Parental Control

I believe in parental control. When I say ‘control’ I don’t in any way mean parents should mentally hold their offspring in some kind of tyrannic telepathy. No. I feel control is something young  or immature minds lack. Their impulse control, sometimes, even their judgment is still developing, and to say that giving them complete freedom to walk the pavement without holding mums hand will instill a sense of responsibility is in my opinion like expecting a newly emerged butterfly to stay put within it’s chrysalis.

So let’s look deeper into the concept of parental control. When I was five, I was not allowed to cross the road alone. I was not allowed to talk to strangers and I was not allowed to be rude to my elders. At six, I started to understand that crossing the road alone can be dangerous. I saw my cousin split his head open as he chased a cat down the road and got hit by a motorbike. It started to make sense. I remember how particular my parents were about talking to strangers. I learnt much later in life that people around us can seem harmless but can hurt us. I think this point sunk in best when I was thirteen and the neighbors three-year-old daughter was abducted from their house and held for ransom. I was often annoyed by my parents constant admonishing about respecting senior citizens and giving up my place to seat them. Today, it is that same teaching that echoes in my head as I watch how people in certain families leave their old, weak parents in Edhi shelters, or when people in other cultures drop their parents off at homes created for such purposes.

Now let’s look at another angle. I was not allowed to question existentialism or religious beliefs. It was not a question raised in our household. I was not allowed to read books about topics that seemed ‘unsuitable’ even when I was in university. My love poems about sufi love were applauded, but I had to hide my ordinary love poems between journal pages. Where then does parental control cease to be guidance and become intrusion?

The idea behind this discussion is to compare the two types of parental control I have written about. When parental control is behavioral and is implemented with the intention to regulate behavior, the effects are generally positive. However, when parental control is psychological, it often aims to change a child’s feelings or thoughts. It undermines a child’s sense of autonomy and interferes with their personal development.

What we can take from this discussion is simply the idea that if your child is fighting for his/her autonomy you are doing something wrong. I believe that children will never blame or reproach you for caring about their behavior or trying to improve it. The argument only escalates when independent thought and feelings are threatened and there is a sense of intrusion, dominance or pressuring. This is a threat to their very core and being. A threat to who they are. And they are people – individuals with an independent will and a desire to assert it. As parents, we should grow in our child’s individuality, not try and recreate it.

 

On Choices That We Make

To the Pakistani masses, parenting basically means having X number of children because it is a matter of pride and prestige. Having a child means you are a fertile, procreative couple with amazing sperm counts and ovarian functioning. You are the star of the family who brings grace and honor to the family name because you did what people have been born to do and have been doing for years before you.

Also, it doesn’t really matter if your meagre salary can barely support one child. You will have as many as come to you. It is after all God’s greatest gift, so why not keep accepting presents from up there, with no look to the future. As a result, so many low-income households have an army of dependents swarming around the small salary derived from a low-income wage. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Greenstar awareness services offered in the country, but what is a green star when compared with our very own, uneducated, child workforce star…A star who will add to the years of intergenerational poverty already in place. For even a minute, if I consider how lives can improve if the burgeoning population is controlled, it leads me to daydreams full of educated, happy, healthy, well-fed youngsters in graduation gowns. So yes, often, being a parent in Pakistan means subscribing to the mindset of procreation without providing, creation with no thought to nurturing. The thought that a child will hardly ever need love, time, teaching, and wisdom. The assumption that all a child might need is a bunch of siblings with a host of health, nutrition and personal development issues.

And what is interesting is that this mindset also seeps into the higher income classes to some extent. Well, we can afford it can’t we, they say. I always wanted a loud, boisterous noisy family around the dining table. Haven’t you seen ‘cheaper by the dozen?’ Ever heard of ‘economies of scale?’ Well, that is why I chose to have six children. They will carry forward my name, and they will take over the 1000 count cotton percale bedsheets business when I retire. And they will all grow up together, easier for the mother too….

Then there are the few educated parents who choose to have a single or at most two children and are subject to ridicule. Hey, only one??? No wonder your child is so serious…you need to have a second one…You have a girl?…You need a boy…You have a boy?…You need a girl…You have both? You need a set of twins to complete the family…You see, a family in Pakistan is never complete until it has a set of evenly matched boys and girls. That’s how we roll. Cool? Yes. Why think of the million starving children in slums and villages, the millions orphaned, the millions uneducated, the millions in very poor health. You see that doesn’t really concern us. We only care about our own little happy family.

So now that we’ve discussed quantity, let’s talk about quality. In today’s world, parents are often working and busy. I see several types all around me. I find them exceedingly interesting and often wonder where I fall. I will discuss mostly mothers as dads who lift or share the parenting burden are still fairly uncommon in Pakistan.

First, there are the career-achiever types. These mothers are so proud of their career achievements they forget to care about the people around them and their feelings and their choices to work or not. A well-groomed, unrealistically smart professional mum who looks down on any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mum. I sometimes just try and get them started on parenting to get their views. Parenting magazines? They’re horrified. They don’t have time for all this. Too busy managing my mutual fund portfolio, work is crazy these days. Oh sorry, I guess you wouldn’t know what that means…how are your children? they ask kindly and condescendingly…Interestingly, in my experience, these wonderful people are often unaware of the sacrifices a person may have made to stay at home. They assume only a vacant mind would voluntarily choose to wipe a dirty bottom or clean up puke from their t-shirt. A smarter, more creative mind would obviously want to achieve self-actualization…obviously. 

Then the lovely, fluttery, socialite type mothers. I think they’re beautiful. Like tiny little mindless butterflies with enormous compound eye sunglasses, flitting about in wispy designer joras. They titter and they look oh-so-cool in the summer heat. It’s just kind of hard to find common ground to talk about with them. I once mistakenly asked such a paragon of perfection: Hey did you see 12 years a slave? Pre civil war era? Abolishment? Black slavery? And she just gave me the coolest answer. I don’t really watch these kind of movies. Isn’t that cool? So at least she knows they exist. I was heartened. I now generally talk to her about Shah Rukh Khan, Asim Jofa Lawn and Harrods. Such mothers are too fragile to bring up the rather ungraceful, unsophisticated topic of children. For them, children are seen from afar in the handy hands of maids and drivers. One doesn’t come too close for fear of ruining that gorgeous natural silk kurta.

Another parenting-style which I often find is the old-school parent. The involved and strict parent. Mostly found in middle class families these are women who often work hard as well as raise their kids. They have sound values and firm convictions about parenting philosophies. They often espouse the idea of firmly disciplining behavior and propound parenting ideas which are somewhat reminiscent of parents in the 80s. No feet on the table, no eating before washing hands, anything below an A grade is unacceptable and there is no intermingling of boys and girls in our households. Although this militant style is still better than being completely uninvolved, it lacks the nurturing and loving behavior displayed by good parents.

So we finally come to that. Good parenting. What is good parenting? Is there a universal formula that will guarantee our kids will turn out to be intelligent, high-achieving, empathetic individuals? Sorry to be harsh, but no. There is no formula. Only a parent knows whats best for their child. However, there are many things we can do to make our children stronger people.

  • Give your child love and empathy. Be kind, and they will reciprocate. Be rude, and they will reciprocate. Raise your hand, and they will raise it to others if not to you.
  • Teach your child to express themselves and be confident. Don’t force them to talk when they don’t want to. Don’t push them to say hello to strangers if they’re uncomfortable. But expose them to all sorts of situations. Let them learn from you.
  • Children are born wanting to learn and absorb. Create learning environments which engage them in fun activities. Create an environment of questioning, reasoning out, and exploring ideas.
  • Never ask them to do something better. Show them they can. Never say come first in the race. Show them how they can win, and help them practice. Never tell them they have to learn a skill. Master it side by side with them.
  • Never be rude to those in your employ. Never simper and fawn over those who are your employers. Teach your child to be good to all irrespective of financial, career or family status.
  • Give freely and take as less as possible. But instill in your child the ability to know when someone is taking advantage of you.
  • Life skills are just as important as academic and career skills.

 

Happy Parenting!

 

 

A day in the life of a teacher

I love all my students. Even the naughty ones. The ones who make me want to shut my eyes tight and hide under my desk till the class is over. The ones who treat me like royalty and gasp at every cliched joke and repartee. The ones who cradle their chins in their hands and tell me dreamily about their plans. The super sweet ones that offer me bites from their food or dust chalk off my clothes. These kids are an enormous part of my life. There are days when they can thrill me with their learning and others where everything has to be effortful and structured. On some days, I leave class briskly, already planning the next session, and others when I linger. A quick and grateful smile that catches my eye, a simple question, a last revision, or a chorus for ‘more please.’

Today, we talked about the future and what it holds for us. About plans and goals and objectives. We spoke of our dreams and those unrealized thoughts that we hold so close to our hearts. I learned so much from my older ones today. Sharoon, 17 years old is planning to be a doctor and works nights at the clinic close to his home. He packs cough syrups into bottles and dispenses tablets in little white slips of paper. He works in close proximity with doctors but has never had the courage to tell them he wants to be one. Veronica, 16 years old, wants to be a make-up artist and do make up for television artists. She spends most of her free time doing up braids for her classmates and trying out make-up on special occasions. However, her mother is more interested in a nursing career for her daughter. Veronica is torn between doing what she loves and following her mother’s advice. Little Matt, 12 years old, wants to be a chef. He says he can cook anything from pasta to biryani. Today, he was actually giving me ‘tips’ on how to make the perfect phulka. Aavesh is very eager to go to London, where his grandfather is a chef. He wants to do his engineering and then leave for the UK. When I asked him what kind of work he expected to do there, he said: “Anything. I’ll do anything. I just want to live in London.” Most of the children are aware of their interests and have definite plans, such as enroling at the PIA institute to train for being a stewardess, or joining the armed forces or police. I felt I could talk to them forever about their plans.

I am proud of my kids. I love their enthusiasm for life and their willingness to make the best of their circumstances. What is truly admirable is their thirst for learning. Their awareness that they are not fulfilling their potential and could actually do so much more. Their realization that any day, any year could be their last in the school and they may need to join the workforce any time. The sheer magnitude of work that rests on those uniform-clad shoulders amazes me. Everyday, they have to babysit siblings, cook dinner, or work a shift at the local clinic. So early in life, they have responsibilities and chores and so much else that occupies their time. In all this chaos, to believe, to hope and to cling to their dreams is admirable. They are my heroes, my teachers and my belief in Pakistan’s resilience.

 

 

Waiting for a Pakistani Superman

The field of education is ever evolving. There is really no way to pinpoint if the methods or tools used by educators today are the best, in the changing face of pedagogy and practice. Yesterday, I watched a documentary film titled ‘Waiting for Superman’ directed by Davis Guggenheim who has recently been in the spotlight with his latest work ‘He Named Me Malala.’ In the film, Guggenheim’s brutal portrayal of the poor state of public education in American schools forced me to think deeply about the Pakistani education system.

The movie began with a look at the morning ritual of preparing for school in most American families: ‘Juice, shoes, backpack.’ There was a thought-provoking line about how all parents or caregivers send their children off to school everyday, with a leap of faith. A belief that the education system will allow their kids to grow and prosper academically and individually. In Pakistan, for lower class families, it becomes a question of ACCESS. Access to employment opportunities, access to funds available for school fees, access to good schools, effective instruction and the wealth of educational resources available to the elite. In Pakistan, parents do not have to take a leap of faith to send their kids to school. They have to consider Access. Their are no low-cost schools providing high-quality, excellent instruction to children from poor households, barring some non-profit schools.

The film also used a term ‘failure factories’ for schools with low achievements scores – especially in reading and math. Majority of the American children entering these low-performing schools, failed the system. Now, if we look at the system in Pakistan, then almost all of our low-income schools are failure factories, whether they are public government schools or private low-income schools. They simply fail to teach. But aside from ineffective education, Pakistani low-income schools often end up providing incorrect information. The low-cost textbooks used are strewn with incorrect facts and inaccurate information (refer recent article by Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn: http://www.dawn.com/news/1225815).

As the film progressed, it discussed teacher quality and tenure. In the US, government contracts provide teachers with tenure, whatever their performance. The means they cannot be fired, even if they are terrible teachers. Funnily enough teacher tenure is almost impossible to obtain in US higher educational institutes like colleges and universities. When comparing this with Pakistani schools, the system is similar. Our government school teachers are so secure in their payroll, that they often don’t turn up to school – hence ‘ghost teachers’ and where the government has funded schools on paper and the money has been siphoned off illegally ‘ghost schools.’ In low-income private schools, teachers are simply paid less than $20 a month and that does not instill the motivation to teach well. Additionally, the teachers are barely matriculates themselves and not certified in their specialty. For example, KG teachers in low-income private schools are paid around PKR 2000 a month, and cannot achieve early childhood certification because the institutes providing good quality certificates charge at least PKR 200,000. This price is simply ludicrous, as even high-performing schools do not pay their early childhood instructors more than PKR 20,000-30,000 a month. The turnover is high in low-income private schools, and teachers move to other neighboring schools at the small temptation of a few hundred rupees. 

 

The film did not provide any solutions to these problems. It did discuss charter schools, though, which are government funded, independently run schools. These seem to have better results in comparison with publicly funded, government run schools. If we look for such solutions in Pakistan there will have to be public-private partnerships between government schools and independent owners. This could potentially provide effective use of government facilities which are currently vast, empty spans of land around the country. Similarly, by providing adequate, relevant certification to low-income teachers at affordable prices, the teacher quality can be improved. Organizations protecting the rights of both schools, and teachers can be formed to avoid misuse of laws. Also, there can be a greater focus on applying successful education models from around the world, to improve methods and standards in the country. All this, and more can create a flow of teachers and students to our schools, which can result in employable human resources that contribute to the community and country as a whole. 

 

The Paradox of the Pakistani Low-income Classroom

Every, literally every, low-income classroom I have visited, faces the same problem. Untrained, ill-equipped teachers struggling to maintain standards in an unchallenging environment. What’s worse, is that this kind of situation while redeeming for the average or below-average student who has zero exposure to education, is more than damaging to the bright, imaginative learning child.

It is this phenomenon which makes me such a strong advocate of teacher training and teaching best practices implementation in the low-income education sector. I find that for the above average student, the environment of such schools serves as an inhibiting factor which affects their general motivation and curiosity in the class, while slowing down their learning trajectory. It’s like placing a sailfish in a fish tank and expecting it to maintain it’s speed.

Over time, intelligent children faced with such a classroom environment lose their interest in and desire to excel in class and look to other avenues for excitement. With little access to healthy educational and recreational facilities, this can have negative repercussions for the community and country as a whole.

I believe that well-trained, educated teachers can bring to the classroom a wealth of information and activities which can in turn challenge students to push their limits, and excel in all areas of development. This means, school should supply whatever the home environment cannot in terms of educational milestones. I believe that teachers should receive on-going training and help to come up with interesting lesson plans that sustain curiosity and encourage critical thinking. I believe the education system needs governing bodies which conduct school and teacher assessments to ensure they meet with international standards. I believe schools should receive ratings and accreditation if they confirm to standards and should be given deadlines if not.

There is so much to do. How will Pakistan find the resources and human capital to create this kind of educational paradigm shift? How will we ever move beyond immediate gains to understand the long term value of a good education and system? How will the government stop decreasing budget allocations to education development in the country?

The change has to come from within the system. We need to make it happen.

This Little Girl

There is a girl. A little girl. A quiet girl. A shy girl. A girl who tends to back into the wall if you walk by. A girl with big, soulful eyes and small, dusty hands. When she walks, she seems taller than the other little children, but she tries to cover up that difference by hunching her shoulders and looking down at the floor. She has recently joined my class and sometimes when I am reading a story, or sharing a joke, I see a ghost of a smile on her face.

Her story is simple. A father who battled with and succumbed to tuberculosis. A mother who dreamt of higher pastures for her three girls. This mother who was battling tuberculosis herself realized she would not live long and admitted her older girls into a nunnery. The younger one was too little and I can imagine how her mothers heart must have wept to keep her close. When the mother too passed away, this little girl went to live with her grandmother. The grandmother, herself very frail, works from morning to evening to earn enough to keep the two of them alive. When the people at St. Gabriels saw her playing in the street all day, while her grandmother was away at work, they took her in and gave her a uniform, and that’s how M started school.

Today, as she sits in Nursery at St. Gabriels and repeats her sounds with the other kids, I watch her with a strange ache in my heart. I don’t know what life holds for this little child. I can only try my best to fulfill her mother’s wish of giving her daughter a good education.

Some Days

Some days are better than others. On such days, as I make my way to Korangi from Defence, I don’t see a man in a pool of blood – an unfortunate victim of the common Karachi hit-and-run. I don’t see the physically challenged beggar man-child cradling his stump of a leg in his arms, lost in some thought that I cannot begin to fathom. I don’t see the woman at the corner of the road holding her baby in one arm, while trying to negotiate an argument between three other young children squabbling over a single packet of crisps.

Instead, as I enter the familiar lane of my school, I see the interesting, old man in a dhoti and vest calmly staring at himself in the mirror while oiling his handlebar moustache. I see the young man in the mirrored, metal aviators with his toy cart selling a funny looking plastic water gun to a group of naughty schoolchildren. As the car stops in front of St. Gabriels, I watch as a sudden hush falls over the entire building, and children peek out of the windows with smiles and giggles. On happy days like this, my step is light and my heart is full.

All day that happy feeling pervades my being. My four-year-old Kermiliya shyly confides to me that she has a new dress. Jennifer is her usual chatty self and wanders around the class, touching my leather tote with awe. “Miss! Miss! We saw you when you came in the car! We were looking from the window above!” I smile and gently nudge her to her seat. Tiny little Jonathan is the first to tell me about his day and Robbie is giving me his shy smile, a smile I value all the more because it has been so hard-earned from this closed, reserved child. I hand Ranveer a tissue as he has a hard time containing his sniffling and watch carefully as Dajla repeats her sounds to me with enormous, innocent eyes.

Even the older ones are in high spirits and greet me with funky bracelets and funny ‘New York’ studded belts which I never forget to compliment. Hina has her hair done in a beautiful twist and Shalim has a new haircut. These small things, which may seem small, matter so much. Robson is showing me his latest art work – a wonky but beautiful sketch of the Eiffel Tower as he breathily tells me his dream is to go to Paris one day and see the real thing. Veniza is telling me about her famous make up brand ‘Christina’ and her hopes of being a make up artist. Even Shankar opens up today, and tells me how he wants to be a doctor which is why he is working night shifts at a clinic near his house.

I love days like this. I love the hope and the happiness and the little ups and downs. I love the confiding smiles, the breathless whispers, the happy jingles of new bracelets. I love the dreams and aspirations and the wonderful, beautiful innocence of childhood.

On days like this, I head back to my home with a smile on my face and peace in my heart. I don’t see the pain puri sellers upturned cart with all his days earnings in a sloppy mess on the road. I don’t see the tired-looking donkey lugging a heavy load with buckling legs and head hanging low. On days like this I just close my eyes and savour the happiness that my children have given me. And that alone makes life worth living.

A mother’s promise

It clings on to the stem with all the still strength of it’s tiny mud-coloured body. An ant on a stalk of grass seems more proportionate. Some part of my mind registers the ridiculousness of this tiny mite on a long thick twig about the same width as it’s being. A soft evening breeze blows through my hair and I breathe in deeply. However, for the baby hummingbird which fell out of it’s nest this morning this breeze is akin to a stormy wind imperilling it’s safe leafy heaven.

I’m not sure what happened. The family of hummingbirds that lives in the big old almond tree right outside our gate fell apart yesterday. It could have been a larger predator, a strong gust of wind, the free falling almonds – anything can dislodge their home. All I know is starting 6:30 pm yesterday we heard painfully loud chirps rising from a cluster of vines that clings to our boundary wall. We investigated closely and found a small flurry of wings and small green-bodied birds frantically flying to and fro chirping and calling to their little chicks. The chicks were scattered all over the garage – under the car, in the bushes, behind the flower pots – all except one. This one had held on to the tiny stem of a large leafed potted plant near our door. She was the only chick chirping back to her parents but being so small and hidden (and relatively far from where they were) they couldn’t find her.

My husband and I tried to pick up the tiny one and move her to the family vine. It seemed happy for a while. However, in the panic of finding the other chicks, the family adults had moved further away and even as we saw, the entire family moved up the almond tree, leaving the little chick behind. Only one adult, its feathers ruffled fearfully, made its way down the tree. This bird would just not stop chirping. Its call was clear. Come to me, it said. Come quickly, this is not safe. I have never seen hummingbirds search for their babies before. The bird hopped the length of the car park, it skimmed, it called, it fluttered and it hid. It flew away at the very sight of us trying to help it.

At tennish we went out again when we heard the baby chirp out. It perched on our hands for a while, gripping tightly with tiny, ineffectual claws. It felt safest on a human hand. We tried to feed it, but it wouldn’t partake. It did not sip a drop of the water we placed before it. Late night we did a last check, but all was quiet and we couldn’t see much. Early morning we heard a loud chirping sound of many birds and we ran to the garden to see if our worst fears had been realised. This is the sight that met our eyes.

A family of hummingbirds had shifted into the vine cluster and were happily singing to each other. We could see our baby chick from the night before and it’s mother close by. The circle was complete. I was so moved. I felt the strangest awe of nature and unbidden tears crept into my eyes.

Childhood fears. Familial solidarity. A mother’s promise.

Cultural Inequality and the Economic Divide

As days go by, I live my life the way I live it, the way you live it, the way we all live it. I fall into routine, I watch the cars go by, the beggars at the traffic lights, the fruit seller at the street corner, the upturned rickshaw at the turning. Normal, everyday things. As I whiz by low-income settlements on Karachi roads – Korangi, Qayyumabad, Shirin Jinnah Colony, Shah Faisal Colony – I never stop to wonder, I rarely look closely at the people or the houses. The truck art at the truck depot at Shirin Jinnah, the little charpoys or addas where the workers in Orangi toil on embroideries for hours and days, the banarsi cloth near Banaras Chowk and the wood work in Saddar markets.

I do not look. If I looked closely, I would see that economic inequity aside, cultural inequality sometimes takes centre stage. Gender, heritage and language inequality. Do we as a nation, have a common civic culture? NO. Over time, the Pakistani elite have developed a culture of their own. A culture of designer wear, fathomless American-English conversation, a niche of international art, music and cuisine to adhere to, and of course the aloofness to other income groups.  It is gradually emerging, but people can observe the signs. In a country where majority of the population follows the same religion – the same values and the same way of life – there is a marked difference in the cultural lives of the rich and the poor. Divorce rates among the higher classes are increasing, crime rates in lower-income areas are increasing, codes of dress, social graces conversation, perceptions of right and wrong, even children’s names between income groups are different. Perhaps the scariest aspect is the general disconnect – the ‘condescending nonjudgementalism’ an elite or middle income Pakistani feels for a low-income Pakistani.

So lets look at basic development indicators as relate to culture. The Culture for Development Indicators (CDIS) is a tool created by UNESCO to measure the role of culture in development processes. These are 22 indicators such as multilingual education, tolerance of other cultures, perception of gender equality and freedom of expression which are divided into 7 key policy dimensions.

Pakistan is a multicultural nation with numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, conversing in an array of regional dialects – including literature and poetry and music in several of these. Pakistan is home to indigenous works and types of art that are revered worldwide, a cuisine that has Indian-Afghan-Middle Eastern influences and a national code of dressing and conduct. A nation this rich in culture should score high on the CDIS tool.  However, although this tool has not been implemented in Pakistan yet, we can surely foresee the following:

Contribution to Economy

  • So lately we have also noticed a sudden growth in the media and film industry as filmmakers are working with more and more ideas and technology to bring us better entertainment than we’ve had for years. However, the number of actual investors in films has remained low for a long time. Only lately, has the upsurge in media and film attracted Pakistan’s banking, investment and financial sector. Also, the latest films are not accessible to the low-income groups as they are screened in expensive cinemas or available online.
  • Pakistan may be rich in culture, but tourism has been sluggish due to security reasons. In spite of having weather conditions and a topography which would be much in demand if developed the tourism industry has chosen not to invest too much in the country’s touristic appeal.
  • A great many people in Pakistan’s employment sector are engaged in cultural occupations. (15% of all employees nationally according to a 2014 report by the British Council). However, documentation for employed artists in performing arts, literature and music is low and mixed with other sectors. Most of the employers of such sectors are private individuals with startups ranging from deigned clothing, shoes and bags to rilli works, cashmere shawls, pottery, bead, wood and cane works.
  • Although data is not available to corroborate this, Pakistan’s overall share in creative exports from developing countries has declined between 2003 and 2008.

Culture as part of Education

  • Since language wars have never really worked in Pakistan (remember the ‘Bangla’ movement post-independence?) there has been a particular desire to quell the development  of provincial languages. There has never been a consistent language policy in the education sector. The pre-independence British raj unspoken policy of English for elite and Urdu for masses has prevailed. In this scenario, there has been little to no development of regional languages as part of education. In addition, elite schools focus strongly on English language development and in a desire to send students to international universities, produce a mass of English speaking students with anglicised ways of conversation and thought, who are far removed from indigenous culture and development, or from their low-income counterparts.
  • The percentage of time spent by schools on art education may vary from school to school. However, art education is hardly ever taught as it relates to the culture of Pakistan unless in art schools. The carpet-making, pottery, glasswork and embroidery of artisans in Pakistan is hardly ever a topic of art education in mainstream schools. Works and biographies of artists like Gulgee, Naqsh and Sadequain are not part of curriculum. The elite are aware of these famous artisans, but no effort is made on the part of low-income schools to educate students on aspects of indigenous art and literature.
  • Music and dance form no part of the curriculum in low-income schools, unless they are community schools. In addition, extracurricular participation of such schools is also more skewed towards boys. Girls are not taken on field trips, or excursions while boys are encouraged to do so. In contrast, the elite schools of Pakistan offer music and dance classes but the dance is generally of an international type and traditional folk dances are dying out. Music is hardly ever taught as a proper course and there is little to no exposure of traditional qawwalis and folk music, or indigenous instruments. The ministry of Music and Dance, Pakistan mentions around 24 types of Pakistani dances, hardly any of which are promoted on any educational forum.

Culture as part of Governance

  • Public policy makers are unaware of the potential of the creative industries of Pakistan (says the aforementioned British Council report). knowledge and awareness is low, there are very few government training and skill development initiatives for people, especially low-income candidates. Organisations like SMEDA can be encouraged look for sustainable development opportunities and public-private partnerships to develop models for training and skill development. Also, regulation is low in the industry and there is a lack of financial transparency which can be looked into.

Culture and Social Participation

  • The first thought that comes to mind when I think of culture and social participation is the murder of Sabeen Mahmud – an arts connoisseur, a person who supported free dialogue, and free thought. An entrepreneur whose space the T2F was a hub of literature, art, music and cultural innovation and development. Her murder depicts the lack of tolerance in our society towards cultural development and freedom of speech.
  • Social participation in lower income groups is limited due to religious reasons and lack of recreational facilities. This has in turn led cultural development and innovation to be viewed with suspicion in such income groups. Since the rich elite take active part in art and literature and music activities both income groups have become alienated from their common heritage and each other.
  • Much of social participation from the elite is limited to social work. There are no joint culture-binding activities between income groups.

Culture and Gender Perceptions

  • Although the first argument any national presents in this situation is that Pakistan is country that elected a woman as head of state. However, even in the political arena, women have faced male-domination on a number of levels. Also, the engenderment of women in political arenas, for example, women representation in parliament is not just about number but also about their say, and the effect they have on changing or implementing policies, which is low.
  • Additionally, workplace gender perceptions tend to include women in middle management and front office positions, while there is less representation of women at CEO and Executive Director levels. Even lesser at Board of Director (BOD) level. The general idea is that women can participate actively in the workforce as long as they do not challenge male perceptions too much.
  • In lower income groups very often women are the bread winners while males are at home, or engaged in illicit activities like drinking, gambling etc. However, this still does not grant them a stronger position in the house and domestic abuse is a common problem.
  • Sexual abuse and harassment are common problems in workplaces and although seldom reported, they are also a clear indicator of social perceptions about gender equality.

Culture and Communication

  • President Pervez Musharraf legitimised free speech in media through his approval of private media channels after his coup in 1999. Since then, media has been given free reign to hold and disseminate opinions. However, there appear to be no laws in place for media regulation and hence there is much that is said without consensus or even common sense.
  • The media is bringing positive cultural impact through films, dramas, and telecasts which focus on the culture and traditions of the country. These are among other aspects, also being used to create a sense of nationalism and to bring to the forefront many social issues being faced by the country.
  • Cellular phone usage is high in Pakistan within most income groups. Internet usage, however, is limited in low-income areas. Facebook, twitter and other social media are being used to protest, raise questions, discuss issues and bind the nation in many ways on public platforms. However, low-income groups do not have access to such facilities and are left out of the national conversation.

Heritage Sustainability

  • A particularly important indicator of cultural development as it pertains to overall development of the nation is the importance placed on heritage sustainability.
  • Frere Hall is a beautiful heritage site in Karachi that dates back to the 1800s but has been in a bad state for a while. Even the beautiful ceiling mural painted by Sadequain has not been recognised or developed as a cultural attraction.
  • Moen Jo Daro is a remnant of the Indus Valley Civilization which is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage sight. However, lately, due to lack of seriousness on part of the Sindh government to protect this site, UNESCO has warned that it may be taken off the list.
  • Many old buildings around Sindh have been acquired as personal properties instead of being developed as national monuments and attractions. Some heritage buildings such as the Mereweather Tower in Empress Market, Saddar have neither been protected or maintained and stand amidst the general chaos of the market.

Pakistan’s culture includes buildings and architecture, music and dance, food and drink, stories and folklore, language, literature and poetry, all of which have been passed down over generations. However, the current state is such that hardly any of these aspects are begin taught in schools, reinforced through societal activities, disseminated through media or encouraged through governance. As it stands, cultural sustainability, cultural equality is dying out and much is at stake if it does.

Why Phonics?

What is Phonics? Why is it important to teach children to read using phonics? Do all children learn to read automatically or is reading explicitly taught? If we learned to read well without phonics, why is it important to teach phonics? What does systematic, synthetic phonics imply?  These questions and others like them are common among people who are learning about phonics methods of reading.

First of all to understand phonics it is important to understand the process of reading. Have a look at the image below. The Simple View of Reading, as given by Gough and Turner in 1986 proposes that reading is composed of two simultaneous process: decoding (breaking up individual sounds in a word) and language comprehension (knowing the meaning of what is being decoded). Together this leads to a message being read and understod.

Simple View of Reading

Image courtesy: http://www.specialneedsdigest.com

Today, we will look at the first part of this. Word recognition as mentioned in the diagram can be simplified as identifying a given word on a page. Now a child can either do this because the word is familiar and she has read it before or by guessing the word based on first letter/picture (whole language approach); or she knows the individual sounds that the letters in the word make and she has the ability to blend those sounds together into a coherent whole (phonics approach).

Lets compare this method to a simple example. You are a cook. You are blindfolded and a delicious dish is placed before you. You are now asked to identify the dish without tasting it. How will you do that?

  • First method: You can recognise the aroma the dish gives out. You’ve smelled this before! It is definitely an Indian curry. But what kind of curry is it? You can touch the dish (excuse the images this may bring to mind). The stuff on your fingers is a grainy liquid. You now know what the dish smells like and feels like but you still can’t say what it is.
  • Second method: You are well versed in the smells that are given out by individual spices, herbs and foods. You can smell the earthy smell of lentils, curry leaves, coriander, cumin and onions. You are pretty sure it’s daal. You touch it and yes, the texture just corroborates your  idea.

Which would you feel is a better identification and why? Second one? Yes. Why? Because it was  identification based on the parts of a whole and there was less chance of making a mistake that way.

Now coming back to reading, the example pretty much explains the average child faced with a word. If the child can identify the word based on familiarity or a guess, the word could still be wrongly identified. For example, the child may think ‘gut’ and ‘tug’ have the same letters, hence they will be pronounced the same way. Similarly, a child may look at the first letter(s) of the word ‘treat’ and think its ‘tree.’ Now lets consider the child who learnt the individual sounds of letters. The child will break up ‘tug’ into the sequence /t//u//g/. This child cannot mistake it for /g//u//t/. Similarly, if the child breaks up ‘treat’ into /t//r//ea//t/ he cannot confuse it with /t//r//ee/.

That said, children make sequencing errors many times even while decoding phonically. However, the phonics method explicitly teaches children to sequence and sound out words to eventually learn to attack any unfamiliar word armed with a repertoire of phonemes (individual sounds like /t/) and phonograms (letters grouped to make sounds like ‘ough’). So now you are ready for a definition.

‘Phonics is a method of teaching reading and spelling which uses phonemic awareness to teach the relationship between letters and sounds.’

Okay, so you’re probably wondering why I threw in ‘phonemic awareness’ in there. Well, simple. Phonemic awareness is the clue to much of phonics learning. A child with good phonemic awareness skills will decode words better. Officially, phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are made up of individual sound units. Like ‘Shibil’ is made up of /sh//i//b//i//l/.  5 units. You are now wondering, that I didn’t learn individual sounds like this, but I can read pretty well. So why should I bother with phonics for my child? The answer is simple. Phonics will bring your child to a higher reading level, in lesser time. Why do we use a hoover if we can sweep up rubbish anyway with a broom? The word ‘efficient’ come to mind?

Okay, so you’re sold on phonics. Now how to start. You’ve looked up a couple of programs online but they keep saying systematic, synthetic phonics program. What on earth does that mean? Let’s keep it simple. Systematic phonics teaches sounds in a specific order, which doesn’t necessarily have to be the order in which your child was taught the alphabet. The phonics order takes into account easier sounds and teaches sounds in clusters generally with 4 consonants and a vowel in tow to start blending early. So you may follow Jolly Phonic’s ‘satpin’ or Ruth Miskin’s  ‘mastd.’

The other term widely used is ‘synthetic’ phonics, which, for me, inevitable conjures up images of Nike spandex shorts. No. You need to think ‘creative’ or ‘blended.’ Synthetic phonics, or blended phonics teaches a cluster of letter-sounds such as /s//a//t//p//i//n/ and then teaches the child how to blend this cluster, before moving on to the next cluster. So after ‘satpin’ you learn to blend ‘sat,’ ‘pat,’ ‘sin,’ ‘pin,’ ‘tin,’ etc.  Once these are done, you move on to the next cluster of sounds. You may wonder why practitioners prefer ‘synthetic’ phonics to ‘analytic’ phonics (which was how I was taught reading except that in my time we called it ‘word families’). The argument is that ‘synthetic’ promotes guessing, while ‘synthetic’ is more sure-footed.

Now that you are aware of the basic tenets of phonics-based reading methods, you can start working with your child today!

P.S- I am working on some videos for mums who are looking to improve phonics-based reading with their children. Please stay tuned for more!