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Pakistan's children in schools | Islamisation at Quaid-i-Azam University

21% children still remain out of school
Islamabad, Jan 18: Despite the recent focus of the federal and provincial governments on enrolment drives as a rhetoric on Article 25 A, 21% of Pakistan's children aged 5-16 still remain out of school.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 National Survey, the remaining 79% who are enrolled in the 5-16 age bracket are not learning much either.

These findings were made public in ASER Survey 2013 - the fifth ASER Survey report in a row - launched in Islamabad on January 16.

The ASER 2013 survey has been conducted by 10,000 volunteers managed by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) along with many key civil society/semi-autonomous organisations that include National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), Sindh Education Foundation (SEF), Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD), HANDS, NRSP and several civil society organisations across Pakistan.

The survey findings are based on the testing of 249,832 children (including 41 per cent girls) by 10,000 volunteer citizens, who personally visited 81,672 households in 4,112 villages as well as 14,158 children (including 42 per cent girls) 5,372 households in 270 blocks in urban areas of 13 districts across Pakistan. For the year 2013, the ASER rural survey has been conducted in 138 rural districts in the country, wherein 5-16 year age cohort children were tested for English, Language (Urdu/Sindhi/Pushto), and Arithmetic competencies.

The report aims to inform the progress or lack thereof with respect to Article 25 A of the constitution making education a fundamental right for 5-16 year old children since 2010.

It has also identified that children enrolled in private schools are performing better compared to those studying in government schools; 61% children enrolled in Class-V in private schools were able to read a story in Urdu/Sindhi/Pashto compared to 46 % Class V students studying at government schools. The difference in learning levels is starker for English, where 63% Grade V could read English Class II level sentences compared to only 38% public sector students!

Further, the survey explains that boys are outperforming girls in literacy and numeracy skills in rural Pakistan. As many as 46 per cent of boys were found able to read at least sentences in Urdu/Sindhi/Pashto as compared to 40 per cent girls. The gender gap in learning levels is highest for Arithmetic where 45% of Class V boys were able to do Class II level subtraction as compared to only 38% Class V girls.

The survey informs that over all teachers' attendance in government schools stood at 87% as compared to 93% in private schools on the day of the survey. Private teachers were reported to have better qualifications at graduate levels; for example, 39% teachers in private schools are graduates in comparison to only 34% in government schools.

The trends in multi-grade teaching across schools are also mixed as 48% of government and 30% of private schools are imparting multi-grade teaching at Class II level.

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'Annual enrolment in AIOU rises to 1.4 million'
Islamabad: The Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) achieved some unique milestones in four years and now it annually enrols 1.4 million students, who are taught 200 courses by 62,000 tutors in 50 regional centres across the country.

Efforts of AIOU Vice Chancellor Dr Nazir Ahmad Sangi during the past four years helped the university meet its targets.

In a briefing to reporters on Friday, Dr Sangi said that when he took charge four years back, the university was one semester behind its schedule and 12,000 complaints of students were pending.

"Now the university is taking examinations right on schedule and there are no more pending complaints of students," he added.

Dr Sangi said now the university was financially independent and like others did not look towards the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to meet its recurring and development expenditure. 

The salaries of employees were increased by 150 per cent from the university's own resources, he said. 

Financial resources were increased by 40 per cent through efficiency and wastage and corruption was ended, he added.

The student enrolment now stands at 1.4 million from 1.1 million in 2010, he said, adding that despite increase in its expenditure, student fee was only increased by 10 per cent.

He said that the university, established in 1974, put on its payroll 15,000 more tutors and now their total strength had reached 62,000.

"The university has expanded its network to 50 regional centres and campuses present all across Pakistan, in bigger cities as well as far flung areas of Turbat, Kalat, Chitral, Mithi and Umerkot."

In his tenure, Dr Sangi religiously followed the university charter, bridging the gaps in provision of education for underprivileged and students from the rural areas, especially girls.

"Our objective has been to provide quality education which is affordable and people have equal access to it," he said.

Sangi said he was proud that to have introduced innovative practices and technologies like video conferencing, linking regional centres, which cut the cost and reduced need for travelling, besides setting up dozens of computer labs and workshops for technical courses.

He has approved an SMS service so that the university can keep the students updated on admission and examination schedules.

"Pursuing doctoral-level studies is expensive everywhere but the university is running a PhD programme for which a student has to pay only Rs 5,000 per month," he said.

The vice chancellor focused his efforts on streamlining examination systems and boosting standards by setting up Directorate of Quality Assurance.

He said the university had constantly strived to increase collaboration with foreign universities using models of distance learning.

Now AIOU is member of the executive council of Asian Association of Open Universities and has collaborative arrangements with China, India, Bangladesh, Japan and Korea, he added.

Dr Sangi said he succeeded in increasing enrolment in short-term technical courses of agriculture, poultry, electrical and plumbing to 7,000, which was only 700 three years back.

The university also established a Directorate of Technical Education and successfully convinced the federal and provincial governments to hand over affairs of some of the dormant technical institutes.

Dr Sangi said the university had plans to start technical institutes in Toba Tek Singh, Attock, Loralai, Kalat, Hala and Gwadar, which would increase future prospects for youth of those less-privileged areas.

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Islamisation fears at Quaid-i-Azam University
Islamabad: The Pakistan studies lecturer is in mid-flow when his students stand and rush for the door – his class interrupted yet again by the call to prayer. 

"They won't come back for at least 30 minutes and some of them even decide not to return to class," Sajjad Akhtar said, gathering his notes and sitting down to wait for his students to return.

At the Quaid-i-Azam University, rated the best public university in Pakistan and the best Pakistani university in Asia, this is an everyday reality across all academic departments.

The university grants a 15-minute break for prayers but any student is allowed to get up as soon he hears the call to prayer in what critics call a chaotic interruption of academic life.

They say increased Islamisation in Pakistan's top teaching institutes and among the growing middle classes is helping to dumb down academic standards and restrict students' social life.

"At Quaid-i-Azam University there are four mosques, but still no bookshop," says Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist and one of Pakistan's most prominent academics who used to teach there.

Established in 1965 in the new federal capital Islamabad, it was considered a liberal campus until 1977 when controversial military ruler Ziaul Haq seized power.

During his 10-year rule, until his death in a plane crash in 1988, Zia embedded a conservative form of Islam into politics and affairs of state, and ushered in Shariah law to run alongside the penal code.

Trade unions and student bodies were banned in educational institutions, and Arabic and Islamic studies were made mandatory for all students until university level. 

Additional marks were given in exams to students who learned the Holy Quran by heart. Over the subsequent generations, the trend has got deeper and more embedded.

"There are far fewer students today who can sing and dance, recite poetry, or who read novels than 20 years ago," Hoodbhoy told AFP. 

"The university is very much like a school for older children, where rote-learning is considered education," he said

"There's no intellectual excitement, no feeling of discovery, and girls are mostly silent note-takers, you have to prod them to ask questions."

Strolling through the various departments, most female students wear the hijab – the tight headscarf that hides all their hair and an import from the Middle East – and none wear jeans.

None dare sit next to a man, a common sight at more liberal privately-run universities which have become the preserve of the elite as schools like Quaid-i-Azam cater to the lower and middle classes.

Though no specific place is allocated for men and women in the central cafeteria, both genders sit as far apart as possible.

Hifza Aftab, a hijab-wearing MBA student, says there is no such thing as a "liberal" girl at the university.

Any young woman who arrives on campus without wearing a hijab or the looser dupatta traditional to Pakistan quickly changes the look in two or three months, she says.

"A liberal girl would get notorious throughout the whole university," she said.

It was not always thus. Jamil Ahmed, who graduated in 1991, told AFP that in his days the hijab was rarely seen and male and female students would mingle.

Hasan Askari, a former professor at the Punjab University, said students are becoming increasingly attached to religion and drifting away from rational thinking.

"The increasing Islamisation has affected quality of education as today, teachers stress more on conspiracy theories than logic," he said.

Last year a private school in Lahore dropped human reproduction from the biology syllabus after an outcry in the conservative Urdu-language press claiming it was "obscene".

Quaid-i-Azam University Vice Chancellor Masoom Yasinzai admitted academic standards had slipped over the years but insisted it was a countrywide problem and had nothing to do with the growing focus on religion.

"Here at the Quaid-i-Azam University, academic standards are not falling at an alarming rate," he said, adding that the expression "Islamisation" was being used out of context.

"We have given students the freedom to practise their religion and I think practising religion is one's individual choice." 

With sectarianism and violence against minorities on the rise in Pakistan, some fear encouraging a religious mindset in universities is storing up problems for the future.

"If you have a very dominant view and very authoritarian worldview which this curriculum is teaching you, that 'You are Muslims, Islam is a good religion and other religions are not good', that value system will create a social crisis in society," education analyst Farzana Bari told AFP.

At one of the mosques on campus, a number of religious books are on display on the bookshelves and free for students to take away.

One of them, entitled Put an end to obscenity has pictures of a computer, CD player and a drum set on its cover with a red cross on top of each.

The book explains how playing music during marriage ceremonies affects "the next life" and how angels pour melted copper into the ear of anyone who listens to music or the female voice.

At the mosque, cleric Habibur Rehman Saleem says, "Some people are trying to create an environment like that of the West here, but God willing the students are religious and they will never let any such conspiracy succeed." 

Touseef Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Federal Urdu University in Karachi, said he could see no change coming soon. "A whole generation was Islamised and those who started their academic career during the Zia regime are now retiring from their jobs," he said. "This phenomenon of Islamisation has been there for three decades, you cannot reverse it in one year – it will take decades to do so." Daily times

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Action sought against CPSP for issuing 'unrecognised' degrees
Islamabad: The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) has requested the Ministry of National Health Services to take action against College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSP) which has issued more than 2,000 FCPS degrees even though its programme is not 'recognised'.

CPSP is an autonomous institution offering certification following postgraduate training in specialties of medicine, surgery and dentistry.

However, PMDC has not recognised its courses due to which there is tension between the two bodies.

An official of PMDC, requesting anonymity, said the council had requested CPSP a few ago to provide data of all the FCPS degrees which the latter had issued. However, CPSP failed to do so and was hiding details of the degrees.

"After failing to obtain the required information, PMDC wrote a letter to the Ministry of National Health Services to take suitable action and constitute an inquiry committee to acquire the data from CPSP. Dawn

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