated themselves may find this difficult. But ways can be found by organising mothers clubs where they can learn from one another and an educated mobiliser.

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