Education, Development, and Change
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Gender Divide

Dr Shahid Siddiqui 
Published in Dawn, 17 January, 2011

GENDER is a social construct that is fluid and varies with relation to time and space. Like any other social learning that humans acquire, the notion of gender is a part of cultural knowledge. The major culture-constituent forces include the social institutions that construct, validate and perpetuate social knowledge.

The first social institution that newborns are exposed to is their family. It is the family that instils in the child’s mind the essential attributes that are associated with men and women. Categorisation on the basis of gender starts at birth, when girls and boys are labelled and associated with the colours pink and blue.
At a very early stage, girls and boys are subjected to differential treatment in the family. In South Asian countries, where a large number of people live their lives below the poverty line, for economic reasons boys are generally valued more. Similarly, because of the unfortunate custom of having to have a dowry, girls are considered a burden, particularly in families with fewer resources. Children, when they start growing, observe the environment of their family. They keenly observe the relationship between their mother and father and study social roles very closely, such as who goes out to earn money and who takes care of the home. These early observations become an important source of social knowledge and children start internalising the roles of males and females at a very young age. In families where domestic violence is common, children develop aggressive attitudes which, in some cases, remain with them for a long time.
Besides observing the relationship of their parents, children acquire social norms from their siblings. Differential treatment within the family strengthens gender stereotypes in their minds.
Parental attitudes can impact the process of gender development as the initial formation of self-image takes place in the family. It is the parents that determine roles on the basis of gender through their own example and through their treatment of their children. Similarly it’s the parents who associate different sets of expectations with their sons and daughters. In South Asian countries, most parents don’t like their daughters to talk loudly or laugh before strangers. However, such expectations in terms of behaviour are not applied to boys.
Parents are also instrumental in providing different sets of opportunities to their children. For example, in mainstream families in a South Asian country a boy faces no problems in going abroad for higher studies but parents are usually reluctant to allow their daughters the same flexibility. Parental expectations regarding attitude, dress, job, responsibility and marriage generally differ on the basis of gender.
The early lessons of gender-dictated roles are taught in families when domestic chores are divided amongst children on this basis. To pick a very common example, boys are made responsible for acting in the public domain and girls are expected to manage the home. The roles that are assigned and practiced in the family are internalised by girls and boys at a very young age. These initial constructions of the self remain with them even when they have grown up. As a result of early internalisation, a number of women choose not to change their lives by challenging the hegemony of male members of the society.
A symbolic divide on the basis of gender lies in the choice of games and toys. Masculine-typed toys and games foster ‘male’ attributes such as aggression, violence and control. Feminine-typed games and toys cultivate the characteristics of organisation, caring, sharing or cooking. The choice of these games is approved by the parents and if girls try to move into the category of boys’ toys, they tend to be discouraged. Boys usually like to play games in which they emerge as warriors, saviours and heroes. The toys commonly given to them include guns, toy planes or racing cars racing. On the other hand, girls are taught to play make-believe as a teacher or cook or baker in a toy kitchen, or apply make-up to their dolls.
Thus, the divide on the basis of gender is strengthened through social categorisation. This social categorisation leads to segregated social norms in lifestyles. For example, a disorganised boy is generally tolerated by society but a girl has to be organised and tidy otherwise she is dubbed ill-mannered and socially unacceptable.
Boys and girls are encouraged to grow in separate environments with different roles and expectations. The initial division at the familial level is strengthened further by the social institutions of schools, and the print and electronic media. All such institutions not only propose that girls and boys grow up in different cultures, they also enforce this ‘rule’. That is why there is potential for misunderstandings when they converse with one another. These potential misunderstandings owe to the ‘cultural differences’ with which they are brought up.
Keeping in view the significant role played by the family as a social institution, it is crucial that the differential treatment of boys and girls be discouraged at as early a stage as possible. Girls should be given confidence and the opportunity to explore and express their potential. The early realisation for the need of mutual respect and recognition plays an important part in peaceful coexistence in society.

The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics, and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Homework Incomplete

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan provides for handing over all the 47 subjects in the Concurrent Legislative List to the provinces. Earlier, it was in the domain of both the provincial and federal governments to legislate in these areas and in case of any ambiguity the federal law would prevail. From now onwards, only the provinces will legislate on these subjects and for this very reason the federal ministries looking after these matters have been abolished.
The subjects in question include laws governing marriage, firearms possession, educational planning and development of curriculum, environmental pollution, divorce, adoption of children, arbitration, special education and so on. Soon after the passage of the amendment, dissenting voices about the impracticability of the decision rose from different quarters.

Though the support has always been there for the provinces’ demand to strengthen them, critics believe the transition is going to be abrupt and without much homework. The lack of capacity on part of the provinces to take up new assignments and shortage of required funds are termed the main causes of concern in this case.
Of all the subjects, the proposed devolution of education to the provinces has triggered a debate and caused worries for the academic community. Even the former Federal Education Minister, Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali, objected to the devolution of the ministry of provinces. He went to the extent of saying that the 18th amendment would create circumstances that led to the Fall of Dhaka, where the syllabus was not in line with the national curriculum and self-serving people used it for their vested interests.

In a December 2010 meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education he had said: “Curriculum is a sensitive subject whose devolution would mean that we are giving free hand to provinces to teach the syllabus of their desire without any check of the federation.”
In the same meeting he expressed his fears saying: “What I am looking forward to is the situation where we could produce Sindhis, Balochis, Punjabis and Pakhtuns but not Pakistanis.”
However, the non-compromising stance of the Implementation Commission on the 18th Amendment, headed by Senator Raza Rabbani prevailed and Sardar Aseff is no more criticising the issue. Sources in the PPPP believe it was following his decision not to further criticise the move that he was inducted as a minister in the new cabinet and awarded a new portfolio.

Dr Shahid Siddiqui, an educationist and professor at the Lahore School of Economic (LSE), tells TNS that the provinces’ mandate to look after curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education has worried many. However, he says the provinces should have the autonomy to design the curricula according to contextual needs and learners’ requirement. He says if the federation is concerned about the curriculum issue, it can keep Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies under its control.

Dr Siddiqui, who is also the author of the book Rethinking Education, says the education standards can be monitored through provincial quality assurance departments and the inter-provincial coordination committee. Similarly, he says, the provinces may introduce regional languages as a subject in their respective provinces as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is attempting to do.
He believes most of these concerns seem to emanate primarily from a lack of trust in the capacity and ability of the provinces. In reality, he says, things are different. “The provinces are already providing for school and college education and they do have the capacity to handle the job. These provinces are also funding education from their budgets and only partial grants are coming from the universities.” 

Siddiqui’s comments are quite similar to the Implementation Commission which had said that the development of the curriculum and syllabi had always been with the provinces and the federal government was only vetting and providing ‘No-Objection Certificates (NOCs)’ to the curriculum developed by the provinces.

Irfan Ahmed, a development professional working in the field of education, says one of the major concerns of the development sector was how the commitments of international donors with the federal education ministry (now defunct) will be fulfilled.

He says after deliberations it has been decided that the Economic Affairs Division will implement all the international and bilateral agreements made by the ministries being devolved to the provinces. Ahmed says once these commitments are fulfilled the newer ones will be between the provinces and the donors. This will also dispel the provinces’ fears that they will lack funds to run the affairs of the ministries passed on to them, he adds.

Dr Sohail Naqvi, Executive Director, Higher Education Commission (HEC) tells TNS that the perceptions that the role of HEC under the new arrangement will be undermined are not correct. He says a lot of universities are working under the charters issued by the provinces and the commission will keep on extending support of all types to them.
The latest is that the provinces are ready to take control of assets, funds, fixtures etc but have shown reservations over accommodating the employees of the federal ministries devolved to them. The Implementation Commission is in talks with the provinces to sort out the issue, amid escalating protests by the uncertain employees of these ministries.

PML-N MNA and National Assembly Standing Committee on Education Chairman Abid Sher Ali, who had strongly condemned the plan to devolve education ministry, seems to have resigned to fate. He says they could only raise the issue and point out the ensuing problems and were not in a position to roll back any decision.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Punhabi translation of Adhe Adhoore Khawab

Ms Qaisra Jaswal, a renowned Punjabi writer, has translated, Adhe 
Adhoore Khawab, a novel by Dr Shahid Siddiqui,  into Punjabi
language.  The Urdu novel was published by Jehangir Publisher in 2009.  The Punjabi translation has been published in a special issue of a prominent Punjabi literary magazine, 'Pancham'.  The translation got positive response from the Punjabi critics.  The book, based on Punjabi version of the novel, should be out in 2012.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adhe Adhoore Khwab: My Impressions

Safina Joseph Ganis
Ohio, USA

Adhe Adhoore Khawab, an Urdu novel by Shahid Siddiqui is a story of resistance against hegemonic forces responsible for the social stasis. The highly radical political messages are communicated in a style imbued with love and softness. The setting of the novel is a college campus where Prof Saharan Roy and Imtisal Agha, two major characters of the novel meet. Both of them have charismatic personalities and are driven by the dreams of changing the unjust society through education.

The story of Adhae Adhoore Khawab progresses dramatically, and climaxes at personal sacrifice by the protagonist of the novel. It is a story about the need of critical education and social justice in our society, a narration of dreams of social change and social justice that Prof Roy kindles in the eyes of his students.

Adhe Adhoore Khawab also focuses on the role of a mentor through the character of Prof. Roy who was very honest toward his profession and responsibilities and acted as true mentor to his students. He is conscious of injustices of society and dreams to have equal educational opportunities for all the students in the country. His ideology is not just confined to abstract theories but finds its way in his actions as he participates in the movement of restoration of judiciary, gets arrested and finally breathes his last in the jail. 
Imtisal’s character is one of the most lovable characters I have come across in fiction that I have been exposed to.

Dr. Shahid Siddique depicts the personality of Prof Roy as embodied with perfect humanly qualities. The writer artistically and dramatically controls the strings of scenes and words in Adhy Adhoore Khawab from the beginning to the end of the novel. The reader is intrigued with the events in the novel and reads on with growing interest till the story in the novel ends.

Imtisal’s character is one of the most lovable characters I have come across in fiction that I have been exposed to. She is smart, intelligent, and graceful and shares the dreams of changing the unjust society. After the death of her mentor she makes a conscious choice of joining the teaching profession in a local school for the welfare of the children of her village which was in fact a sincere effort to carry forward the dream of his mentor.

It is my privilege that I was the first person to read the novel, even before it was sent for the printing. It left a long lasting impression on me. I felt emotionally attached with the characters in the novel and I was really moved by the story. I saw myself as Prof. Roy or Imtisal and I could relate to these characters. I could feel the sensation of love in me that often times is inexpressible.