Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sudden Death of Salma Khan

Salma Khan
Shocked to hear about the sudden death of Salma Khan, a young lecturer of English at UMT, in a car accident. She was an enthusiastic learner, a passionate teacher, and a lively human being. Salma was pursuing her PhD in linguistics and was in the last stages of writing up her PhD thesis. She called me on Thursday, two days before her death, to share with me that how close was she to her thesis submission. 
She had dreams in life which she tried hard to realise.
She called after long period of silence and spoke for about fifteen minutes. I didn't realise that it was the last time I was listening to her vibrant voice and that I would never ever get to meet her again. She had dreams in life which she tried hard to realise. Getting a PhD was one such dream for which she worked really hard. She came so close to realize this dream but then suddenly went so far away to the unknown paths, never to return again. It will take time believe that she is no more with us. May Allah rest her soul in peace and grant courage to her family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and students to bear this loss with the same courage that was hallmark of her personality. Salma, you will always be missed!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rethinking Education in Pakistan-Review in Dawn

January 13, 2008
Vehicle for change

Reviewed by Khadim Hussain

The mushrooming growth of tuition centres across the length and breadth of the country is a manifestation of the collapse of the public school system in PakistanIT’s fairly well-known that the system of education that has evolved in Pakistan over all these years is unmatched in several respects. Firstly, it is composed of contradictory elements. The conceptual elements in the education of Pakistan that contradict one another are instrumental in perpetuating the socio-political and economic structures of the state. The public education system caters to almost 60 per cent of all enrolled students in Pakistan. Private English medium schools entertain the middle and lower middle classes in cities and villages while so-called elite schools provide education to a tiny minority in this country. Moreover, except the works by a few individuals, the existing literature on the education system intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates the theory and practice of education thus helps maintain the existing configuration of power in state and society.

The book under review by Dr Shahid Siddiqui is an example of reflections on the fundamental issues of public education in Pakistan. The writer has been successful in debunking myths surrounding the theory and practice of public education in this country, and in providing alternatives to establish a vibrant system based on the progressive theory of education.The author has dealt with the themes of policy issue, teacher and teacher education, curriculum and materials, language issues, research and assessment while constructing a frank and informal discourse.The book is probably the first effort of its kind to bring deeper academic issues to the domain of general discourse. The writer has tried to form an argument in support of making education an agent of social and economic change in society. For example, in the chapter on financing education the author has argued that it is the lack of political will to devise policies and the lack of competence in bureaucracy to implement those policies so as to prevent education from becoming a vehicle for any meaningful change in the society.
Faculty development is undoubtedly a springboard for providing opportunity to individuals to develop pedagogical grip on the vital issues both inside and outside the classroom. The author advocates self-reflection as matter of approach in teacher training institutes to set the stage for an attitudinal change. The role of a teacher, the author argues, has to be redefined. Knowledge is not to be transmitted but constructed, negotiated and reconstructed. The teacher has to perform the role of a guide, facilitator, researcher, organiser and an agent of social change. The complex issue of socio-cultural and politico-economic influence on an individual and its relationship with human agency needs a little more deliberation nonetheless. Can an individual teacher bring about change in the collective social behavioural system?The author has taken up another intricate issue, that of language and language teaching in Pakistan after convincingly summarising the debate going on around the globe on this matter of vital importance. (Though one would have liked to read about the threats to the diversity of the world, especially to the bio-linguistic diversity in the context of globalisation of a few European languages.) Thousands of languages are said to have been faced with threat to their survival that may lead to homogenisation of cultures around the globe. Significant questions in this regard are: how can English language skills be developed in a bilingual and multilingual context? How can language education be linked to critical thinking through critical listening, reading and writing? The writer’s discussion on linking literature with language in the ELT classrooms in Pakistan speaks of his in-depth insight into the ELT scenario in Pakistan.On of the most interesting sections of the book is a thought-provoking discussion on research paradigms. The discussion falls just short in addressing the issue of link between research paradigms and configuration of power in the society. The politico-economic relations within a social structure have close links with the generation of new knowledge and the construction of a reality. If a reality is perceived to be absolute and unchangeable, it is likely to be measured with quantitative research tools with varying degrees of certainty. This is in tandem with the structural, formal and constructionist view of society. The flux and reconstitution of reality stays out of the discourse. If it is assumed that a reality has multiple dimensions and is always in a flux, it is then likely to be understood through qualitative tools. A reality in this paradigm can be changed and reconstructed. As events, phenomena and procedures are usually based on a certain concept of reality; they are liable to continuously change and fluctuate. This paradigm seems to be in tandem with the post-structuralist and post-modern concept of social structure.Some interesting phenomena of the education system in Pakistan have been candidly discussed in the book. One such interesting phenomenon is the workshop syndrome in faculty development programmes in Pakistan that defeats the very purpose of its existence in the first place. The discussion on ‘touch-and-go’ teaching, currently popular among university faculty in Pakistan, is witness to the author’s incisive observation. The mushrooming growth of tuition centres across the length and breadth of the country is a manifestation of the collapse of public school system in Pakistan, the author argues, but these tuition centres are emerging as a parallel institution in themselves. The author has tried to put the issue in context.Another significant area in the education system is curriculum development. The issue has been hotly debated by educational theorists in recent times. The issue of curriculum development is also one of the most controversial areas of educational theory in Pakistan. Dr Siddiqui has raised some very important questions while discussing the role of teacher in curriculum development and implementation emphasising the role of interaction between teacher, students, materials and school milieu. Do we have proper teacher’s education programmes which focus on developing reflective practitioners? Do we have an appropriate system of monitoring? Are we satisfied with the process of evaluation of curriculum? And finally, are we considering teacher’s role central to curriculum construction?
Rethinking Education in Pakistan
By Shahid SiddiquiParamount Publishing Enterprise
Available with Paramount Books, Karachi
ISBN 0-494-494-490-6196pp. Rs345

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Dream Within A Dream

Atta ur Rehman's reflections on “Adhay Adhoray Khawb”

I was in search of “Adhay Adhoray Khawb” since I came to know about it. I tried to find it in Peshawar city but in vain. I contacted a teacher of mine who was in Lahore on a visit. He very kindly gifted me “Adhay Adhoray Khawb”. I am not a student of literature but I love reading books related to social issues, poetry, human relations etc. So being a student of Business Administration I may not be able to present my reflections in the manner the novel-et worth’s. But I can’t even stop myself writing whatever comes to my mind after  going through the novel.
With the novel I visited my crystal like streams and felt the cool breeze of village.
I was engrossed in the novel because I was not only reading it but also feeling the lines because the flow of the sentences and central idea was fantastic. The moment I for the first time stopped while reading the novel was when I came to the page where the qualities of a “good teacher” were being discussed. I stopped because the conclusion of the discussion was, what I as a student felt very true about a good teacher; Knowledge, Methodology, Attitude and Creativity. Every good student would like to see these things in a teacher and if all teachers inherit these qualities they will be the examples for young minds to follow.
I belong to the District Chitral, in the very north of Pakistan, and the character “Imtisaal” took me to my valley. With the novel I visited my crystal like streams and felt the cool breeze of village.The story of “Imtisaal” also shows that staying away from homes in far-flung areas in hostels and with friends expose to a lot of experiences from building relations to developing human capacity. Teachers in cities can be a source of inspiration and example for students of remote areas specifically.I feel that education is the most productive way of bringing a social change. I would recommend this book to every student and every teacher.
At the ending section of the novel-et the state of Professor Rai in jail reminded me Edgar Allen saying;

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream? 


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Antonio Gramsci: Selections from The Prison Notebooks

Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) was an Italian intellectual who joined first the Socialist and then the Communist Party. Between 1924 and 1926 Gramsci was the head of the Italian Communist Party. In 1926 he was arrested by the Mussolini fascist government and sent to prison where he remained until 1937. The excerpt that follows comes from his prison notebooks and demonstrates his fascination with the French Revolution, especially its Jacobin phase. Although Gramsci was a devoted Marxist, he helped turn Marxism toward an interest in local conditions, particularly toward the alliance between intellectuals and workers.

On the subject of Jacobinism and the Action Party, an element to be highlighted is the following: that the Jacobins won their function of "leading" [dirigente] party by a struggle to the death; they literally "imposed" themselves on the French bourgeoisie, leading it into a far more advanced position than the originally strongest bourgeois nuclei would have spontaneously wished to take up, and even far more advanced than that which the historical premises should have permitted—hence the various forms of backlash and the function of Napoleon I. This feature, characteristic of Jacobinism (but before that, also of Cromwell and the "Roundheads") and hence of the entire French Revolution, which consists in (apparently) forcing the situation, in creating irreversible faits accomplis, and in a group of extremely energetic and determined men driving the bourgeois forward with kicks in the backside, may be schematized in the following way. The Third Estate was the least homogeneous; it had a very disparate intellectual elite, and a group which was very advanced economically but politically moderate. Events developed along highly interesting lines. The representatives of the Third Estate initially only posed those questions which interested the actual physical members of the social group, their immediate "corporate" interests (corporate in the traditional sense, of the immediate and narrowly selfish interests of a particular category). The precursors of the Revolution were in fact moderate reformers, who shouted very loud but actually demanded very little. Gradually a new elite was selected out which did not concern itself solely with "corporate" reforms, but tended to conceive of the bourgeoisie as the hegemonic group of all the popular forces.
This selection occurred through the action of two factors: the resistance of the old social forces, and the international threat. The old forces did not wish to concede anything, and if they did concede anything they did it with the intention of gaining time and preparing a counteroffensive. The Third Estate would have fallen into these successive "pitfalls" without the energetic action of the Jacobins, who opposed every immediate halt in the revolutionary process, and sent to the guillotine not only the elements of the old society which was hard a-dying, but also the revolutionaries of yesterday—today become reactionaries. The Jacobins, consequently, were the only party of the revolution in progress, in as much as they not only represented the immediate needs and aspirations of the actual physical individuals who constituted the French bourgeoisie, but they also represented the revolutionary movement as a whole, as an integral historical development. For they represented future needs as well, and, once again, not only the needs of those particular physical individuals, but also of all the national groups which had to be assimilated to the existing fundamental group. It is necessary to insist against a tendentious and fundamentally anti-historical school of thought, that the Jacobins were realists of the Machiavelli stamp and not abstract dreamers. They were convinced of the absolute truth of their slogans about equality, fraternity and liberty, and, what is more important, the great popular masses whom the Jacobins stirred up and drew into the struggle were also convinced of their truth. The Jacobins' language, their ideology, their methods of action reflected perfectly the exigencies of the epoch, even if "today," in a different situation and after more than a century of cultural evolution, they may appear "abstract" and "frenetic."
Naturally they reflected those exigencies according to the French cultural tradition. One proof of this is the analysis of Jacobin language which is to be found in The Holy Family. Another is Hegel's admission, when he places as parallel and reciprocally translatable the juridico political language of the Jacobins and the concepts of classical German philosophy—which is recognized today to have the maximum of concreteness and which was the source of modern historicism. The first necessity was to annihilate the enemy forces, or at least to reduce them to impotence in order to make a counterrevolution impossible. The second was to enlarge the cadres of the bourgeoisie as such, and to place the latter at the head of all the national forces; this meant identifying the interests and the requirements common to all the national forces, in order to set these forces in motion and lead them into the struggle, obtaining two results: (a) that of opposing a wider target to the blows of the enemy, i.e., of creating a politico-military relation favorable to the revolution; (b) that of depriving the enemy of every zone of passivity in which it would be possible to enroll Vendée-type armies.
Without the agrarian policy of the Jacobins, Paris would have had the Vendée at its very doors. The resistance of the Vendée properly speaking is linked to the national question, which had become envenomed among the peoples of Brittany and in general among those alien to the slogan of the "single and indivisible republic" and to the policy of bureaucratic-military centralization—a slogan and a policy which the Jacobins could not renounce without committing suicide. The Girondins tried to exploit federalism in order to crush Jacobin Paris, but the provincial troops brought to Paris went over to the revolutionaries. Except for certain marginal areas, where the national (and linguistic) differentiation was very great, the agrarian question proved stronger than aspirations to local autonomy. Rural France accepted the hegemony of Paris; in other words, it understood that in order definitively to destroy the old regime it had to make a bloc with the most advanced elements of the Third Estate, and not with the Girondin moderates. If it is true that the Jacobins "forced" its hand, it is also true that this always occurred in the direction of real historical development. For not only did they organize a bourgeois government, i.e., make the bourgeoisie the dominant class—they did more. They created the bourgeois State, made the bourgeoisie into the leading, hegemonic class of the nation, in other words gave the new State a permanent basis and created the compact modern French nation.
That the Jacobins, despite everything, always remained bourgeois ground is demonstrated by the events which marked their end, as a party cast in too specific and inflexible a mold, and by the death of Robespierre. Maintaining the Le Chapelier law, they were not willing to concede to the workers the right of combination; as a consequence they had to pass the law of the maximum. They thus broke the Paris urban bloc: their assault forces, assembled in the Commune, dispersed in disappointment, and Thermidor gained the upper hand. The Revolution had found its widest class limits. The policy of alliances and of permanent revolution had finished by posing new questions which at that time could not be resolved; it had unleashed elemental forces which only a military dictatorship was to succeed in containing.
If in Italy a Jacobin party was not formed, the reasons are to be sought in the economic field, that is to say in the relative weakness of the Italian bourgeoisie and in the different historical climate in Europe after 1815. The limit reached by the Jacobins, in their policy of forced reawakening of French popular energies to be allied with the bourgeoisie, with the Le Chapelier law and that of the maximum, appeared in 1848 as a "specter" which was already threatening—and this was skillfully exploited by Austria, by the old governments and even by Cavour (quite apart from the Pope). The bourgeoisie could not (perhaps) extend its hegemony further over the great popular strata—which it did succeed in embracing in France (could not for subjective rather than objective reasons); but action directed at the peasantry was certainly always possible. Differences between France, Germany and Italy in the process by which the bourgeoisie took power (and England). [sic] It was in France that the process was richest in developments, and in active and positive political elements. In Germany, it evolved in ways which in certain aspects resembled what happened in Italy, and in others what happened in England. In Germany, the movement of 1848 failed as a result of the scanty bourgeois concentration (the Jacobin-type slogan was furnished by the democratic Far Left: "Permanent revolution"), and because the question of renewal of the State was intertwined with the national question. The wars of 1864, 1866 and 1870 resolved both the national question and, in an intermediate form, the class question: the bourgeoisie obtained economic-industrial power, but the old feudal classes remained as the government stratum of the political State, with wide corporate privileges in the army, the administration and on the land. Yet at least, if these old classes kept so much importance in Germany and enjoyed so many privileges, they exercised a national function, became the "intellectuals" of the bourgeoisie, with a particular temperament conferred by their caste origin and by tradition. In England, where the bourgeois revolution took place before that in France, we have a similar phenomenon to the German one of fusion between the old and the new—this notwithstanding the extreme energy of the English "Jacobins," i.e., Cromwell's "roundheads." The old aristocracy remained as a governing stratum, with certain privileges, and it too became the intellectual stratum of the English bourgeoisie (it should be added that the English aristocracy has an open structure, and continually renews itself with elements coming from the intellectuals and the bourgeoisie). In Germany, despite the great capitalist development, the class relations created by industrial development, with the limits of bourgeois hegemony reached and the position of the progressive classes reversed, have induced the bourgeoisie not to struggle with all its strength against the old regime, but to allow a part of the latter's facade to subsist, behind which it can disguise its own real domination.

Source: Antonio Gramsci, in Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (New Yorl: International Publishers, 1971) 77–80, 82–83.

Foucault vs Facebook

The American prison systems of the late 18th and 19th centuries utilised the notion of the Panopticon - Jeremy Bentham's design that allowed all prisoners to see each other (pan, all; optic, see/observe) and therefore reduce the duty and necessity of prison guards. (We could all go off on a Marxist tangent here about the capitalist monetary system of breaking down skills into a series of jobs to keep the working classes in place but make the rich richer, but we'll have to stay out of it for now. Cans, worms.) The original panopticon got the prisoners to work menial jobs whilst all in each other's sight lines, therefore turning the watched and the watchers into one.
Foucault argues in Discipline and Punish that the psychological effects of this can be transposed onto society: modern disciplinary systems such as schools, armies, factories and hospitals create an observed, normalised society - he who misbehaves is seen doing so, and in turn he who sees the misbehaviour knows that if he can see it happening, someone can see him.

Were Foucault alive today, I'm pretty sure he'd rather like Facebook. Not only could he cruise the profiles of young men in his area (Facebook enables you to see the full profiles of anyone in the same "network" - eg city, town, university - as you, but only to see thumbnails of those outside of it), but every time he logged on he'd also be greeted with a page telling him everything that is going on in his surroundings.
Who's made friends with who? Who's updated their profile photo? Who's changed their favourite film or band? Who's joined which groups? Who's attending which event? Who's now single, or in a relationship? These profiles are, of course, partly lies - we are trying to construct our personalities, to represent, to come across as fully-formed people with quirks and characteristics when in fact we're all in a state of flux and self-creation.

It's only a matter of time
The panopticon of Facebook has enabled me to discover this: one of my friends is "not a feminist but..." (one of my favourite phrases ever, in fact I'd love Julie Birchill's fake TV documentary of the same name - in which a group of modern women are locked in a Big Brother style environment and have different privileges, such as to work, choose a spouse and press charges for rape - removed one by one over ten weeks); that another is a Future Conservative UK member; that two people who hated each other at school are now friends (did they grow up, or do they just want to have more friends on Facebook?).
And what is it saying about me? Is someone about to point out that, really, I don't love The Purple Rose of Cairo as much as my profile pretends, but I just couldn't think of a better "sad" Woody Allen film, to make me appear a more rounded person? Is Facebook trying to normalise me into telling the truth, or getting us all to judge each other as we reshape our meagre young lives? Perhaps it wants all of us to influence and argue each other, and delete people from our friends list for stepping out of line and joining the Future Conservatives UK group. I don't know. (I would quite like to talk to Foucault about this. Sadly he is dead. But there is a Facebook group called What the Foucault? that works for now.)
Foucault - oh, it's hard.
posted by swithun

Q & A with Amartya Sen

NATE GLENCER/THE CHRONICLE : Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya
 Sen spoke on the abuses of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand theory in 
Goodson Chapel Friday afternoon.

Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen spoke on the abuses of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand theory in Goodson Chapel Friday afternoon.


By Naureen Khan

Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was at Duke this weekend as part of a two-day series of events honoring the work of Craufurd Goodwin, James B. Duke professor of economics. Sen, Thomas W. Lamont University professor and professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University, gave the keynote address of the celebration, speaking on “The Uses and Abuses of Adam Smith” in the Goodson Chapel Friday afternoon. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998 for his work in welfare economics. Born in present-day Bangladesh, Sen is known for his work on the economic principles of poverty, famine and gender inequality. Sen sat down with The Chronicle’s Naureen Khan before his lecture to talk about his economic theories.
The Chronicle: Do you know Craufurd Goodwin?
Amaryta Sen: I know him by reputation only, I didn’t know him personally, but he’s a famous guy and this is a famous place and a good center, and he plays a major part in constructing what it is now so it seemed a good thing to do.

TC: Talk a little bit about how your background—growing up in Dhaka and in Bangladesh—has influenced your views on development and how they piqued your interest in those kinds of issues.
AS: How does the ancestral background or the early background of your life affect your work? I wish I knew it and I could analyze it well. I see other people write on it—saying this clearly affected him. I am always interested and respectful of other people’s views about what happened, but I’m not sure I put great confidence in self-analyzing, saying that particular experience led to that particular kind of work. But obviously, I had a happy childhood…. It was a good way of growing up. It’s a problematic country. There’s poverty, there was a famine when I was young, there were riots that took place that came from nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. It affected a lot of people’s lives, a lot of people died and obviously these things did influence me, but I’m not going to pontificate on how each of them had an impact on my work.
TC: You won the Nobel Prize in 1998 and there’s been the criticism that that particular prize is given to people who are not in touch with the real world—with you being the exception. Do you have any thoughts on that?
AS: I don’t take the view that technical work is necessarily irrelevant to the world. I don’t think that’s quite the case. Secondly, I don’t think I am an exception in the sense that if you look at the Nobel citation, most of the paper they refer to… is quite technical. Since the first paper is called “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Binary Consistency of Majority Decision,” I wouldn’t try to sell it as a humanistic work…. I wouldn’t sell it as non-technical work. And thirdly, it is very important to have the motivation to work on problems which are relevant. I don’t know whether I’ve succeeded in doing it, but I’ve certainly tried. I think the main problem arises from the technicality of it.
TC: How has the global economic downturn affected views on development and social welfare?
AS: It depends on what your views were before the crisis. I don’t think many people have been changed at all by the crisis. But I do welcome the fact that some people are re-examining issues and their deep confidence that the market is self-correcting and indeed, basically you can’t do any wrong....
My talk is on Adam Smith today because Adam Smith does discuss exactly that question, and I do in fact talk about Adam Smith and the economic effects of the present crisis with Adam Smith’s 18th century thoughts. It was never Adam Smith’s view to assume that the markets were self-regulating or that you don’t need any institution other than the markets. He thought the markets did a terrific amount of work and he was right. But it can also lead people astray and it leaves a lot of things undone, and I think if you look at the crisis, the causation of the crisis is connected with people being led astray. And the severity of the suffering from the crisis comes also from the fact that, quite often, the institutional structures to supplement the market were very underdeveloped and for ideological reasons which need correcting.
TC: In the course of your career, have you seen more people coming around to your point of view—that economic policies should benefit people and their communities?
AS: Most economists have taken that view throughout their lives. They did not need the crisis to point that out…. Even those that were hard-nosed, market fundamentalists—it was their belief that is the way to serve the people. It’s not the case that they were heartless hyenas, not at all.... We’re talking about correctness and incorrectness, not humanity and inhumanity. I really get upset when people sometimes—and you haven’t done that—sort of refer to matters of heart. Nothing drives me up the pole as much.
No one ever in India or Bangladesh said that, but some guy in England thought I was the Mother Teresa of economics. My God, that absolutely raises my temperature to the boiling point because I think economists didn’t lack a heart—I don’t think that’s quite the case—and secondly, Mother Teresa didn’t do technical work at all and I don’t deny the importance of technical work, and thirdly, she sacrificed her life all the time, which I have not done. I’ve always lived in comfortable quarters with a reasonable salary... without feeling guilty. I’m no schizophrenic. It’s not the motivation thing. We’re talking about whether the market fundamentalists were right or wrong in their theory, that’s what we’re talking about and you cannot solve it by referring the matter to the heart, you have to refer the matter to your head.
Watch the interview online at