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Flashback: Remains of the day

November 25, 2012


St.Jospeh's - one of Karachi's oldest educational institutions – photo by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Standing tall among the various crumbling edifices in Saddar, Karachi, are the few, very important seats of learning; institutions that have contributed tremendously towards the educational sector of the country. These schools are evidence of how different communities have tried to bring education to Pakistan. There are schools built by Christian missionaries, Parsis and Muslims, all established with the goal to fortify the system of education and to offer those who enter their gates a platform to groom their intellect, and moral and ethical values.

This was a time when schools were not just a place to rote-learn from books, a school took upon itself the responsibility of moulding its students into individuals that the nation should be proud of. Apart from academics, they taught discipline and humility, and trained their students to think independently; to face courageously the adversities they will face in life.

With 40 years of teaching experience under her belt, Hilda Pareira has witnessed the ups and downs in the education system quite closely. Born to conservative Goan Catholic parents, Pareira completed her schooling from St Joseph’s Convent, Karachi, and intermediate from St Joseph’s College for Women, Karachi. Soon after, she found a job in St Patrick High School.

“This was in the late ’50s and my first salary was Rs60,” she laughs, “In those days, even matriculates were hired as teachers, although the schools did see to it that a decent level of education was maintained. I feel that by and large, the most successful schools were those run by the Catholic Board of Education (CBE) because the teachers there were quite senior, and some even came with an experience of 50 years. I don’t think there were many teachers with less than five years of experience in these schools,” she says.

The educational environment, particularly in private schools, was extremely conducive to learning. Senior teachers were willing to lend a helping hand to fresh recruits.

“I being a junior at that time learnt a lot from my seniors; they were role models for me,” says Pareira. The level of discipline, too, was extremely strict back then, a characteristic that is sadly lacking in today’s system of education, she reflects.

“For example, when I was studying in St Joseph’s school, one of my teachers was a lady, Ms Irene Dias,” recalls Pareira, “She was our head teacher when I was in primary and taught us mathematics. She was so strict that during tests if we added even a single dot after the time was up, she would grade us a straight zero, even if our answers were absolutely correct. I got a zero once after scoring full marks. But that taught us discipline; I don’t think it’s possible in this day and age” she smiles.

Schools did not mushroom in every nook and corner back then like they do today; Cambridge system of education was offered in selected institutions. Karachi Grammar, St Joseph’s, St Patrick’s, Convent of Jesus and Mary and St Paul’s were among those which offered O Levels, and A Levels was introduced much later. Education was relatively cheap, and catered comfortably to a wider section of the population. “The Cambridge-wallahs spoke much better English than the Matric students; and I remember how they always considered themselves to be far superior,” laughs Pareira.

The students, she says, came from various backgrounds. Students from modest backgrounds rubbed shoulders with sons of commissioners and other influential personalities. Yet, the strict level of discipline did not allow them to play the fool, even though, having taught only boys, Pareira likes to believe that essentially they are all the same, regardless of which decade they belong to. “One needed a lot of effort to keep them under control, a skill I mastered over decades,” she says. In those days, it was easier since the class strength was small, and teachers were able to give individual attention to each student, and focus on those who were weak in academics.

But it wasn’t just the private schools which were maintaining a decent level of education. Most government schools in those days were run by either KMC or Sindh government, and unlike today, boasted high academic standards. One such example is the Government High School Jacob Lines (now called Government Technical High School) which, for a long time, continued to provide a high standard of education. The federal government schools — or FGs as they were popularly referred to — were English medium and were situated at Malir Cantt, Cantt Station and Drigh Road. Schools were set up by railways as well.

The twist in the fairytale came with nationalisation in the early ’70s. Barring a few, such as the missionary schools, most private institutions were nationalised, and gradually, the educational standard began to dwindle. Few would disagree that nationalisation wreaked more havoc in the education system than it did in any service. Many private schools could not manage the upkeep of their institutions and, like the educational standard, the buildings, too, began to disintegrate.

“The English-medium schools, especially, suffered the most,” recalls Pareira, “The teachers who came in during or after nationalisation spoke very poor English and were generally ill-qualified. And in schools which functioned in English-medium — whether one taught geography, history, or mathematics — the quality plummeted. Unfortunately, schools were forced to take such people since many of the good teachers had left for fear of being posted in out-of-the-way places. And when they left, the gaps were filled by incompetent teachers. Obviously the biggest casualties were the students who suffered, and the level of education went downhill.”

Yet, legacies of the bygone era continue to linger. Despite the onslaught of ill-conceived policies and lowering bars, some dedicated souls have managed to preserve the values and standard that endorsed their reputation as the flag bearers of quality education and success. They continue to make us proud.