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Losing hope

One thing humans need for survival is ‘hope’. Even when one knows that life is no pleasure cruise; that each day you’ll be welcoming new challenges; and that you have a government that loves to hate the modern world – you still ‘hope’ for things to get better.

But, over the last few months, that hope, the one thing that helps you breathe in this suffocating space, has diminished. How do you react when you realise that your country, through the Single National Curriculum (SNC), is returning to repressive policies/ideas? Once regressive ideas begin to seep through the education sector, there is no hope left – even for the most optimistic.

On paper, the SNC is a right step – taken to increase equality among students. In reality, this ‘experiment’ will easily keep children away from critical thinking and progressive ideas. That PTI ministers are not ready to pay attention to opposition (from parents, educationists, and the rival parties) shows that the new curriculum is here to stay.

The PTI has, on various occasions, always maintained that Pakistanis need to free themselves from ‘mental slavery’. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has spent a great portion of his life in the West and who has the sole authority to speak on its lifestyle, has openly opposed English-medium schools.

I went to an English-medium trust school in Karachi. It isn’t a fancy (high-tier) school. I was told that it used to be top-notch before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ill-thought nationalisation policies disturbed the school’s operations. Anyway, since the school was funded by a private elite family, its fee was low. In 2008, when I was in Grade X, my tuition fee (in the Matric section) was Rs900. In 2006, when I was in Grade VIII (in the Cambridge section), my monthly fee was close to Rs2,000.

My education expenses weren’t hard on my parents’ pockets. And for the longest time, I had this resentment of not being able to go to a school with four-digit fees. Over the years, and after giving tuitions to children studying in all tiers of private schools, I realised that my school did the best it could with its limited resources.

A few days ago, when I saw photos of an SNC English book, I felt a twinge of inexpressible pain in my chest. I don’t want our girls to grow up thinking that getting married and sitting on the rug with covered heads is the only future they should dream of. I don’t want our children to miss the opportunity of reading about interesting stories of women and girls.

I studied in the Cambridge section of my school, the curriculum of which many thought would pollute girls’ minds. It was surprising for some to see that my younger brother and I would have discussions on Bronte’s characters in Wuthering Heights. (But that’s how we were taught – to have an opinion about characters, to understand their views, and to discuss).

The English books we read in school didn’t pollute our minds. On the contrary, they opened a world to us that would otherwise have been left unexplored. William Shakespeare’s Cordelia (King Lear), for example, is still my favourite character whom I studied at just 12 years of age. I was in awe of her when she flatly refused to flatter her father. Her iconic lines “I love you as a daughter should, neither more nor less” are unforgettable. And these lines helped me build genuine relationships in life. A year later, we were introduced to Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March (Little Women) – a dreamer who didn’t think twice before making the sacrifice for her father. This story was inspiring at another level – a middle-aged mother taking care of her four daughters while her husband was miles away from home fighting a foreign enemy.

In both stories, there was no hate for ‘fathers’, but the central characters were strong, opinionated women who were capable of making tough decisions. And when it comes to being strict yet caring, how can I forget Mark Twain’s Aunt Polly (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) who raised two naughtiest boys on her own.

From the school’s library, I would borrow Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and think that if a group of girls who were roughly my age could live on their own and deal with friendships, heartbreaks, and rivalries, I could too.

This isn’t about how amazing our school’s curriculum was. This is about the importance of introducing both girls and boys to strong women characters. As I mentioned above, I am not from an ‘elite’ school. In our morning assembly, we would pledge to follow the teachings of the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet (pbuh). Every morning, we’d start our day with a Quranic verse, a dua, and a hadith (with its translation). The English curriculum wasn’t an attack on our culture or values. It helped us become better thinkers and learners. In fact, our Islamiat book, which was in English, described all religious events in such a beautiful manner that it just brought us closer to our religion. Relevant verses would accompany different topics, explaining to us, in detail, what exactly the commandments are.

The women I have studied about in school didn’t stand under the shadow of men; they had their own personalities. And I want the next generation, my nieces and my baby cousins, to get introduced to the same world.

‘Education for all’ should have meant that all children (regardless of how much they’re paying in school fees) have access to quality education. It should have meant giving funds to small private schools and increasing the education budget for public schools to train teachers so that they can teach new concepts in a better manner. Downgrading textbooks is injustice to the very children for whom the government has introduced the new curriculum. And the government cannot absolve itself by arguing that it will welcome feedback – that ship has already sailed as feedback is generally welcomed during the planning phase.

Even though we are taught to say: dil na umeed to nahi (the heart hasn’t lost hope), I think it’s time we admitted it has (dil na umeed hai).

Email: aimen_erum@hotmail.com

Aimen Siddiqui, "Losing hope," The News. 2021-09-12.
Keywords: Education , Education sector , Education-Budget , National Curriculum , Educationists , Schools , Textbooks , PM Imran Khan , Zulfikar Ali Bhutto , Pakistan , SNC , PTI