Tag Archives: education

Ludicurous CT Policy Proposal: Teaching Arabic to Counter Terror

2 Feb

The federal government is contemplating the introduction of the Arabic language in primary and secondary schools to combat terrorism, according to a recent statement by the minister of religious affairs. It is assumed that once students are well versed in the language of the Holy Quran, they are less likely to be misguided. Those behind the formulation of this policy should consider that often members of extremist groups are well versed in Arabic but this has not prevented them from becoming extremists. Learning a language has no bearing on the world view that a person holds. If it did, then the Arab world would be an oasis of peace.

Unfortunately, the acquisition of Arabic does not enable people to fully understand or interpret religious texts. There are hundreds of years of jurisprudence and context that are required for decoding religious doctrine. Teaching children to read Arabic will not involve a simultaneous education in Islamic jurisprudence. It is, therefore, unlikely to serve the desired purpose. The introduction of a new language would require the hiring and training of thousands of new teachers. An investment of billions would be required to implement this counterterrorism strategy, the results of which — if ever apparent — would take years to manifest themselves in society.

Counterterrorism measures that offer better value for money should be prioritised. In a country where bomb disposal squads work without protective gear, surely there are more pressing priorities. Often, men with nothing but the shirts on their backs stand between the average citizen and terrorists gunning for them. Our citizens and law enforcers deserve better and sooner.

Let us put aside the efficacy and sanity of this as a counterterrorism strategy and focus on its implications for the education sector. According to the 2012 ASER survey, about 75 to 80 per cent of students in class three cannot read sentences in English or their local regional language meant for students studying in class two. We can barely teach children two languages. There is no merit in teaching an additional language poorly.

The introduction of Arabic is not a new idea. It has been implemented before and the results of prior implementation must be reviewed. The government needs to take a cold, hard look at the impact that learning Arabic has had on children previously. Both their linguistic proficiency and world view can and should be assessed. We cannot continue to let education policy be dictated by political expediency and need to shift focus on needs defined by evidence. If the government is serious about combating the extremist mindset, then teaching children to read another language will be of little use. Teaching them the critical thinking skills required to understand texts is far more essential. A review of existing textbooks riddled with hate and historical inaccuracies that breed ignorance is more urgent.

Our historic neglect of the education sector has us lagging behind regional and global peers in major education indicators, ranging from enrolment to student learning. If we continue to formulate education policy in a vacuum of both, evidence and sanity, it is unlikely that we will be able to produce a workforce that can compete globally. It is unlikely that we will produce citizens that are tolerant or compassionate and it is unlikely that we will extricate Pakistan from the shackles of terrorism that grip it and are suffocating it.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2014.


What We Should Be Talking About

25 May

Economic rationality does not strike a chord with a public raised on a steady diet of emotional irrationality disguised in the garb of national security imperatives. In the weeks to come, Nato trucks will start rolling through Pakistan into Afghanistan. Dollars will roll into the coffers of the Pakistani exchequer and the Pakistani public will, once again, lambast the civilian government for giving in to American pressure and sacrificing national honour at the altar of the mighty dollar.
The foes of the government will make noise about submission to the Americans and elected democrats will end up paying the price for the rational choice to reopen the Nato supply lines. Nothing angers Pakistanis more than the realisation that our military might does not match up with our own inflated perceptions of our national strength. Any perceived signs of military weakness vis-à-vis other states ignites national passions across the motherland like no other national shortcoming. The media’s disproportionate focus on issues of national security, defined narrowly as military might, has taken the spotlight away from local development issues making them seem only slightly significant to the national interest.
As a result, we do not care about the economy or the dismal state of our social indicators compared with regional peers. We are not ashamed of being one of the last remaining exporters of the polio virus. We fail to recognise that the cost of climate change and associated natural disasters will be far more lethal to Pakistanis than India’s nuclear stockpile.
When we are not debating national security, constitutional issues that have no bearing on the life of the average citizen take up media space as if they were the next apocalyptic catastrophe that Pakistan must brace for. The amount of airtime dedicated to scrutiny or discussion of issues that actually make a difference to Pakistan’s citizens remains abysmally low.
With 2013 being election year, it would be a pity and disservice to democracy if public debate remained focused on drones or continued to drone on about Nato supply lines. What Pakistan needs is in-depth engagement with politicians and political parties on the small issues that television anchors do not have time for. The state of education, underutilised education budgets, mismanagement of municipal authorities and their funds, lack of clean drinking water, our negligence of climate change and associated natural disasters are issues that will not only impact the average citizen but are issues that should be at the forefront of national public debate. While writing about these matters in English dailies has its cathartic benefits, until and unless the mainstream electronic media take up these causes they will gain no traction in the hearts and minds of Pakistani people. Consequently, the establishment will see no cause to give these issues the attention they deserve.
It is time to divert attention from the macro to the micro and to define national security in its broader sense and realise that a child out of school is also a threat to national security, stability and progress. The priorities in public debate must switch to focus on issues other than bombs and contempt notices because how many children go to school and what kind of education they receive will eventually be a more powerful predictor of how successful we become as a nation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.


Mobilink Turns Billboards to Bags

6 Sep

Outdoor advertising is critical to promoting a brand or product in Pakistan. Colorful, larger than life and intriguing billboards dot the Pakistani landscape and provide information and interesting diversions during traffic jams. These billboards might leave you smiling, or compel you to think about an important message or at times leave you thinking “how did the installation guys manage to get up there?” Yet, what happens to these billboards when a particular marketing campaign is over – is a question we never give much thought to.

Back to School with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Back to School with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Destined for landfills, thousands of square kilometers of billboard skins made out of non-biodegradable plastic materials are left to rot in landfills or are burnt and release toxic fumes into the air we breathe. In the spirit of being an innovative and responsible, Mobilink Foundation – the non-profit arm of Mobilink is trying to save these sheets of plastic from ending up in landfills by turning them into school bags for underprivileged children. Once Mobilink billboards have been taken down, they are taken to a manufacturing facility in Lahore (which was set up with the help of Mobilink) where the skins are cleaned, cut and turned into school bags.

About Mobilink

Mobilink is Pakistan’s leading cellular and Blackberry service provider. With more than 32 million subscribers, Mobilink has the country’s largest voice and data network covering more than 10,000 locations. Housing an unparalleled 6,500 kilometers fiber optic backbone, Mobilink has invested over US $3.5 billion in Pakistan to date. 

The company’s Corporate Social Responsibility vision goes beyond occassional philanthropy and the company is dedicated to building a robust CSR program that leverages the company’s technological and operational expertise as well as its volunteer corps to institutionalize and mainstream CSR guidelines in internal and external operations. Examples of Mobilink’s corporate responsibility can be found in its enduring CSR efforts over the years in the areas of disaster relief, education, environment, health and the empowerment of the underprivileged.  

The Billboards to Bags Initiative

This project was conceived by the Mobilink team with the help of one its vendors who prints Billboard Skins.  The initiative is run out of Lahore and uses discarded billboard skins to manufacture school bags that are distributed free of cost to underprivileged school children.

This initiative is part of Mobilink’s environmental conservation efforts and its commitment to promoting education. Through this initiative, used billboard skins are given a second life, thus contributing to environmental protection and promoting sustainable business practices while providing essential items to those who need them the most.  

Manufacturing Process

Once Mobilink’s billboard skins have fulfilled their advertising purpose, they are used as raw materials for the bags. As a company that relies heavily on marketing its products through outdoor advertising, there is always a steady supply of pana-flex (flex sheet).  Once the skins are removed from the bilboards, they are washed to remove color. Next, damaged portions are identified and discarded. Skilled workers then proceed to cut the flex sheet into a standard school bag design. The cut materials are then given to women who stitch the bags in the safety and security of their homes. Hence these bags provide an important source of income to local women.  

Each School bag consumes around 7 square feet of clean flex sheet. The size that is usually used for manufacturing the school bags is 20 x 60 square feet.  Recycling these skins into school bags and then distributing them to underprivileged children is a far better then letting them become toxic waste in a landfill. 

An average school bag in Pakistan costs between Rs. 300 to Rs. 500 in Pakistan. According to some estimates, for an average Pakistani, this is the cost of one week’s food for a family of seven. These bags, made from recycled materials, only incur labor costs to the company that has a weekly production capacity of around 5000 bags. Mobilink provides these bags to the children free of cost. In a country where majority of the people live well below the poverty line, and cannot afford to buy essential school items for children, this initiative helps families avoid a heavy additional cost while saving children from having to carry school books in their hands.

Mobilink is the first and so far the only organization in Pakistan to implement a billboard skin-recycling program of this scale. Building further on the benefits of used skins, Mobilink also used the method to pack relief goods for the thousands of victims of the floods that hit Pakistan is 2010. Sturdy and water proof, these bags not only enabled the victims to safely transport food items to their homes as they waded through waist high waters but also use them to keep food and other items dry as showers continued in some areas for several days.

Since the launch of the Recycled Schoolbags initiative back in 2007, Mobilink has donated 35,000 school bags made from recycled advertising skins to leading local NGOs such as CARE Foundation, Zindagi Trust, JAQ Trust and other deserving students and schools. The Mobilink CSR team actively seeks out and supports schools that provide educational opportunities to children who cannot pay heavy school fees, afford books or other educational expenses to ensure that Mobilink helps reshape lives in a positive way.     

Children at the Pehli Kiran School run by the JAQ trust with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Children at the Pehli Kiran School run by the JAQ trust with Mobilink Billboard Bags

 Challenges during the campaign

Mobilink’s efforts have not been without challenges. Logistical hurdles have to be overcome in collecting skins from different regions of the country. While installing and dismantling the skins, effort has to be made to prevent tearing as that leads to wastage of skins. These have been overcome through the commitment of  Mobilink’s staff that through sheer grit and perseverence has made efforts to ensure a constant supply of skins.

Another challenge is trying to reduce the amount of waste through the design and cutting process while maintaining the quality and durability of the recycled bags. This requires adequate training of staff which has necessitated investment from Mobilink. The manufacturing challenges aside, other country specific hurdles have presented daunting issues to the whole campaign.  Power shortages and electricity failures lead to periodic disruptions in the manufacturing process.

Mobilink’s campaign not only produces environmentally friendly items that help recycle non-biodegradable materials but also augments the support network in Pakistan’s society for the underprivileged and the marginalized sectors of society. Mobilink plays a vital role here as not only is it garnering a culture shift towards more responsible consumption and care for the environment but it is leading by example through illustrating that these recyclable processes are sustainable. Since the inception of the program, several local and multinational organizations in the private sector have contacted Mobilink to explore the possibility of replicating the recycling model. A few local private sector companies have also come forth and donated used billboard skins from their campaigns to Mobilink. 

If you would like to know more about this initiative or help Mobilink innovate and improve its bag production program please contact Sehar Tariq, Manager Corporate Social Responsibility at sehar.tariq@mobilink.net We welcome new ideas!

A version of this article also appeared in The Express Tribune at Bagging billboards: Corporate social responsibility goes up a notch

Pakistan’s Eight Great Education Debates

25 Apr

Pakistan’s education sector confronts a number of serious policy challenges. Jinnah Institute’s Paper “Pakistan’s Eight Great Education Debates” analyzes critical policy debates confronting the education sector and proposes policy solutions to Pakistan’s education policy dilemmas.

Executive Summary

The Government of Pakistan has declared that the sector is in a state of emergency. However, what has been lost in popular debate is that there isn’t one education emergency to confront. The sector faces a multitude of emergencies; each one equally critical and crucial to the creation of an efficient and effective education system.  If Pakistan is to achieve the miraculous turnaround in this sector that it needs, it needs to start with answering the following critical questions confronting the education sector today:

 More Spending or Smart Spending?

“Less than 1.5% of Pakistan’s GDP is spent on the public education sector” – Education Emergency ReportPakistan is one of the lowest spenders on Education in the South Asian region. Despite this, education budgets allocated to the provinces go unused each year. According to the Education Emergency report, some provinces spent less than 60% of the budget allocated to them. With low capacity to spend, should Pakistan be spending more on education or using budgets allocated to education in a smarter way? Continue reading

Not-so-dear business school

7 Jun

When I moved to Pakistan in 2006, I took up a job teaching at a private high school. It made a couple of jaws drop because teaching is not considered a worthy profession for people with foreign degrees. I thought it was entirely noble and super fun. And over the course of one year, I got to know a group of 12 students really well and we had a great time and each of the progressed to go on to do great things!

One of them has become a writer. She’s wonderful at it too. This Sunday she wrote an article in Dawn about the application system to top business schools. And when you would think that writing iseless exeercise especially in a country like Pakistan, Pakistan will slap you upside down on the head and surprise you. In response to Hafsa’s article, she got offered a job by a grf citizens working on school reform.

Her essay was tremendous. I hope she will continue to write, create change with her writing and continue to prove those people wrong who think that making yourself heard will never yield any results.

Not So Dear Business School


Two years back I applied to you for my undergraduate degree like every other youngster who wishes to study management sciences in Pakistan. For you, my application letter would have been just another application from a young girl living in Pakistan. For me, it was definitely much more than that; a letter that enclosed the aspirations of a lifetime, the hopes of a young girl, the dreams that her eyes had seen something she wanted more than anything else at that point in time. I had spent my entire high school hoping to get into your business school.

Today, if I am sad about one thing, that your school was the farthest that I could see, the best that I could dream of and the most that I wanted! Even at that point in time, with an average O-Level result, which I improved to a superb result in A-Levels later, I had the potential to get into a much better school than yours. My colleagues and teachers kept telling me to apply abroad as I might even get a scholarship on the basis of my published work in newspapers. Unfortunately, I didn’t apply outside Pakistan.

At the time I applied to your school, I had a job of an assistant editor at a local monthly magazine, which I was offered at the age of 18. I had over a hundred published articles in leading newspapers of Pakistan to my credit. I had evidence of my credentials, photocopies, links of my articles, reference letters, certificates, recommendations from teachers and editors and what not that I spent days collecting and putting in my application letter hoping someone would at least look at them and realise that brilliance can not only be measured by the transcript a student brings along.

I could speak or debate about almost anything in the world, I had my own ideas, which I could pen down or speak up without any hesitation, I had dreams, aspirations and ideas which most young people in our country don’t have. I had great potential to be an entrepreneur, something our country needs most at the time being.

Your business school, an institute that boasts to be the best in the country, could not see all this. You promise to provide the best graduates to the market. Today, I question you, what role are you playing in all this? It’s easy to pick students with transcripts that don’t have a single ‘B’ grade on them. Straight ‘A’ students will always score ‘A’s no matter what conditions they are exposed to.

They are excellent students as it is, what role have you played in making them the best graduates of the lot?

Interesting is the fact that you pick up the cream and produce nothing out of it. After four years, they turn out to be graduates exactly like the others produced by any of the other schools. And they were weaker in studies than the lot you took in the first place. The real challenge for you would be to pick up a mixed crowd and turn them into the most-refined graduates.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say, that you pick up nerds. The fact that you only look at grades proves my stance. The best schools of the world reject students with exceptional results but no interest in extra-curricular activities. A girl with 13 ‘A’s in O-Levels was rejected from quite a few universities abroad because all she had done in her life was memorise from textbooks.

The more grades one has, the better chances they have of getting into your school. But you don’t care if someone has spent an entire summer volunteering day in and out to bring about a change in the country, you don’t care if people know somebody’s name and look forward to reading his or her articles, you don’t care if someone is a great debater, you don’t care if someone is thinking out of the box, you don’t care if someone has more knowledge than your books could contain, you don’t care about what anybody does after their school hours.

Of course, if one passes your criteria — ‘A’ grades in literally everything — you just might call them for an interview and give five minutes to that person to speak about what they have done in life apart from studying. I know you really won’t bother listening to the content of what the person is speaking. You only judge people for their communication skills because the decision has been made on grades already.

As a result of this, the real cream of Pakistan, the true brilliance, the people who think out of the box, the exceptional ones, who have done much more than memorising material from books, are left out to look at universities abroad for help.

The universities abroad look at their credentials and identify their brightness, offer them admissions, at times even scholarships. That’s when we hear you crying about the brain drain!

It is only justified for a student to go abroad. All the reputed universities here pick the ‘A’ graders while rejecting the other exceptional students to look for greener pastures abroad.

Bright students are rejected everyday, which is just plain sad as universities need to understand that anyone can get ‘A’s by sitting in a room and memorising without even understanding or gaining the real knowledge. The real cream is the one that manages fairly good grades while indulging in extra-curricular activities.

Today, I want those trying to get into the university of their choice here to realise all this as it took me a while to do so. No, I wasn’t depressed over my rejection because depression is not in my nature, but I see other bright young students going into extreme depression due to this. I just want to let them know that if they have potential, they should show it to the college that rejected them and throw it in their face.

Considering the recently-announced admission results, a lot of the rejected students out there might just feel better after reading this.

I want them to know that they can be the best without going to the best school and one day the university that rejected them will realise what they lost years ago.

A student rejected by you two years ago.

DAWN.COM | Education | Not-so-dear business school.

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