Tom is for tomcat - Adiah Afraz - Sunday, December 19, 2010

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There is something seriously wrong with our education system, and it is high time somebody got up and took notice. This is serious, people! No jokes.

Last week, my son, who studies in grade three at a school that prides itself for being top class in academics, brought home a map of Pakistan to learn and label. It was a good map, like the map of Pakistan should be. The only problem was that it had a Kashmir missing!

For purely pedagogical reasons, if not ideological, I tried to convince my son that his teacher had given him an incomplete map by mistake. I showed him pictures of the map on the internet, and gave him a brief lesson in geography.

But my son, trained from the onset in the art of doing as the teacher tells him to do, was reluctant to comply. In fact, he convinced me that there was a reason why he needed to stick to the given map and not add things to it “on his own.”

The simple argument of the seven-year-old was that he wanted to run for class president in the midterm election. Apparently, unlike other kinds of presidents around here, a class president needs to have good grades to show his worth. And in his book good grades are only to be had if he does what he is told to do by the teacher who gives them.

Hence I was requested to please refrain from interfering with his political career at this very crucial stage, and to please just go and bake a brownie in the kitchen like all the good mothers do.

Part of me wanted to go and have a heart-to-heart with whoever was in charge at the school, yet part of me knew the futility of such an exercise, and let it go.

In fact, the only reason why I am reporting it here and not screaming it in somebody’s office while that somebody hurriedly fills out forms and scribble notes on Post-Its marked “Urgent,” is that I know nothing good is going to come out of it.

Last month it was the state of the letter “meem” in the Urdu alphabet that had got me worried, and stalking whoever was available to listen. The teacher insisted on writing a “meem” as a “swaad,” and teaching the children to do the same. Eventually I had to be content with “swaad”-shaped “meems,” and leave it at that.

A year before that it was the state of “creative writing” at the school that had me in fits of horrified convulsions. The teacher insisted on correcting every creative expression to a standard textbook statement, and she still does. A tomcat, according to her, was to be a cat named Tom, and a ride on a thunderbolt, according to her, was to be a ride on a bicycle called Thunderbolt.

And before I lose myself completely to this cathartic impulse and start talking about my crusade against heavy bags, with a tagline that goes “Are you stronger than a fifth grader?” let me get back to the map of Pakistan.

So I let my son learn the map, all the while making sure that he was fully aware that there were people in this world who thought there was a Kashmir at the top right corner of the whole picture, and then there were certain other people who forgot to put it there, and did not realise the loss when it went missing.

Two days later the test was returned. There was a little error in the map key, but overall the test had an A on it. The teacher had given him a smiley and made a cute little bubble next to it that said, “Learn the test properly next time!”

There was still no Kashmir in my son’s Pakistan, and there was still not a single person in the school who cared enough to do something about it.

Some of you might be thinking that I am probably trying to create a metaphor for Pak Kashmir dynamics here. Well, maybe I am. But more than that, for me the basic issue is not the map of Pakistan as much as it is the state of education in Pakistan.

I am sure that the grade-three Pakistan Studies teacher is not an Indian agent, nor does she work for Mossad with a mission to brainwash grade-three children by giving them downloaded printouts of a Kashmir-less Pakistan. I am sure the teacher, bless her soul, is reasonably educated as well, and is doing her job with all her heart. I am sure that in a hurry to produce loads of paper work for her supervisor, she was probably looking for a map that was easy to print, rather than the one that was correct in its content.

But what I am not sure about it whether the teacher herself knew that there was something missing in the map. What I am not sure about is whether the teacher or the supervisor or any parent of any other child cared that there was something missing in the map. What I am not sure about is whether any of us can see what volumes this isolated episode speaks about the state of our own education, if not the state of our education system.

Yes, there is something seriously wrong with the state of education of all of us, and will please all of us get up and take notice?

The writer works for a non-government educational organisation. Email:

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