Op-Ed by Shahzad Roy
When I was 10 years old, I saw on the nine o’clock news on PTV a woman with a dupatta draped round her head saying, “Pakistan tareekh kay aik naazuk mor say guzar raha hai.” Then I turned 20 and again saw a woman, this time not wearing a dupatta on her head, saying with eloquence on the nine o’clock news, “Pakistan tareekh kay aik naazuk mor say guzar raha hai”.
Déjà vu… why? I tried to analyse the situation to find out how come Pakistan is still stuck at the naazuk mor even after the passage of many long years. I reached the conclusion that 50 per cent of our knowledge lies in asking the right question. Government functionaries, intelligentsia, armed forces, critics, human rights activists and, for that matter, all stakeholders ask questions. But they end up slinging mud at each other, for the simple reason that the questions they ask are never right in the first place.
The question usually asked is: “Why is the state of health and education in Pakistan in such dire straits?” The complacent response is: “At least we have some schools and a few hospitals. Something is better than nothing.”
After pondering over the state of education and health in our country, I realised that the “something is better than nothing” view cannot apply to education and health. Just imagine, would so many youth have agreed to become suicide bombers if proper education had been provided to them by the state? If they had been only taught to ask the right questions and had inter-faith dialogue at the institutions they attended, they would have thought thrice before embarking on mindless missions and most definitely have refused to be used as a pawn in the hands of others.
When it comes to healthcare, a lukewarm (something) effort — by a doctor of questionable credentials (something), to cure a patient by giving him a substandard (something) medicine or injection — has a high probability of killing the patient rather than curing him.
Quality education is every citizen’s right and its responsibility lies with the state. A paradigm shift is required in the mindset of state authorities, the people and the education system to save our future generations from destruction. The first step towards this shift would be changing the textbooks.
Just by building schools, training the teachers, increasing administrative controls, the issue of providing an education that makes a ‘thinking’ individual, will not be addressed. A student must learn from the textbook how to learn, change and inquire freely rather than becoming a “lakeer ka faqeer”. If we want our future generations to ask the right questions then a culture of discussion, interaction, proactive thinking and asking questions needs to be encouraged.
It’s high time that a quantum leap was taken in the education and health sectors. Nothing is as powerful as the idea itself, whose time has come.
The problems of education and healthcare are just the tip of the iceberg. Multiple interventions are required to turn the country around. To name a few: The state’s failure to provide timely justice (more than 70,000 under-trial prisoners are languishing in Pakistani jails), housing, power, employment, communication, clean drinking water (without which 250,000 children die annually) has created problems that should prompt the rulers to declare an emergency.
Whenever these questions are raised or talked about, most of us say, “Oh bhai! This is Pakistan.” My answer to this cliché is, where you live should not determine whether you live happily or live poorly and die.The difference between a developed or developing — rather declining — country is that people in the former are given a ‘reason to believe’ by the state and the media, that they are working to achieve and maintain a decent living. Whereas in the latter case, the state and the media fail to create this ‘reason to believe’ for the citizens. In the absence of this ‘reason to believe’, citizens lose a sense of direction and move and act aimlessly. The absence of this also leads to lack of thinking, questioning and movement by the citizens.
Only having a ‘reason to believe’ sets the ball rolling — slowly, but in the right direction. It is not strange when extraordinary people do extraordinary things. But when they have a ‘reason to believe’, even ordinary people start doing extraordinary things. That is precisely the moment when a group of people start turning into a great nation.The writer, a pop singer, is president of Zindagi Trust, an organisation working for child welfare and education.