Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why Educational Experiments are "Doomed" to Succeed?

It is often said that all educational experiments are doomed to succeed [1]. Here is my different take on this from the perspective of an educational reformer and educational leader.

There are tons of methodologies, experiments, strategies and their resources that are available to teachers. However, when a teacher designs a new educational experiment, it often means that he has exhausted most of the existing material that he could lay his hands on. He is so frustrated and so angry that he feels inspired to design a new educational experiment of his own.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Struggles of a Conscientious Government Servant: Lessons Learned from Memoirs of Irtiqa Zaidi

I felt honored when I was asked to review the book of memoirs of Mr Irtiqa Zaidi that is about to go into publication. The book is exciting, enjoying, and often a thrilling account of his photographic memory of the events spanning the expanse from his childhood in Quetta to his rise as a senior official in Government, where he was involved in some momentous agreements of Pakistan related to trade and commerce. 

My first meeting with Mr Irtiqa Zaidi was in the early 1970s when he got posted in Islamabad and came to stay at our place while waiting for the allotment of a suitable government accommodation. Irtiqa Chacha is a close relative of my father, and also the elder brother of my brother in law.   During that first winter when he was staying with us, I remember listening to his stories with my father, mother and sisters huddled around coal fire with blankets wrapped around us. I remember listening intently to his wonderful and picturesque narrations that were and still are full of humor and suspense with dramatic turns and twists from among the huge collection of his encounters and personal experiences. I recall that this fully captivating story telling sessions would often seamlessly extend for hours. I had the pleasure of listening to such experiences throughout the seventies when he was among those few relatives that we had in Islamabad, with whom we would regularly meet every week or so. During 1980s and later when I had moved to Karachi,  I would lose no opportunity during my trips to Islamabad to get that warmth of his riveting accounts often starting around dinner time and extending deep into the night.

Coming from that experience of his oral traditions, and after having read the book, I can safely say that this is only the first installment of his store of vivid memories and we are looking forward to an inspiring writer who would now be rendering in print that voluminous store of vivid memories, in volume after volume. At times the details in the book suggest that he has been taking copious notes. However, I think that these graphic details are etched in his mind because of his extra ordinary ability to engage anyone around him with stories of interesting life events. His distinctive humorous style would compel people to soon gather around him, and in no time he would become the center of attraction. This is still true for any gathering where he is. You will see this in his various accounts of foreign training programs and visits, university life, national tours, office gatherings and associations. In fact he quickly became the center of social events wherever they were. The fantastic thing about his stories is that he would always pullout the ones relevant to the audience. I am sure that he remembers the facts because he has related them orally so many times to so many people. Moreover, he had the unique distinction of always remembering the ones he has already told to whom and thus never boring any one with repetition. In cases when he would repeat an incident it would be in a uniquely differently manner.

The book represents the recollection in writing emanating from this refined store of his memories etched in his mind due to their repeated oral renditions in gatherings. This book contains events that I don't remember hearing from him earlier. I suspect in this book he has tried to write down the stories that he has seldom related elsewhere and would like to put them on record. Especially, those related to the challenges of his career and the conflicts that emanated on policy related issues and personalities. Which incidentally is the subtitle of the book that it is the story of a government servant. 

Here are the lessons that I have learned from this book and how I see their relevance to our present challenges. In the following I relate my learning from the incidents of this book. The author may have written them from a different perspective. 

Jhoot ko burai samajhna: How abhorrence of lying was inculcated

Some interesting childhood incidences related in this book indicate how elders in the families in the decades of 50s-60s inculcated in their children an abhorrence for "lying" through personal example. The incident about how a neighbor's "murgha" (cock) enters the house and mistakenly gets killed when a rather heavy footwear is hurled towards it by an elder woman in the house who was trying to scare it and trying to shoo it away. There was remorse and a conference to decide what needs to be said when eventually the neighbor would come looking for it. The deliberations described indicate how important it was to phrase the explanation that it should not constitute a lie. This incident emphasized in the child not to tell a lie, so that he remembers as a value to be cherished irrespective of the consequences. Some other incidences bring out how these values were not taught but were learned through daily life incidences. 

Teachers of 1950s and 1960s

It was interesting to learn that the notion that today's teachers have somehow inferior values and ethics than previous times turns out to be not true. There are good and bad teachers in every era. Some are good and others not good. For instance, Math's teacher who forced the students to buy ink from the poor students and then victimizing and becoming vindictive on those students who could not afford to buy or would not buy reminds me of similar tactics by today's teachers when they victimize the students who do not come for private tuitions from them. However, not all teachers were bad. There were some teachers like Mr Saleem who were passionate about their subject and would go out of their way to help the students becomes very clear. There were good and bad teachers in school as well as in the universities. 

Cheating as Mischief in Exams 

The culture of taking help in examination and where possible trying to circumvent the rules in the 1960s was already taking root at that time. Although this was not institutionalized and at that time and the intent was more from the point of view of student indulging in mischief to explore the limits of the system and to test whether the teacher or the student is smarter. However, later this mischief evolved into an institutionalized culture that brought to the knees the system of meritocracy. Although Punjab and to lesser extent NWFP has controlled the prevalence of cheating in board exams. However, Sindh continues to slide down to ever greater abyss of the cheating culture. 

Lectures in English 

How the use of English has pushed the children from poorer background to remain poor was already established in the 1950s and 1960s. Competency in English was already been considered as competency in knowledge, thinking and ability. Interestingly enough English as a yardstick to measure the competence of a Pakistani had been used by the elites to keep the poor people from not challenging the status quo. Only a few very committed and fortunate children who get some good guidance or a good teacher able to tear out from this straitjacket, improve the English and join the elite club. 

Tribal Areas of DI Khan, Lady Doctor's Kidnapping and Today's Issues

As I read the interesting story of the Lady Doctor's kidnapping by the tribals of DI Khan in early 1970s that got viral on the media of that time and people avidly followed the proceedings, I was comparing with the current situation of DI Khan. Poor and starving people of the tribal areas with no sources of generating income from legal means had been resorting to kidnapping for ransom sine old times. The lady doctor who was abducted during Ramazan leaving behind her child and husband was very disturbed and afraid. However, the kidnappers treated her well as she recounted after her release. They told her that they wanted to kidnap her along with her husband and children but due to an early alarm could not. However, no harm came to her and she befriended the ladies of that tribe. They told her that if they do not get the ransom, they will starve. 

Successive governments had done nothing to ameliorate the causes leading to such means used by the tribals. As I was reading this book in 2016 the situation still prevails. The news in the media is related to similar kidnapping for ransom in DI Khan was doing its round. The areas had not yet been amalgamated in Pakistan. Living in the no-man's land there had been no development, no infrastructure and no income generation. The Ayub, Bhutto, Zia, Musharraf eras did nothing except to use them for strategic depth purposes creating a huge problem that we are still fighting. Only now there is some talk about making these areas a formal part of the federation.  

Punjgor Travel in Balochistan and the Dangers and Today's Situation 

As I read the dangers and life threatening visit to Punjgor in Balochistan in the early 1970s, I could visualize the fear of travel for the government officials and private vehicles. Even in those times the roads were bad, broken, without any means of communication, no support for vehicles breaking down, vehicles traveling in caravans for fear of kidnappers and violence from the tribes. Fast forward to 2016, and one reads every week and every month some major incidence of vehicles getting ambushed. Forces getting killed. Hazaras getting killed. Travellers getting abducted. Starting from the Military Operation of the 1970s and the continuing operation over the last 20 years, there seems to be no respite. Ignoring Balochistan, and exploiting the wealth had been the hallmark of all the governments. Only today one sees some changes with massive investment in the infrastructure. 

Check Dams and the Parliamentarian Insistence on Development in his Constituency

It was interesting to read about how the Baluchistan minister and apparently not well versed in the technicalities imploring the government official to shift the money for Check Dams that could only be constructed in a particular terrain to his constituency which had an incompatible geography and terrain unsuitable for that kind of dam. However, government officials in their restricted view could not appreciate that for the minister it was important that some development work had to be done in his constituency. In his knowledge, this was the only project that could have been executed. And he probably did not have the competence or the support to design an appropriate project for his area. 

This incidence tells us why bureaucracy which had not been creative enough to come up with feasible projects for the poor constituencies of the ministers was later forced and coerced into putting infeasible projects. The issue was not the feasibility of the project but the short term injection of development money in that poor area. Had the government officials understood the development needs of the ministers and designed feasible projects in the first place, the condition may not have descended where these representatives of the poor constituencies had to do what they had to do, whether by hook or by crook. 

Gawadar Road's Dilapidated Condition and Today 

Dilipidated roads of Gawadar of early 1970s and today's highways. The situation where a car breakdown would necessitate the spare parts to come from hundreds of miles away is still the situation but a massive improvement in the infrastructure is happening today. 

The politics of development money going into Gawadar with hope for a trickle down to the poor tribes of Baluchistan is a wish that may or may not be fulfilled. The rewards of CPEC must trickle down to the people of Baluchistan otherwise there would be no peace. 

1973's Administrative Reforms and their Adverse Effects

Politics of Bureaucracy: Economist Group vs DMG 

It was amusing to see the politics of bureaucracy revolving about who is going to be promoted to which grade depending upon which group one belongs. The incessant politics of who is going to the next foreign trip seems to be the only desire in Islamabad. How merit is sacrificed, quota system enforced on the basis of provinces, artificially formed subdivisions of government servants into DMG, Economist or other groups, and ethnic and personal and political affiliations play out in the corridors of powers is instructive of the chasm between the world of government and the world of the poor people of Pakistan. The old machinery of bureaucracy amputated through 3not3 and later expulsions, followed by lateral inductions of cronies destroyed the "public service" and led to self service. It seems so easy to get the government officials to sign WTO and other such international treaties to which even USA is not signatory by just sending a handful of senior government officials on foreign paid trips.

Whatever government remains is on the shoulders of few conscientious public servants who burn their midnight oil and work diligently and with commitment. Mr Irtiqa Zaidi comes out as one such representative. 

Guilty unless Proven Innocent Attitude of Government vs The Hague Experience

Government machinery in Pakistan works on the assumption that all our guilty unless they prove otherwise their innocence. All procedures and systems in Pakistan are based on this "First Principle". The Hague experience where cash was disbursed to the visiting delegation with no receipt came as a stark rejoinder to the alternative system. In The Hague trip, Mr Irtiqa Zaidi recounts how the lady in charge of the cash disbursements was distributing cash without receipts. When the conflict arose the attitude of "Innocent unless Proven Guilty" brings the best of ethics out of the people and leads to a graceful resolution. This is the lesson that designers of Pakistani system of governance should learn from.

Work in Progress on the following subsections:

Conflict with Nadeemul Haq 

Incompetence of Gilani and Shujaat

Boldness, and standing on what is right. Counseling during the early part of the career by?

Not accepting pressures from highest quarters, seniors, secretaries, ministers, prime minsters, USA, ...

Ahsan Iqbal acting on his suggestions

Afghan Transit trade and US facilitation of Indian interests

Sunday, October 16, 2016

At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions

Political discourse in Pakistan is punctuated with allegations and counter allegations without a formal study of the economic implications of the various decisions that have been rocking the country from as early as 1950s. The series of posts in this thread of "At What Cost" is attempt to build a framework for researchers to explore the economic costs of each of these decisions. The title of this series is based on my extensive discussions with late Mr Fazle Hasan of IBA in 1986-87. My later reflections on the lessons that he was trying to convey and which I vehemently disagreed with at that time, but have now come to appreciate only recently have been put down as the first post in this "At What Cost!" series: At What Cost! Fazle Hasan of IBA and our Computation of Economic Costs

Connecting vs Disconnecting with Relations- Sila e Rahmi vs Qata e Rahmi

Over the last few years, misconceptions regarding disconnecting from the relations (relatives, neighbors, colleagues) seem to be spreading. Disconnecting from relatives and relations is not a part of our culture or tradition. Our guidance has been to mend fences and work towards establishing relationships. Ethical leadership in our tradition requires that we care for those who throw garbage on you, make fun of you, or even try to harm you. Mohabbat fateh e Aaalim.

Left hand column shows the basis of our culture and traditions, whereas
the right hand column shows typical messages being shared on the facebook/whatsapp promoting
misconceptions that stand in stark opposition to our culture and traditions. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

What does a Child Need? Mother's Teacher-hood vs Motherhood

I am forced to write this post as I increasingly encounter cases upon cases of children with shattered confidence, broken personality and with severe personality issues and most of them emanating from the tremendous desire of the mother to relinquish her "mamta' (motherhood) role and assume the role of a teacher for which she is singularly unequipped! A child needs his mother's motherhood more than her teacher-hood. In their enthusiasm to make their children smart, and under tremendous peer pressure and the pressure from schools, mothers in Pakistan are assuming more and more the role of a teacher, at the expense of  their motherhood role. This is disastrous for the confidence and feeling of self-worth for a child, especially, because motherhood is a natural role for the mother, however, role of a teacher has to be learned and does not come naturally to everyone. Teaching requires aptitude, attitude, soft nature, quest for knowledge, magnanimity and  hosts of teaching skills. These skills are in short supply even in those who have had formal training in teaching.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Distort History through Prejudices of Today: Taj Mahal as a Symbol of Love

I often see people looking at history using today's prejudices and lenses. History can not be seen in the light of our current preferences and current philosophies. History has to be evaluated in the context of the prevalent norms and challenges of that day. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Top 10 Reasons Why Students Fail in Semester System- Survival Guide

About 5%-10% of students entering the university are unable to survive the semester system. The following list of top 10 reasons is based on my observations as a student from 1980-1994 at NED, IBA Karachi and at Univ of Texas at Austin. These are also based on my interactions with dropouts as faculty member from 1995-present (FAST NU, IBA, KIET, IoBM) with eighteen years as Deputy Director and Dean. I have given counseling to countless students. Often the students come when it is too late. At times their behavior compels me to think that they were asking to be dropped! You will agree too after reading this list. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dr Wahab and IBA of 1980s and 1990s

Dr Abdul Wahab went to meet his creator on Sep 6, 2016 morning, inna lillah we wa inna ilaihi rajioon. The news brought flashbacks of several memories from my association with IBA; first as an MBA student from 1985 to 1987, and then during my stint as a faculty member from 1995 to Dec 2000, the last four years of which were spent as Deputy Director. I relate here the essence of Dr Ab Wahab's contribution to IBA from the period when he became director in 1978 till he retired in 1999. The contributions are pictorially represented in the graph below.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Youth Leadership and Dave Ulrich-Orientation for University Students

[Presented at IoBM Orientation Session for Fall 2016 intake on Sep 3]

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on leadership at Karachi Marriott by Dave Ulrich, who is considered as the father of modern Human Resource Management. Ulrich is a professor at the University of Michigan and a consultant to top companies of the world. With over 30+ books on HR and leadership, he was ranked #1 Management Educator and Guru by Business Week, and was selected as one of the 10 most innovative and creative leaders, and was named as the most influential thinker in HR of the decade by HR magazine.

Dave Ulrich ended this Karachi workshop on leadership by presenting the three questions on which he had based his commencement speech at the graduation ceremony of a US university some years ago.

I will start my orientation speech with those three questions which I think are so fundamental to youth leadership that instead of you grappling with these questions at your graduation, you should be asking them at the very start of your professional education. The three questions that Dave Ulrich briefly touched upon in about ten minutes were:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why Engineering Students are Reluctant to become Entrepreneurs: Role of PEC and Universities

Presented at ICEE-2016, International Conference on Entrepreneurial Engineering: Commercialization of Engineering Projects and Research

There are several reasons why Engineering students in Pakistan have been found to be reluctant to opt for entrepreneurship in their engineering fields as opposed to other disciplines such as Computer Science. These reasons can be classified in five major categories; (i) cultural and family mindset, (ii) demographic pressures (iii) narrow focus of curriculum, (iv) teaching and lab methodology, (v) enabling and facilitation environment.  Pakistan Engineering Council has a major role to play in at least the last three areas. The curriculum design and enforcement of PEC has left no room for subjects that can broaden the vision of the students and open their minds to other areas. The recommended lab methodology is based on the use of trainers and fill-in-the-blank type of submissions that further constrains the work of the students in predetermined directions. The recommended teaching methodology focused on class-room type of work also leaves no room for out-of-the-box exploration of ideas. There is a need for the universities and PEC to join together to provide an enabling and facilitation environment that can help the students. There is a need to diversify the curriculum to other areas by reducing the number of technology intensive areas and more creativity and exploratory courses that can broaden the perspectives. There is a need to adopt new methodologies such as project based learning and problem based learning. The lab work needs to be liberated from the clutches of the trainers. A post graduation apprenticeship or internships in exploring new ideas is necessary for entrepreneurial engineering. 

The Case for Engineering Entrepreneurship

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Abuse of Presentation Slides in Classrooms: Ban Powerpoint Presentations

Problems with Powerpoint Presentations in Classroom

A couple of weeks ago I came to deliver a presentation in a seminar after four speakers who were delivering a technical talk to the business owners using powerpoint and speaking in English, which is the second or third language of the speakers and the audience. I could see the disconnect of the speakers with the audience. I could see the boredom. It was getting late after lunch and people were dozing. I came, junked the presentation that I had prepared, and made a presentation using our local language and talked with my heart. Immediately I got the attention and the audience woke up. Several from the audience later came and congratulated me for waking up the participants and making the session lively.

 For  over 10 years now, I have realized the futility of using the presentations. I have discarded the use of the powerpoint presentations, except very technical talks to very captive audience where there is enough time to intersperse talk with slides, in workshop type formats.
I had started with power point presentations much before they became a norm. It was way back in the mid of 1996-97 that I started with multi-media presentations using a laptop. Those were the time when powerpoint presentations and multimedia was a novelty. Somewhere along the line they became a ritual. They lost their power and became a drag on the presentation.Following are my reasons for urging people to ban the use of powerpoints:

Lights are on the Powerpoint Screen and
the performer is hidden in the dark