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Sidra Iqbal stresses upon the importance of education in Pakistan

Sidra Iqbal

A well known T.V personality, PR practitioner, brand activist, and youth development advocate; we had a pensive conversation with Sidra Iqbal about the importance of education, the current situation, and her pivotal role in this sector.

As both a successful journalist and host, how would you describe the nature of your work in Pakistan?

In Pakistan, it is exciting and adventurous as a lot of these things are fairly new. I remember being a fresh undergraduate and the private media only opening up in Pakistan; so fast forward 10 years, I feel a lot of the values are still sort of evolving and there is a lot of work that happens on an ad-hoc basis. We are pressed for resources, we are pressed for sensitivity and ideas but that’s where the challenge and excitement is, and what really gets me going is that you can really make a difference in society with the avalanche of social media and this newfound freedom and power. It really is worthy to be behind the right cause, so I find it very exciting and adventurous.

Hosting a show, we see significant subjects regarding the future of Pakistan being addressed, do you feel that this representation brings light to serious matters adequately?

I feel they bring a lot of eyeballs and they bring a lot of attention to the problems. I’m not very keen and not very happy with the focus it brings on the solutions. I feel as a society they have become very pessimistic and we tend to just breathe and groove and sort of just allow ourselves to be mellow, but what we really need to do is be forward-looking, be optimistic and see we really don’t need the same kind of linear timeline mentality that a lot of people did. Even in our region, if we look at a number of South Asian countries, what they have done is they have actually made a complete turn-around change in their environment and society in one generation so I feel the same is possible for Pakistan but we are too focused on thinking, ‘Oh these problems will take a hundred years and perfect resources and a lot of political will to resolve’, I think that’s where the problem is.

Being an Ambassador for “IHope”, how was the response received regarding the discussion, which provided serious insights into the experiences of our youth in society?

I think as an ambassador of “IHope”, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to launch the initiative on International Youth Day. I think young people should realize that every crisis that they are presented with presents a hidden gift of compassion and of purpose, so I was very happy to learn that so many young people are motivated to actually give back and help people. In this pandemic they don’t feel that necessarily it’s a bad thing that they are stuck at home, they are devoted to compassion and to service to society; and IHope was a perfect opportunity for them. It was a call out to young people, whether they are in Pakistan or anywhere in the world to come and be a part of the community that would like to help people provide quality healthcare facilities to all.

Would community initiatives help create an environment where education and enlightenment can be accepted and therefore implemented for our children?

I think children all over the world are dreaming of a new world and it’s our responsibility as a society, as grownups, to provide them with those excellent opportunities. Personally, for me, I think two great pillars I really advocate for are Education and Healthcare. Once you educate a child and once you provide a household with quality health care, with hygiene, and you know the right to live, then there is no stopping there, because then you’re out of the survival mode. I feel that when children are told and they are demonstrated that all that they enjoy is not something that they are entitled to, in fact, what they need to do is be grateful for the benefits that they have. It does evoke a sense of compassion and service in them. So it’s a great initiative and it will go a long way in inculcating these values in children.

When in conversation with Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood, a change in the education itself was emphasized. What manner of change do you feel would have a significant impact on the system itself?

I think to begin with technology, ICT is going to be very important, the curriculum all over the world is being upgraded. I’ll give you an example, that they say that the children who are in grade school right now, studies point out that 65% of these children are going to go into jobs and professions that have not been invented so that is a huge responsibility on the education system to actually prepare a child for a future that is unseen, unheard and probably unimaginable as well. When we were in school, there was no internet, there were no social media but somehow our education prepared us for it, now the same challenge lies before us and in much greater intensity. So, I feel what we need to change is first and foremost give a child the right to question. You can no longer just dictate a child, you should give a child in the Pakistani school system the right to question, the right to understand, and the right to sometimes even prove you wrong, so until and unless the teachers have the ability to unlearn and relearn, we can’t really update our education system.

Do intermediate students have an advantage over A-level students when applying for universities, with their average plus predicted grade as well as an additional 3% grace marks given?

Well to begin with, as an answer, I think no students in Pakistan had any advantage. Our education system is deeply fragmented, there are too many factions, there are too many things happening and I really congratulate the Government to have a serious intent behind making it a singular hybrid national curriculum. Of course, it comes with its own challenges. I can’t really pick sides because these are students who are all Pakistanis whether you are in A-Level schools, I can’t hold that against you, or whether you are a parent for matriculation or an intermediate exam that should not be your disadvantage. But yes, what I am calling for is that the Education Ministry has to make a decision, make policy measures and take strategic moves that benefit and ensure a level playing field for all. This grace mark issue is putting the A-level students at a disadvantage and I would appeal and strongly urge and petition to the Ministry of Education to look into its decision and how it’s having an impact on all.

Would a change in the implementation and execution of educational policies pave the way for a promising change in Pakistan regarding the future of our children who are still out of schools?

Of course, I mean if you look at numbers, it’s astonishing. 20 million children of school-going age in Pakistan are not going to school. Even if you look at provinces like KP, one out of every 4 girls of school-going age is not going to school and that is a glaring  25% of girls out of school.  How do you expect her to bring a knowledgeable, aware, opinionated, informed, and civilized generation if she herself does not have the ability to read and write, If she does not have literacy, does not have education, does not have open-mindedness? So, I feel if you really want to turn the future of Pakistan around, education has to be the cornerstone for it.

How can we do our bit in helping bring about a positive change for our young children in terms of opening the doors of opportunity?

I think it is about getting them to be trained in design thinking; presenting the problems as a creativity challenge and not as a dead end. A lot of times the kind of discourse that we are exposing our children to in social media on mainstream television is robbing them of their hope. We are telling them that nothing in Pakistan can be fixed and we are going down the dungeons, which is the furthest from reality. Even if you look around the region just during the COVID 19, India in the last 3 months has lost about 25% of their GDP, I mean that is a grave loss, job losses. Something is happening right in Pakistan whether you want to give the present Government the credit for it or not is entirely your call, but something is right and there is a lot to be hopeful about if we really want to give our children and the young people something it is that hope, that believes that you matter and better things are possible!

  1. And lastly, do you feel we are doing enough as a country, for our future in education?

Well, it’s 70 years of not doing enough, you can’t take a snapshot and say are we doing enough or not, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, there’s a lot of things we haven’t done right for the years to come. Yes, we can take a corrective course but in order for that corrective course to fully bear fruit I think it will need about 7-10 years and I’m hopeful that if we make use of this window of opportunity, that would be a big turnaround for Pakistan

What do you think?

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Written by Zernab Farooqui

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