There was a time, not too long ago, when a local TV channel hosted a competition in which a number of schools participated. Usually two took part at a time. It was an exciting event… full of tension and anxiety. The audience was made up of students from the two educational institutions that had come to cheer their envoys. I don’t think the organisers were looking for potential rocket scientists… just the pick of the bunch. The questions invariably covered a narrow spectrum and were designed to test the general knowledge of the participants who took part. Correct answers were rewarded by wild applause. Wrong answers were either met by a hush, or feral approval from the opposition. But in spite of the competition, there was a sort of freemasonry in the hall and both the winners and the losers had a good time. The chap who compiled the questions, which had a rote-like predictability, had a pretty easy time. After gathering the barnacles of convention which were shaped in no small measure by the legacy bequeathed to the nation by the late Ziaul Haq, the majority of the queries centered on religion, or how and why Pakistan had come into existence.
Occasionally the organiser went off on a tangent, perhaps to break the monotony, and asked a question which was culled from geography or history and that was when the audience got to know whether the earth was round or flat and whether Tipu Sultan defeated the Duke of Wellington… or if it was the other way around. Fixing his eyes on one of the participants, and with a twinkle in his eye which suggested that what he was about to ask might have a tricky legal subtlety; the anchor asked if Afghanistan was located west or east of Pakistan. It was a tough question for somebody who had never looked at a map. Now, it so happened that the lad’s class teacher had warned him about what he referred to as trick questions, and suggested there might be a catch in some of the queries. So looking at the ceiling for inspiration the lad gave an answer which suggested that cartographers had been wrong all along! Moving to the other subject, history, there was this astonishing news item in The Express Tribune which carried the title — “Only three out of 175 colleges in Karachi teach history”. Somebody in the local ministry of education has apparently decided to make lack of awareness a career path for school principals and teachers and to keep students ignorant about the world’s rich cultural past. It is as if there was no need for the modern Pakistani student to acquaint himself with the culture of Babylon, Judea, Mesopotamia, Greece, Persia, Assyria, China, India, Peru, Mexico and Egypt.
On the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of the death of Pir Hisamuddin Rashdi, historian, author and scholar, whose works appeared in Urdu, Sindhi and Persian, Dr Jaffer Ahmed, director of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, threw up a clutch of facts that made a lot of people wince. It is a tradition to announce research chairs after personalities — but no actual research is being conducted by these chairs! Pakistan Studies, which strictly speaking should cover a span of 68 years, is no substitute for history and geography. Professor Aijaz Qureshi suggested that research centres should be set up in different universities and an institution should be erected in Sindh to honour the great Pir Rashdi. The likelihood of that happening is remote. For all the government cares is that it is not its responsibility if students in the other 172 colleges remain ignorant.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2015.
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