Taleban threaten to blow up girls’ schools if they refuse to close

December 27, 2008

From the Times:

girlsThe Taleban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.

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Against odds, a school in Kashmir offers hope

November 4, 2008

Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu in Mint:

DPS Srinagar principal K.K. Sharma with students. Mint

DPS Srinagar principal K.K. Sharma with students. Mint

The Srinagar DPS is equipped with modern facilities, including language labs to teach phonetics, art studios, computing facilities and libraries. And it has managed to get its share of unwelcome attention. “We do get threat calls, asking us to shut down. Their (separatists) main problem is that we are a CBSE institution. They think we are propagating Central ideas through this school,” says the school’s principal, K.K. Sharma.

“During these protests (separatist leader Syed Ali Shah) Geelani called for the school to be shut down, calling it an imperialist design of India,” says Dhar referring to a recent spate of separatist protests. “The parents asked me to talk to Geelani but I refused …(but) the parents have to be appreciated for their solid support, which kept the school open.”

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Pakistan’s westward drift

September 5, 2008

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Himal:

For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula. This continental drift is not geophysical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its Southasian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the alluvium that had nurtured Muslim culture in the Indian Subcontinent for over a thousand years. A stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahhabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints.

This drift is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state pushed Islam onto its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory; floggings were carried out publicly; punishments were meted out to those who did not fast during Ramadan; selection for academic posts required that the candidates demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and the jihad was emphasised as essential for every Muslim. Today, such government intervention is no longer needed due to the spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – as yet in some amorphous and diffused form – is more popular than ever before, as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state. Across the country, there has been a spectacular increase in the power and prestige of the clerics, attendance in mosques, home prayer meetings (dars and zikr), observance of special religious festivals, and fasting during Ramadan.

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At a retreat in India, lessons on yoga and life

August 21, 2008

In the International Herald Tribune, Kyle Jarrard visits Puducherry (earlier known as Pondicherry) in India:

In the old French quarter of Puducherry.
In the old French quarter of Puducherry.

The first sound in the morning is crows, right at 5. Then we hear waves off the Bay of Bengal slapping the shore. In the garden, a man meditates while walking quickly over the lawn of the ashram guest house in the dark. Along the shore, other men pace the beach in the silver jetty light. Fishing boat lanterns like stars ride the black sea south to north.

My wife and I have come to this old French comptoir (formerly Pondichéry) in southeast India mostly for the yoga. The classes used to be held in one of the many parcels of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram scattered across the colonial city. But for this retreat, there’s a new venue and to get there you have to be on Ajit Sarkar’s bus by 5:45. There are 20 or so of us, nearly all from France.

Ajit, in his 70s now, grew up in this famous ashram with his parents, who went into the retreat founded and inspired by the yogi and guru Sri Aurobindo and his vision of universal consciousness and peace. In this idyllic world, Ajit learned everything from ballet to track to gymnastics, but especially yoga, a skill he has taught with acclaim for decades both in India and in France.

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Not enough students for new IIT’s quota seats

July 24, 2008

Of the 54 seats reserved for students in the scheduled tribes category in the six new IITs, only seven (that’s 12 per cent) have been filled, writes Pallavi Singh in Mint

With barely a month to go before they begin their new academic session, the six new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), launched by the government this year, are struggling to fill their incoming classes.

Against the backdrop of the government wanting to implement 27% quota for other backward classes (OBCs) in higher educational institutions, the new IITs have been unable to fill seats reserved for tribal students, who, along with scheduled castes (SCs) and OBCs, now add up to more than 50% of caste-based reservations of all available seats.
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Turkish schools offer Pakistan a gentler Islam

May 4, 2008

Turkish educators are offering an alternative approach to religious schools that could reduce extremists’ influence. Sabrina Tavernise reports from Karachi in The New York Times:

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.

He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

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China launches ‘education drive’ in Lhasa

April 21, 2008

In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Chinese officials have launched an education drive, reports Chris Buckley for Reuters

China’s Communist Party has launched a political education drive in Tibet’s restive capital, Lhasa, vowing a long campaign to attack pro-independence sentiment and support for the Dalai Lama.

China has blamed recent unrest in Tibetan areas on a “clique” of the Dalai’s followers pressing for independence and seeking to upset Beijing’s preparations for the August Olympics. Over a month has passed since monk-led protests against government control gave way to deadly anti-Chinese rioting in Lhasa on March 14, but security forces have wrestled with continued unrest there and across other Tibetan areas. 

In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Party authorities have launched an education drive focused on officials and Party members, the official Tibet Daily reported on Monday.

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Where billions vanish

April 11, 2008

Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University, in Dawn:

Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf, aided by his trusted lieutenant and chairman of the Higher Education Commission, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, lays claim to a ‘revolutionary programme’ that has reversed the decades-old decline of Pakistan’s universities.

The higher education budget shot up from Rs3.9bn in 2001-02 to an astounding Rs33.7bn in 2006-07. But, in fact, much of this has been consumed by futile projects and mega wastage. Fantastically expensive scientific equipment, bought for research, often ends up locked away in campuses.

An example: a Pelletron accelerator worth Rs400m was ordered in 2005 with HEC funds. It eventually landed up at Quaid-i-Azam University, and was installed last month by a team of Americans from the National Electrostatics Corporation that flew in from Wisconsin. But now that it is there and fully operational, nobody – including the current director – has the slightest idea of what research to do with it. Its original proponents are curiously lacking in enthusiasm and are quietly seeking to distance themselves from the project.

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Inside Islam, a woman’s roar

March 5, 2008

Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan, uses her religion to press for women’s rights – and development agencies take note. Jill Carroll in The Christian Science Monitor:

wazhmafrogh.jpg

Just hours after Wazhma Frogh arrived in an isolated, conservative district in northeastern Afghanistan in 2002, the local mullah was preaching to his congregation to kill her. Ms. Frogh was meddling with their women with her plan to start a literacy program, he told the assembly.

As she walked past the mosque during noon prayers, his words caught her ear. Shocked, she marched straight into the mosque. In a flowing black chador that left her face uncovered, she strode past the male worshipers and faced the mullah. Trembling inside, she challenged him.

“Mullah, give me five minutes,” she recalls saying. “I will tell you something, and after that if you want to say I am an infidel and I am a threat to you, just kill me.”

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The girl who grew up as a boy

February 27, 2008

Arti Pandey in International Herald Tribune:

I was greeted by a high school graduate dressed in men’s salwar-kameez and vest when I arrived at the school in Afghanistan’s Northern province of Faryab last July.

“You thought I was boy, didn’t you? Because I dress like boy and walk like boy – yes?” The short hair and men’s clothing contradicted a girlish voice. “I always dress like boy. People think I am boy, but I am girl. But I don’t like to be girl.”

This was my introduction to Azaada Khan, the girl who grew up as a boy under the omniscient eye of the Taliban.

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Online education takes off in India

February 24, 2008

The business of distance learning on the subcontinent is becoming so big that foreign universities and venture capitalists are taking note. Nandini Lakshman in BusinessWeek:

It’s a Sunday afternoon and class time for 39-year-old IT worker Seema Shetty. Her feet curled under her in a swivel chair, she sits in front of a computer monitor, adjusts a set of headphones, and scribbles in a notebook. Shetty, who works for consulting firm Mastek in Mumbai, is in a virtual classroom in the Vile Parle suburb, where a dozen computers link students to some of India’s elite management institutions. Today’s class is a three-hour general management lecture, part of the online education course conducted by the Xavier Labor Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, in the remote northern Indian state of Jharkhand.

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Course correction at India’s madrasas

February 9, 2008
Priyanka P. Narain in Mint:
When 12-year-old Muhammad Imran’s widowed mother did not have money to feed her son, she put him on a train from her village in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai’s Minara Masjid madrasa. Many of the estimated 1,035,000 children who live in Islamic seminaries across India arrived in the same way-shelter and food are as important to their parents as education.
Now, as India’s rising prosperity stirs new desires and gives birth to new dreams, the government’s initiative for modernization of madrasas is forcing a catharsis in the community about the kind of education they want to offer their children. But as Muslims largely embrace this change, they have already come to their first hurdle: Just how to do it?

The scramble for kindergarten admissions

February 6, 2008

Admissions for prekindergarten seats in Delhi begin for children as young as 3, and what school they get into is widely felt to make or break their fate. Somini Sengupta in International Herald Tribune.

They offer prayers. They set aside bribe money. Their nights are restless.

This is a disquieting winter for parents of small children in India, especially here in its fast-growing capital, where the demands of ambition and demography collide with a shortage of desirable schools. This year, admissions for pre-kindergarten seats in Delhi begin for children as young as 3 years old, and the schools they get into now are widely believed to make or break their educational careers.

And so it was that a businessman, having applied to 15 private schools for his 4-year-old son, rushed to the gates of a prestigious academy in southern Delhi one morning last week to see whether his child’s name was on the preliminary list for possible admission.

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Push for education yields little for India’s poor

January 17, 2008

India faces the difficulty of educating its children in schools that have sunk to spectacularly low levels, writes Somini Sengupta in The New York Times

education.jpg

LAHTORA, India – With the dew just rising from the fields, dozens of children streamed into the two-room school in this small, poor village, tucking used rice sacks under their arms to use as makeshift chairs. So many children streamed in that the newly appointed head teacher, Rashid Hassan, pored through attendance books for the first two hours of class and complained bitterly. He had no idea who belonged in which grade. There was no way he could teach.

Another teacher arrived 90 minutes late. A third did not show up. The most senior teacher, the only one with a teaching degree, was believed to be on official government duty preparing voter registration cards. No one could quite recall when he had last taught.

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