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The co-ed conundrum in Pakistan

co-education March 2009: Spare a thought for the children of Swat. Their schools have been razed to the ground for reasons that are as confounding as a hypocrite's mind. How can you prevent children from acquiring a decent education? How can an act of learning prove antagonistic to any faith, creed or system? Aversion to education breeds barbarism and savagery. There's no need to prove that. We have ample examples of it all around us.
It's not just the tribal areas and the settled localities in their proximity that have been witnessing a hostile attitude towards schooling. Even in the bigger cities like Karachi and Lahore educational institutions are faced with myriads of problems that have sparked off passionate debates all across the country.

The issue of the co-education system of schooling never seems to lose steam. A majority of schools in Pakistan have a segregated system of teaching, that is, separate premises for boys and girls. Is that a healthy exercise? What benefits does it have? Why can't girls and boys study together to forge a better (gender-unconscious) society? What's the harm in it? Or is it really as morally dodgy as some people think it is?

A few months ago, a known school in Karachi opted to set apart its premises for boys and girls. Prior to that, the institution had one building for all students. What caused that to happen was a repulsive incident that involved a young girl and a few boys that pestered the life out of her! Is it a reason cogent enough? Can't such activities be controlled or kept under check?

If you ever get a chance to visit an all-girls campus of a prestigious school, you can't help but notice (read: hear) a constant buzz making you feel as if you've entered a bumblebee zone. This is not to suggest that no such impressions are to be had in co-ed setups. But the general consensus is that mono-sex or unisex environments tend to generate more frivolity. Still, debatable, agreed.

According to Tazeen Erum, who teaches business communication at CBM, "The co-ed system helps students, particularly girls, get into the spirit of competition. If our society doesn't adhere to a segregated system, then why should our educational institutions go for it?

"It is very important for us to realise that after obtaining their degrees students have to do jobs. It is the workplace that requires a fair understanding of how men and women work. The women have to know the male psyche and the men need to understand the minds of their female colleagues. That's how you create a friction-free [work] ambience.

"Girls can have a major issue of self-esteem. Studying in a co-ed atmosphere can take care of that problem. Once they step out of the institution they're more confident and can look people in the eye."

Sumera Asim, a teacher at a Montessori school in DHA also advocates the same. "It has generally been noticed that in an all-boys unit, boys tend to bully their peers with greater aggression and hostility. Similarly, girls are often seen indulging in trivialities when they're under no gender pressure. But in a non-segregated place each sex becomes more confident; and they mingle with each other in a less stressed out or pretentious manner," says Sumera Asim.

"I remember when I was in college - not a mixed-sex one - girls would go absolutely bonkers if a boy entered our building. It would be like a rare occasion.

"As far as the hazards associated with the co-ed system go, I think they can be easily taken care of by being administratively tough and by keeping a vigilant eye on students," she says.

Tazeen Erum highlights the downsides of the co-ed structure but insists that its positive points heavily outweigh the negative ones. "Girls can get obsessed with the other sex and try and attract unnecessary attention, whereas boys sometimes get overshadowed by girls' progress and brilliance at studies. However, this is no big deal. This can be managed," she says.

This brings us to the students' perspective. What do they make of the issue?

Mashal, doing her A' Levels at a distinguished school that has at least a century-old history, says, "It is very important to acquire education at a co-ed institution. You learn to deal with the other sex in a better way. I know girls who say talking to guys has made them more confident. Besides, we don't live in a uni-gender world. When we go out, we have to mingle with all kinds of people. So you have to learn to deal with all situations. The human race has progressed a lot. It's time we put an end to this debate."

But what about reports of moral misconduct emanating from some renowned schools? To this Mashal responds, "Recently our school administration came down hard on some boys and girls who were involved in activities unbecoming of them. The administration asked them to leave. And they did. Then there were some students whose offence was not too worrying, but the administration even suspended them. Ever since there haven't been any such reports. So things can be controlled."

However, Mashal acknowledges that each gender should be cognizant of its limits. There are certain definite lines that they must never cross. It's by traversing those lines that things go awry.

Ostensibly, there doesn't seem to be a major issue vis-à-vis the co-ed setup. It's the collective mindset that needs to be changed. As a society, we have always harboured preconceived notions - be it the realm of culture, history or education. And it's these predetermined ideas that hamper our growth as a nation with a forward-looking approach to life.

Nations have defied gravity and explored the infinite vastness of space, with men and women aboard their spaceships. They have produced Nobel laureates representing both genders. Their men and women have invented life-saving drugs. The co-ed conundrum is so passé for them. So should it be for us as well. - By Peerzada Salman (Dawn)

Your Comments
"when will roll no be issued for SSC(composite) supply exams 2009 pls anyone email me reply."
Name: student
City, Country: UAE

"Islam is the only religion in three major religions which gave women their rights more than thousand years ago. I migrated from Pakistan, when I was a teen ager. I have lived in America for the last 35 years .I have been part of both cultures. We have some values (or used to have some values) in Eastern culture. Where women acted in moderation in public and they had appropriate clothing. They had a balanced education both in religion and secular subjects. I have seen Western culture and exploitation of women. In Eastern culture you protect sanctity of your family especially women. In Western culture you put your women on the pedestal like a commodity for everyone to see. I am not very conservative, but I have found out that Eastern culture is better than Western culture in the treatment and exploitation of women. As for as educating women, mothers lap is the first schooling a child gets. An educated and righteous mother is extremely important. I am convinced by looking at both cultures that Elementary Education can be co-education and then college should be a co-education. Because men and women are comparatively more mature after finishing 12th grade (F. Sc.) and I hope more responsible. When I started college in USA, I found women so aggressive that I used to blush when talking to them and they used to laugh about it. Eastern culture is one extreme and Western culture is another extreme. The answer lies in moderation. I wanted to share my personal feelings with the next generation. Women are abused in both cultures, but if you compare all the details Eastern culture treats women better as a whole. My advice is keep your values and do not be blinded by the Western culture it is a mirage ."
Name: Agha Pervaiz
City, Country: Montgomery, AL

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