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Daily Times Editorials – 26th April 2016

Cheating culture in Pakistan

Academic dishonesty is a widespread practice, across all age groups, and in probably all cultures globally. Academic violations are more rampant in developing countries like Pakistan where the pressure to continuously succeed drives students to resort to many unsavoury practices. Over the years, authorities have come up with many pre-emptive measures to check the prevalence of cheating culture in the country. In one crackdown last week, the paramilitary forces arrested a photocopy shop owner in Karachi after recovering various solved copies of matriculation English language examination paper in his possession. Not only does this episode signify the might of cheating in educational institutes, it also raises many doubts on the potential of Pakistani students.

However, the ever-increasing levels of academic malpractices cannot be justified by shaming the students alone. Because of the oft-imposed overwhelming social and parental pressures dictating students to rank grades significantly higher than the value of learning, many are forced to attempt every trick in the book to get the much-desired top marks. The cheating culture has now become a self-perpetuating dynamic where examples of ‘successful’ perpetrators incite even more students to employ dishonest practices to reap the same benefits. What further intensifies this societal need to out-perform others is the sheer number of colleges that students all over the country are encouraged to apply to. The perpetually booming number of students, in a country bombarded with population explosion, ratchet up the already unrelenting pressures faced by students applying to these institutes. They, hence, feel the need to cheat in order to stand apart from the sea of applicants. May it be individual students practising the old school methods of writing essays in advance or the institutional endorsements in the form of copy mafia, unfair educational practices appear to be the norm everywhere.

Many elaborate examples of cheating culture are reported every year on the onset of board examinations, particularly in districts of the upper Sindh. Even though Pakistani media continues to talk at length about the illegal provision of ‘logistical support’ to candidates by invigilators in conjunction with people of political influence, no significant action has yet been taken against the wrongdoers.

Many educationists are of the view that the outdated approaches to teaching, currently employed in Pakistani schools, are also to be held responsible in giving rise to these dishonest practices. As has been pointed out on many prior occasions, education boards should revise their curriculum on an emergency footing. However, a new syllabus cannot be the sole mitigating factor of this widespread culture. Education boards need to revolutionise both their teaching and assessment approaches. In lieu of utilising the decades-old passive modes of instruction, students should now be made to reflect upon their learning. If the content-based assessments are replaced by conceptual exams, students will not only engage with their curriculum in a deeper manner but also start constructing their own concepts rather than reproducing the taught particulars. It is the responsibility of both parents and educational institutes to co-operate with authorities so that a modernised set of instruction replaces the existing degenerative model and Pakistani schools create more analytic thinkers and less dishonest cheaters.

The murder of Sardar Soran Singh

The disclosure by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) police that MPA Sardar Soran Singh was killed by a political opponent has unleashed a Pandora’s box about the abysmal state of politics in Pakistan. It also raises myriad questions about the basic structure of mainstream political parties in the country. Reportedly, Baldev Kumar, another minority member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was an aspirant for a ticket for the KPK assembly, but his party instead nominated Soran Singh as the member of the assembly. This act of being bypassed angered Kumar, who is alleged to have planned the murder of his colleague. The brutal murder of Soran Singh, a person of great repute and moral integrity, has highlighted the internal affairs of a mainstream political party that appears to have failed to create awareness among its members that securing a party ticket is a serious responsibility, and endowment of a ticket is not a simple matter of choosing one person over the other. There is a great deal of deliberation attached to the process of giving out tickets to an individual whom a party may consider to be the best candidate in a particular constituency. Party tickets are not gifts or favours, and there is no reason for anyone to think of a basic electoral process as a personal favour or a personal affront.

It is very unfortunate that a patriotic politician was gunned down for such a petty reason. Incidents like these highlight the lack of attention given by head/s of the party to the fundamental affairs of the party, which distance them from the day-to-day affairs of the organisation. The divisions and groups in parties may seem like a trivial phenomenon in the functioning of an organisation, but horrific events like the murder of Singh demonstrate the reality of some bitter issues that remain hidden or unresolved for one reason or the other. This murder is a lesson for other political parties and their leaders that they should closely monitor their respective parties’ affairs in order to avoid any untoward situation. At present, political leaderships do not know what is happening at the lower level. Political rivalries often stoke tensions and serious consequences that must be addressed before they get out of control.

While the incident has given some insight about political affairs, the KPK police deserve appreciation for solving this murder case in the shortest possible time. The murder of Soran Singh was attributed to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); however, police investigators said that the TTP made a false claim about the killing, as they arrested the (alleged) real perpetrators. Once again, media has not played a very sensible role in the reporting of this incident, as it has become a norm that media accepts unverified reports without any due process of journalistic investigation. It seems as if any random person calls to claim responsibility on behalf of militants, media starts airing and printing unauthentic stuff merely to become the first one to ‘break new’ in this age of TV ratings and sensationalistic journalism. Media should take a lesson from this episode, and stop exaggerating things and assuming conclusions out of unverifiable rumors.

Political parties need to evolve a system where all members should be imparted training on the basic principles of democracy, making them capable of key posts in a political set-up instead of adopting a negative approach for fulfilment of ambitions. And last but not the least, exemplary punishment should be awarded to the culprits who were responsible for the killing of Sardar Soran Singh.

Lead by example, Mr Prime Minister

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) 20th anniversary celebration, held in Jinnah Park amidst invigorating music and in front of a jubilant crowd, was a reiteration of the party’s stance since its inception. Imran Khan, Chairman of the PTI, has spent 20 years calling for accountability to the extent that it now sounds hackneyed. In fact, it may be correct to say that it is the PTI’s raison d’être, and in a country in which most mainstream parties are embroiled in allegations of corruption, it is a much-needed position. While the party has in recent years inducted members with questionable backgrounds, it still remains the only party that does not have any serious allegations of corruption against it. However, it should be pointed out here that the PTI has never actually been a part of a central government, and hence never been in a position — other than being in the ruling coalition in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — through which it may be able to embezzle public funds. Regardless, the PTI is the only party at the moment that has the moral standing to confront the ruling party over the Panama Papers controversy. And as it makes political capital out of this situation, it also is giving the people a platform through which they can pressurise the government into conducting a thorough investigation.

Pakistan is a country that struggles to raise revenue and, as a result, it has had to turn to international lending institutions to meet its shortfall. The resulting measures to increase tax revenue unfairly burden the poor as they rely on indirect taxation. To add to this, the brazen mis-appropriation of public funds gives the impression that the powerful can continue to exploit the people of this country with impunity. However, the people are now frustrated and they want accountability. This is the emotion that is providing the fuel for the PTI’s rallies, and Khan is correct in lashing out at the ruling party’s confrontational posture over demanding accountability. In fact, most mainstream parties of Pakistan have this penchant for raising cries of ‘democracy in danger’ whenever questioned on accountability. It is high time that proper democratic practice took root in Pakistan, and political leaders were made to answer for any transgressions that they may have committed.

There are two issues that currently inform the debate on Panama Papers controversy, and both are closely linked with the fledging economic state of the country. First is the issue of legality of the funds that have been stored in offshore accounts, and here the prime minister’s family has to show that the source of the funds were from legal businesses. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has chosen this metric by forming the inquiry commission that will ascertain his innocence. The much more bigger issue, however, is the moral dimension of a head of state having offshore accounts, even if they are not are directly his own but rather that of immediate family. If the prime minister’s children own foreign businesses and keep their wealth hidden from the country’s tax system through offshore tax havens, then how can he urge others to bring their money back and to invest in Pakistan? This is the metric that a head of state should ideally hold himself against as his office confers upon him the responsibility to lead by example. Even if Sharif as a result of the military coup in 1998 was forced to transfer some part of his business empire abroad, showing the spirit of leadership he should have brought it to Pakistan on his return. Everyone knows that Pakistan is in dire need of investment, and such an action by Sharif would have proved to be the symbolic gesture that would not only have brought considerable money in Pakistan but also set the precedent for others to do so.

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