Where are they going?
Vacations too long
Punjab government's directive to extend vacations for school children has received a mixed response from parents and educationists
By Alefia T Hussain
Most schoolchildren have been off from school for the last 12 weeks; that is three long months. They've practically been on the loose – whiling away time doing nothing constructive: sleeping through the day and staying awake for most part of the night, lazing in front of the flickering TV screen.
Easily there's nothing wrong with this state of affairs. Yes, long summer holidays are glorious. They signify freedom for school students. Liberty. In all honesty it's one of the best innovations in the history of education. Kids need time to be kids, after all.
But when stretched for too long they become beasts. By the time the schools reopen on September 14, the children would have been on the loose, free for three and a half months. That's too long!
Children were ready for their new academic year, with new syllabus books covered and name tagged, packed in their new school bags, uniforms crisp and starched and boots polished, all ready to stomp to school the next morning when a directive from the EDO Lahore (education) Dr Mohammad Ashraf turned the plan upside down. Dated August 21, the notification read: "The competent authority has directed that all schools remain closed [un]til 9th September, 2010. Keeping in view the flood situation and the month of Ramazan no Government and Private School will be allowed to violate the policy. Please implement the orders of the Competent Authority and proceed against those who violate the policy." Reopening schools on September 9 essentially implies reopening after eid i.e. most likely on September 15.
Another notification issued on June 4, 2010 permitted summer camps for classes 5th, 8th and Matric. The contradiction in the two notifications has left the government in a fix and the school administrations in a state of utter confusion. Resultantly, some schools remain open perhaps claiming to offer summer camps; and Dr Mohammad Ashraf issuing repeated statements warning the violators of punitive action.
"The education department's decision to extend the summer holidays has caused much confusion among the school administrations and parents alike," comments one administrator of missionary schools in Lahore. "In fact it's rather regrettable; especially when viewed in the series of events that took place last academic year, first the bomb blasts around February and then the heat and loadshedding factor in May-June. The decision has once again shrunk the academic year."
He says this is worrying for parents who pay high school fees and "yet see their children loitering around the house, doing nothing".
And, yes, the parents are perturbed: "The worst part is we were expecting this of the education department even before the floods came because the same happens every year. Reverting on set and announced dates is typical of the education department. It needs to develop some principles and stand by it and not swing. This confusion is becoming a part of our national identity," says Amna Rauf, mother of two school-going children.
She adds, "In times of trouble, children need to structure and routine their lives. Are they not already going through one of the worst passages of our history, where terrorism is too close for comfort?"
Keeping in view of flood situation…
Raja Anwar of the Task Force on Elementary Education claims some school buildings in about 7 to 8 districts of Southern Punjab are being used as camps for flood affectees. So, "it's not possible to open schools in those areas. Consequently, it's not possible to keep schools open in one part of the province and closed in the other parts," he says.
"Children going to private schools are usually privileged and thereby unaffected. If you look at the bigger picture, unless your city is flooded, there is no need to undermine the academic year. In fact open schools and engage in huge flood awareness and relief projects," says a headmistress of a private school in the city.
One of the principals of the Lahore Grammar School (LGS) finds the decision "truly exasperating. I receive umpteen phone calls from my students every day, all keen to volunteer and to contribute to the flood relief work from the school platform. I very strongly feel that had the schools been open we would've helped the flood victims in a much more effective and efficient manner."
…and the month of Ramazan
There's always this argument that for someone fasting during Ramzan going to school becomes inconvenient, the long working hours rather enduring. But not so for the headmistress of the private school who maintains the school hours are particularly adjusted in Ramzan. "They are always reduced: usually from 8am to 12.30pm."
The principal of LGS corroborates. "We've had schools open in Ramazan before with shortened days."
She says the extension of summer vacations will affect the school's academic calendar. "We will have to cover up by keeping schools open on Saturdays and reducing the spring break."
The argument here might sound cold-hearted and wicked. But it's very simple: such long holidays cripple students' educational abilities. It's not easy to retain lesson and other information without reinforcement, especially if laws of motion in physics or theorems in math have to compete with the magnetic attraction of the TV. So good luck teachers, who'll have to spend the first few weeks of the school year reviewing old lessons. Easily, the reviewing could have been done in the two weeks before eid, and then taken off for three days for the sweet pleasures!
Why didn't you do something?
By Ammara Ahmad
Most men would readily declare that they would help a woman being assaulted in the street. Yet we know from experience that people are violated often on the street, in the midst of a crowd and no one comes to their rescue.
Many years back in secondary school, a class fellow of ours got a tiny slap on her arm in the English class. After discussing it with all of us, our class captain reported this incident to the class teacher. We stood on the chairs, shouting arguments in favour of our friend, promising her undying support. But then both the English lecturer and the class teacher entered the room together. The English teacher denied striking anyone and then inquired who issued this false accusation against her. Neither the captain, nor the victim and none of the forty witnesses to the event spoke a single word. There was a pin-drop silence. Instead, the English teacher became the victim.
What I had just witnessed was a case of diffusion of responsibility or the bystander effect, a social phenomenon studied by psychologists in the past. In a gathering of more than three or four, no one helps a victim. Often they assume that someone else would. This idea was first investigated after a murder. On a cold New York night, several bystanders heard and watched the assault and murder of Kitty Genovese by a thug, and called the police after the attack was over.
The brutal and public assassination of the two teenagers in Sialkot has many dimensions. But on seeing the horrifying video, I was reminded of those sociological theories. Some hundred or so people merely stood around the crime scene and watched. Historically, the issue was brought up during the Nuremberg trials after the Holocaust, eventually in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam where 500 plus civilians died and the Rwanda genocide. In all the above-mentioned massacres, the public response was lukewarm and the uniformed men were often culprits.
The Sialkot tragedy could have been averted if the bystanders had intervened. If the people were scared of the mob, at least the police could rescue.
Of course, things are more complicated these days because the violators are armed and retaliation can be costly. Sometimes the unarmed violator is alone, bystanders are many and if they attempt to help, they can do wonders.
Violence is also very deeply ingrained in our society and resolving problems through it is common. I remember I had a friend who got rusticated from his college twice. Every time someone would bully his girlfriend, he would bring his hockey stick and beat them all. He considered this his duty.
How many movies have you seen, in which the hero calls the police? He simply takes the law in his hands and teaches the bad boys a lesson. Often, he is depicted above the law.
The fact that anyone can be declared a criminal and punished on the streets without any evidence is harrowing. There is still public anger on the Guantanamo Bay. The most controversial issue with that prison is that it takes up prisoners without a trial and court decision. Do we want to live in a society that requires no evidence, court and law to prove us guilty? It is the blessed month of Ramzan and the mosques are thriving. The religious groups should come forward and condemn this incident openly and loudly.
No one is allowed to spread justice through hockey sticks. The odds of getting help improve if the victim directly requests someone in the crowd or when someone in the masses has experienced such a situation before. Countries like Canada have now taken community level initiative to involve people when a stranger needs help.
Near Nizamuddin's tomb in Delhi, my friend and I saw this woman slap her son. She was about to slap him again, but my friend moved the boy aside and asked him if he would show us around for some money. The stunned mother was silent, now. What I had just witnessed was a triumphant intrusion by a bystander.
'Sanjh' on September 4 at Alhamra Art Gallery, The Mall Lahore. As the title of the exhibition suggests, it is a collective effort of Artists of diverse backgrounds to practically implement ideas and contribute to the society.
Celebrity Camp: From Aug 28-29 at The Mall of Lahore A joint venture where celebrities will be auctioning their own belongings to raise funds for the 14 million Pakistanis who are left with nothing.
'85th Session of LHRF 'Ethics in Business' on 1st Sep from 5 to7:30pm at PC Lahore.
Critical Mass Lahore: Every Sunday at Zakir Tikka intersection, Sarwar Road, Lahore Cantonment from 4:30pm to 6pm.
Tea Party at Cafe Bol: Every Tuesday at 8pm Café Bol holds a tea party! Including herbal tea from the Himalayas mountains and our own Mint Cawa, Sindhi Cawa and Afgan Cawa in addition to the regular Cawa...come along and taste away...feel free to bring your own tea and recipes!
Reluctant to act against settlements in river bed, govt issues new guidelines on land use
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The residents of Lahore wake up every day to hear or read totally different reports issued by district authorities and flood forecast division of Met office. One day they tell you of a looming threat of flood in River Ravi and the next day they advise you to stay calm and relax your nerves. Even when there are no rains in the catchments of Ravi's nullahs, they suspect India of planning to release excess waters into it and give people sleepless nights.
Though there would hardly be any person not worried by the situation, those living in close proximity of river banks or right there in the river bed are frightened the most. One can see queues of people standing on Shahdara bridge at night and looking below to gauge the level of river water. Many of them come here on foot everyday to review the situation.
"I get a better idea by looking at the water passing under the bridge. The figures given by government are confusing," says Muhammad Ikram, a milkseller, who lives in a settlement built in river bed near Saggian village. He fears Ravi which had lost all it vigour and span over the years may regain them and annihilate whatever came in its way.
Ikram tells TNS his house is by no means an illegal construction as he has its property documents with him as well as electricity and Sui gas connections in his name.
According to the estimates of City District Government Lahore (CDGL), around 500,000 kanals of river bed from Ravi Siphon to Sheikhupura have been occupied by people since the flood of 1988. This occupied land has around 300,000 houses, close to 1,000 small and medium factories, more than 500 mosques and graveyards, 150 brick kilns and over 100 private schools built on it. Besides, there are scores of shrines and madrassahs in the same area which no government can dare to touch over fears of mass reprisals.
Questions that arise at this point are that why these settlements were allowed to flourish and who were the people who connived with each other to usurp the land owned by the river.
Syed Ather Ali Kazmi, President Lahore Real Estate Advisors' Association, tells TNS that the lands adjoining river beds are managed by the revenue department in collaboration with the irrigation authorities. He says these belts can be as narrow as 40 feet to 60 feet at some places and as wide as 400 feet to 600 feet at others.
He says a committee headed by the District Coordination Officer (DCO) conducts surveys of these areas with the help of patwaris, tehsildars and gardawars and decides the terms of its use. But unfortunately, the administration seems to have lost its control to certain mafias who are encroaching upon this land, he adds.
Kazmi says dwellings spruced up as river bed dried and local politicians helped people (their voters) secure electricity and Sui gas connections there to strengthen their claims over the property. The situation worsened after the introduction of Nazims who thought themselves to be all powerful and above the law, he adds.
Kazmi tells TNS some people do have a right over land in the river bed but this is very rare. They are those who lost their land to the river when it changed its course but reclaimed it when the river moved further away.
Ikramul Haq, Emergency Officer, Flood Forecast Division, Lahore tells TNS there is low flood at Shahdara as well as Balloki and the flow of water is decreasing at both the places. He says these low flood warnings are only for areas near and across the embankments. "For inhabitants of settlements in the river bed, the threat is always there. They should take low flood as high and make their move," he adds.
The lands in close proximity of rivers are called Khadar and the government, at least in theory, prohibits construction over it. Under a notification issued by the government recently, only crops, orchards, pastures, dairy or poultry farms, forests, nurseries or greenhouses, tube-wells, rural settlements or villages, places of worship, graveyards and corner shops could be allowed at these places.
The government authorities also launched an anti-encroachment drive in these areas in May last but it could not be completed due to allegations of political victimisation and procurement of river land for construction of a controversial national park.
District Coordination Officer (DCO) Lahore, Sajjad Bhutta, tells TNS following flood warnings, eviction notices have been issued to illegal occupants of land in river bed. However, he says, an operation cannot be launched against them at this time as it would open a totally new front. He says these people had no claim over this land and all these settlements flourished due to the negligence of the civil administration.
"We have just suspended two revenue officials for such irregularities and issued fresh land use regulations to stop misuse in future," he says. He adds compliance with these guidelines will ensure development of healthy societies and safety of the citizens in case of natural or manmade disasters.
Entry into colleges comes as a rude shock with high merit and sky-rocketing fees
By Sameera Ahmed and Aisha Rahman
It's August again, the precise time when all students who have done their matriculation march to various colleges in pursuit of their careers like the rats followed the legendary Pied Piper only to find that they are ascending a high mountain of hefty fee and sky- rocketing merit lists. Some of the rats, I mean students, actually feel like jumping off the mountain.
Every year, this time is marked by profound grimness. Reality bites! The moment students learn about their marks, they start lamenting, knowing that their seemingly A grade is good for nothing. Gone are the days when seventy percent marks were a distinction.
Once the students finally get over with their angst, they start off their college hunt from the most prestigious college which also happens to be their dream-college. The first shock they get is when they learn they have to buy the prospectus every time they want to apply in different groups in the same college. "Can we please have the admission form only, we don't need the prospectus, it's so expensive!" we heard a mother exclaiming. "I had to pay Rs 1000 as my daughter wanted to apply in two groups," added another provoked parent. By the time students apply in all the prospective colleges, their parents feel their wallets fairly empty.
As soon as the college-hunt ends, another parade follows: merit lists. These lists have caused nightmares in virtually every student's life. According to our carefully collected data, Kinnaird College for Women tops this time around as well. With the blood curdling merit of ninety-three pc and the breath taking annual fee of fifty-thousand and five hundred rupees, this college remains a far cry for many girls for varied reasons. Aiza Arif, who secured 7As and 5 A* in her O'Levels, wanted fee relaxation. When TNS approached Miss Helen Khokhar , member of fee concession commitee, she said, "We do provide fee concession to needy students on case-to-case basis where single-parent students and underpriviledged class is preffered."
When asked about the number of students getting that concession this year, she was reluctant to say anything. Contrary to this statement, Aiza's mother quoted Miss Khokhar as saying, "If we start considering the fee concession cases, there will be fifty more cases mushrooming in the next five minutes."
The situation at Government College University is no different. Hassan Kazmi, an aggrieved father, belonging to low income strata said, "What is a Government college good for if the annual fee is thirty thousand rupees? I earn below twenty thousand a month. How can I afford the fee along with the academy expenses?"
The-next-best-college for men, Forman Christian College, with the unbelievable annual fee of rupees sixty thousand can sap the blood from inflation-struck parents. "Quality education is always expensive. Our college does not get any funding from the government, therefore we have to bear our expenses ourselves. The kind of exposure and facilities we provide to our students is unparallel indeed. And all this, surely comes at a price", asserted the admissions officer.
"I am a banker and draw a salary of thirty thousand rupees per month. With this salary I can either pay my son's dues or pay the house rent. For the working class, it's virtually impossible to get their children admitted into fine colleges", complained Farooq Qaiser, an agitated parent. "The annual dues for pre-engineering are sixty thousand rupees and that's not all. They are charging an extra seventeen thousand as additional dues for admissions. They have turned education into a business."
With the private sector giving a tough competition to the government and autonomous colleges, a significant name emerges with an unending array of campuses and academic facilities. The underprivileged students who score well turn to one of the many branches of Punjab Group of Colleges. This college offers scholarships to bright students. When interviewed, one of the applicants, Sania Khan pointed out, "Even after getting scholarships the fee is out of reach. How much fee-reduction can you possibly get on a sum of Rs 80,000?"
A senior clerk in the administration says, "We are a private organisation and still offer scholarships. Not only that, we have a quota system in which a number of students get fee concessions. If we charge a certain amount, we pay back the students in the form of comfortable and state-of-the-art facilities."
There is a great deal of bewilderment. Students having good marks but a tight budget end up going to colleges that might not be that reputable. On the other hand, students with less marks but an urge to study in a fine college finally get into the private colleges.
Education has indeed become a business and no doubt, a highly profitable one. Colleges that have earned a repute, charge a fortune for their name as if education were only for the elites. In this epoch of inflation and economic slump, it has become quite impossible for the middle class to educate their children in the leading institutions even if they fall on merit.
It is, therefore, argued that there is a dire need to check and monitor the fee structures of different institutions along with the facilities they are providing. Moreover, it is suggested that the colleges should expand their college seats and offer fee relaxation to the bright students.
A survey of what people are up to close to iftari
By Rana Musa Tahir
When the traffic starts to swell with the number of vehicles on the roads increasing a hundredfold, when each and every face you see is of a restless and impatient person who will argue and fight with you at the smallest issue, when people start driving cars so rash and fast that it seems they would die if they did otherwise, you can easily conclude that iftari is about to take place.
In Ramzan, before iftar, Lahore is paralysed due to the traffic. You have to wait for hours on the same road on which at other times you pass without stopping for a second. Ten minute journey takes more than half an hour before iftari.
Many people believe not all this traffic is related to the preparation for iftari. If not, then where are these hundreds of cars going? To find this out The News on Sunday (TNS) conducted a survey in Lahore. On three different days we went to three different places; Kalma Chowk, M.M Alam Road and Barkat Market. We knocked the windows of cars stopped at the traffic signal and asked more than a hundred people the same question; where were they going? Each day we went at a different spot about 45 minutes before iftari and stayed there till we heard the azan. We tried our best not to disturb those hungry 'rozadars' who are in an angry mood, but sometimes did fail to recognise them and then had to face their rude remarks. At last, on Wednesday the survey was completed and we were able to answer many of the questions that troubled us.
The facts and information which we had even before the survey was conducted must be analysed first, before the results of the survey are discussed. First, since the start of Ramzan schools and universities are closed due to the summer vacations, therefore, the traffic cannot be of students or teachers leaving school. Second, offices and banks are closed many hours before the iftari, thus, it cannot be claimed that the high traffic is caused by people who are going home from work. Now, the only large number of people left working close to the iftari are shopkeepers and salesmen. To check what these people do for iftari we visited many shopping centres and came to know that they stay inside the building and do not go home; they are provided with food inside the shops. So, the question arises again, where do the cars on the streets come from?
You know the answer even before reading it. The results of the survey show, as was expected, that the reason for travelling, of more than 90 percent of the people, is iftari. The majority of this 90 percent can be divided into three broad categories; those going to a restaurant, those going to relatives' place and those going to buy stuff to prepare aftari at their own place.
Many of the people asked were going to nearby shops to buy the traditional aftari food; samosas, pakoras, dahi bahallay and fruit chaat. When asked why they go exactly 15 minutes before the azan, the usual reply was, "We want to eat the pakoras and the samosas when they are hot and fresh, not when they've become cold. That is why we buy them just before we have to eat them."
"I am going to a restaurant for aftari where my friends are waiting for me," said Ahmed Chattha, an A'level student waiting at the traffic signal at Kalma Chowk. When asked how many of his aftaris had been out in a restaurant, he replied, "All except two."
No wonder why the traffic on MM Alam road is the highest.
To those who were interested in the survey, we asked more than just one question. Talking about the angry mood in which people are before aftari, a teacher, Naeem Ishtiaq, joked, "These people spend more than 13 hours without food and water, and many of them also work during that time. What do you expect of them? Isn't it enough that they don't start killing or eating each other in frustration?"
Although you would have already known what this traffic was all about, now you can speak on the basis of evidence. Also, now that we know with certainty that this traffic consists largely of 'rozadars', we should not curse it and respect the impatient and sometimes rude 'rozadars'!
The writer is an A'level student at Aitchison College Lahore. [email protected]