Language, Gender and Power
Banner 1

Social change through education


Shahid Siddiqui

Education, during different periods of history, assumed different meanings and focused on different objectives. It has usually been equated with change, development and emancipation. It is important, however, to understand that education per se is not change, development or emancipation. It could, however, enhance the life chances of individuals to attain these objectives.

Education, being imparted in most of the mainstream schools, however, emanates from a transmission-based pedagogical approach where teachers try to transmit or transfer knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the next. In this paradigm, students are viewed as empty vessels or slates who are supposed to receive knowledge passively. The transmission approach in education revolves around the ‘banking concept of education’, as Paulo Freire would call it.

According to Freire’s banking concept of education, the minds of students are considered to be containers in which information is fed. The students are not supposed to think but just store the information given by their teachers. The students, without understanding the information relayed to them by their teachers, reproduce the stored information in the examinations. In this approach to education, knowledge is viewed as ‘static’ which is handed down to students by the ‘all-knowing’ teachers. The role of students in this approach is passive as they are at the receiving end. They have no compulsive motivation to think or reflect.

This kind of education cannot lead to the realisation of major objectives, change, development or emancipation. This form of education leads to stasis and conformity. Education in this format is destined to produce ‘mono-culture robots’ that may get good grades and later good jobs but are unable to think independently. Such graduates are least concerned with what is happening in society and do not feel motivated enough to bring any significant change in the world they live.

Ivan Illich, in his classic book, ‘Deschooling society’, laments the fact that mainstream schools are producing students who cannot think independently as they are trained to receive information given to them by their teachers as the ultimate truth. According to Illich, the major objectives of education, change, development, and emancipation cannot be realised through the conservation approach of transmission as it stifles the faculties of creativity and reflection and leads to students embracing conformity.

What kind of education can then bring change at individual and societal levels? For this we need to debunk the conservation approach of transmission that is based on five major assumptions. The objective of education is to transfer knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the next. Knowledge is static and out there. Students are empty vessels who act as sponges and absorb ‘knowledge’ transmitted by the teachers. Teachers are omniscient and know everything under the sky. Education is not required to reflect on what is going on in society and is not supposed to challenge societal taboos.

The alternative paradigm of education is the transformation approach that aims at transforming the individual and society. The transformation approach of education hinges on five important beliefs. First, the objective of education is to transform. It focuses on change at individual and societal levels. Second, knowledge is not a static object but is a vibrant, fluid and co-constructed phenomenon. Third, students are not empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge from teachers. They, even at a very early age, do have certain beliefs and knowledge about different things. Fourth, teachers are not omniscient and are only one of the sources of knowledge. According to this approach, there are many other powerful sources of knowledge available to the students. Fifth, the role of education is not just to bring change in the lives of individuals but also in society.

When we talk about education, we also tend to link it with development. The issue, however, is that the notion of development is narrow and usually confined to the economic aspect only. Amartya Sen in his book, ‘Development as Freedom’, links economic development with multiple freedoms – freedom of thought, expression, and choice. In this way, Sen extends the boundaries of development beyond roads, railway tracks and high-rise buildings. Education should then focus on the more holistic notion of development – socio-economic development.  The ‘socio’ part of development is unfortunately either ignored or under-emphasised in educational institutions. If we want to use education as a potential tool of change, this part of development needs to be underlined.

To bring change at individual and societal levels, it is crucial to adopt the critical paradigm of education that requires inculcating critical thinking skills in students so they become independent thinkers. The critical paradigm of education is an emancipatory approach that focuses on the ultimate aim of education, development and emancipation – that is freedom from personal biases in terms of language, ethnicity, cast, colour and creed. This kind of education will equip  students with the skills needed to live their individual lives in a better way. It will also prepare them to live with others in a peaceful manner.

If we really want to realise the potential of education, we need to revisit our notion of education and alter it from its passive role to an active one. Instead of serving as a tool of transmission of static knowledge, education should serve as a transformative tool that focuses on co-construction of knowledge. It is in this paradigm of education where focus is laid on developing thinking human beings who have a strong liaison with society. They are not mere robots filling job slots but are constantly engaged in bringing qualitative improvement in society.


The writer is an educationist.



Decolonisation and the Nadvatul Ulema


Shahid Siddiqui

The post-1857 period was a depressing era for the Indians. A large number of freedom fighters were either killed in the War of Independence of 1857 or imprisoned and hanged to death. The voices of freedom were stifled through brutal state power. These times were conducive for Christian missionaries.

A number of Indians who belonged to lower socio-economic backgrounds were lured into converting to Christianity. There were deliberate attacks on Islam and the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) by Western writers. The doors of government jobs were closed for Muslims. This situation forced the proponents of freedom to revisit their strategy of direct confrontation.

People like Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, who actually took part in the 1857 war, repositioned themselves and found an alternative means of resistance by setting up the Darul Uloom Deoband in 1867. They, however, pledged not to accept any funds from the British government. Their major emphasis was on religious education and inculcating the passion for freedom among their pupils. On the contrary, Sir Syed’s Aligarh Movement, initiated in 1875, believed that Muslims need to be empowered through modern education – including science, technology and English.

Unlike the Darul Uloom Deoband, Aligarh – which was viewed as secular in the government’s outlook – accepted funds from the government and employed a foreign principal and faculty members. Aligarh and Deoband were thus seen as two extremes which, despite their sincerity of purpose, were diametrically opposite in their approach. It is important to note that both Qasim Nanotvi and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – pioneers of the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Aligarh Movement, respectively – were students of the Delhi College and were taught by the same teacher, Maulvi Mamluk Ali. A section of Muslims felt the need for a more balanced and moderate approach that would blend the strong points of the Darul Uloom Deoband and the Aligarh Movement, ie blending conservatism with modernity.

In 1893, during the convocation of Madressah Faiz-e-Aam at Kanpur, a number of religious leaders – including Maulana Mohammad Ali Mungeri, Maulana Lutfullah and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi – got together and proposed to form a group of religious scholars. This group was called the Nadvatul Ulema. The first convention of the Nadvatul Ulema was held between April 22 and April 24, 1894. Maulana Shibli Nomani played an important role in preparing the guidelines of Nadva. Shibli Nomani had taught at Sir Syed’s Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College for 16 years and was well-versed in the modern system of education. In addition to his exposure to modern education, Shibli Nomani was a religious scholar.

Some important recommendations were made during the Nadvatul Ulema meeting. The formation of a confederation of madressahs belonging to different sects was emphasised. It was also recommended that major reforms were required in the prevailing educational system. A major recommendation of the Nadvatul Ulema gathering was to set up a ‘darul uloom’ to realise the required changes in the educational system. The major objective of the Nadvatul Uloom included producing more balanced graduates who would have a deep knowledge of Islam with a modern outlook. To realise these objectives, a madressah was established in 1898 which was upgraded to the Darul Uloom Nadvatul Ulema.

The Nadvatul Uloom was not just a traditional madressah but was envisioned by its pioneers as a movement of social reformation. To influence a broader circle of people, it was necessary to publish a journal to influence the minds with scholarly articles. In 1904, the first issue of Al-Nadva, a scholarly journal of the Nadvatul Uloom was published. The pioneer editors were of Al-Nadva were Maulana Habibur Rahman Khan Shirwani and Maulana Shibli Nomani. The journal, like Darul Uloom, aimed to challenge some of the conservative beliefs with logical analysis.

In 1905, Maulana Muhammad Ali Mungeri resigned and Maulana Khalilur Rahman became the Muatamid-e-Aaliya and Maulana Shibli Nomani was appointed as the Muatamid-e-Ta’alimat. Shibli Nomani – with his long association with Aligarh and his exposure of foreign systems of education during his visit to various countries – took up his job with enthusiasm and brought some major changes in the educational practices of the Nadva. He tried to improve the existing curriculum of the Nadva and laid special emphasis on the teaching of languages, including modern Arabic, English, Hindi and Sanskrit. The induction of the English language in a madressah was a bold step as there was initial resistance from conservative quarters.

The educational practices in Nadvatul Uloom were not just confined to the lectures that were held within its four walls but were also reflected through special talks that were arranged where eminent scholars would share their ideas with students. There was a special emphasis on the art of rhetoric and regular debating activities were organised for students. Similarly, there was a strong focus on writing skills and students were trained on how to write a fatwa. At the Nadvatul Uloom, student went through scientific grooming to enhance their life skills.

The Nadvatul Uloom was close to Aligarh in terms of their approach to the British government. Instead of an upfront confrontation, the Nadvatul Uloom had a cordial relationship with the government and received grant from the government. Their whole focus was the empowerment of Muslims by providing them religious knowledge and a modern outlook. The Nadvatul Uloom also resembled the Darul Uloom Deoband in terms of their emphasis on religious education and the development of religious scholars. The Nadvatul Uloom manifested the mild version of nationalism and special effort was made to inculcate the passion of patriotism. This component of education was significant for its role in the process of decolonisation.

The Nadvatul Uloom thus proved to be an effective component of the movement initiated by the Nadvatul Ulema that impacted a large number of Muslims through its enlightened approach in teaching and non-conservative approach in writing through Al-Nadva. The Nadvatul Uloom modernised the concept of madressahs by incorporating the scientific approach of training into writing and speaking skills, exposing students to English and other languages and empowering students with a classical and modern view of religion. The Nadvatul Ulema played an important role in the process of decolonisation by producing enlightened religious scholars who were patriotic to the core and would take pride in their religion, culture, and languages.

Language, Gender, and Power: The politics of hegemony and control in South Asia

Review by

Jahan Ara Shams

PhD Schoalar, UMT

Shahid Siddiqui, the author of this book is working as Vice Chancellor at Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad.  He has his PhD in Language Education from University of Toronto, Canada. His areas of interest are socio-cultural aspects of language, gender, freedom, educational change, and critical pedagogy.  His books provide a comprehensive, compact and comprehendible reading and are widely read and quoted in educational circles.

The book in hand, “Language, Gender and Power”, is a scholarly work in which the author skillfully incorporated the proverbs, fairytales, jokes, songs, advertisement, and nursery rhymes using both conventional and unconventional sources. Dictionary definitions are given with contextual explanations of the terms. The author analyzed the interrelationship of language, gender and power. Language is defined as power to change which influences the role of gender in society. Gender is explained as a social construct which determines the roles, expectations and opportunities for women and men. The author has given the history of language and its relationship with gender while discussing works of Jesperson (1922), Lakoff (1975), Spender (1998), and Judith Butler (1990) as a base and starting point of this discussion.

The book comprised of twenty chapters which are categorized into six parts. Some glimpses and highlights of all six parts are given below. In the first part of the book language is defined as social phenomena. Fairclough (2001) is quoted to show how language is related to society. According to him:

“…..there is not an external relationship ‘between’ language and society, but an internal and dialectical relationship. Language is a part of society; linguistic phenomena are social phenomena of a special sort, and social phenomena are (in part) linguistic phenomena” (p.19).

Power is defined as a complex concept and Gramchi’s point of view about power is given as base to start the talk about power and then the explanation of power by others and Foucault are discussed, as according to Foucault

“…it defined how one may have a hold over others’ bodies, not only so that they may do what one wishes, but so that may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines. Thus discipline produces subjected and practices bodies, ‘docile’ bodies” (1995; p. 138).

Resistance through education

Shahid Siddiqui

The history of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile and coercion. To control the colonised, all possible methods are used, ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonisers suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies.

Education, in a conservative paradigm, was considered passive, neutral, fixed and apolitical. This myth was debunked by Antonio Gramsci who in his seminal book, ‘Prison Notebooks’, elaborates on the powerful role of the civil society, including educational institutions, suggesting that education is a vibrant, highly political and ever-changing phenomenon.

The politics of education and language can be seen at its best in the Minute by Lord Macaulay. It is important to analyse the vision of education proposed by a British representative for the colonised. Macaulay proposes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect.”

With this vision, a new education system came into being, which is still in vogue in mainstream schools of Pakistan. The essential purpose of this system was to produce a class of obedient servants who would conform to authority and never think of challenging it.

In ‘Culture and Imperialism’, Edward Said says that imperialism always found resistance in different parts of the world. The nature of resistance could be varied from place to place. Nationalism in British India flourished in the mid 19th century when the people of India came together as a nation. The British Raj and its despotic policies made Indians conscious of the worth of their country.

The economic policies of the East India Company (EIA) levied huge taxes on peasants. Similarly, local artisans were made jobless as finished products were made in the factories and India was used as a rich source of raw material. A number of peasants were forced to give up their professions and look for other ways of earning of their sustenance. Besides the repressive economic policies of the EIC, the Indians were also cornered because of the cruel political structure of the British rulers.

The British also introduced a new system of education which was quite different from the indigenous education system. Persian, the language of the courts, was targeted by the British rulers and the English language was introduced with lots of perks in terms of government jobs and social status. The British used the familiar imperialist technique of glorifying their own culture, language, literature, education system and way of life, and stigmatising the culture, language, literature, and way of life of the colonised. The ultimate objective of this approach is that the colonised internalise the ‘fact’ that the colonisers are superiors and the colonised are inferior.

As I discussed in my previous articles on these pages, different modes of resistance were adopted by the Indians to combat British imperialism. These modes were guided by two major paradigms of resistance – coercive paradigm and discursive paradigm. The coercive paradigm would allow use of force to resist whereas the discursive paradigm would use discourse as resistance.

One important mode of resistance paradigm is education. In India, education was used as a powerful tool of resistance against the British Raj. How education can be used to resist hegemonic forces can be better understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony which talks about two major approaches to hegemony –through the political society and through civil society. The political society uses coercion by using army, police and bureaucracy, whereas the civil society relies on discourse, and uses social institution.

It is through the civil society that the process of hegemony takes place in a subtle way and minds are controlled in such a way that the colonised group give ‘spontaneous consent’ to be colonised. Education, thus, becomes a potent tool to control minds and is frequently used by the colonisers.  Interestingly education has also been used by marginalised groups to put up resistance.

In British India a number of nationalist leaders used education to resist British imperialism. A number of educational initiatives converged on the idea of national education. Sir Syed’s Aligarh initiative was essentially driven by the passion of nationalism. This was a mild version of nationalism as a number of faculty members were British. Then we see a chain of educational institutions run by tnational leaders who believed in liberating India from foreign rule through education.

Darul aloom Deoband was established in 1867 by Qasim Nanotvi and his comrades. In Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia was established by the Johar brothers. Gandhi established a number of schools and popularised the concept of Nai Taleem. In Bengal, Tagore established the Shantiniketan School. In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai set up the National College. In the (then) Frontier province, Haji Tonag Zai and Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan established a number of schools.

There were certain traits which were common among these institutions. The distinguishing features were their curricula, faculty, pedagogy and aim of education. All of these schools at aimed at inculcating love for the country, indigenous civilisation, local languages and the desire and confidence to liberate India from foreign rule. In the forthcoming articles I shall be writing in detail about each of these initiatives, which produced students who were proud of their own culture and country and who contributed to the freedom of India.


The writer is an educationist.


Review of my book, Education Policies in Pakistan: Politics, Projections, and Practices

Iqra was the first word that was revealed to the prophet of Islam. However, an add-on it received during the Zia years transformed it into an eerie term: Iqra Surcharge. It meant a five per cent tax levied on all imports, the proceeds from which were to be spent on Literacy and Mass Education Commission’s various initiatives. Innovative it may sound, yet it was one of the many botched efforts to spread literacy in the country during the Ziaregime.

Another project that drew its inspiration from Islamic tradition was Sipah-e-Idrees project. This project was to comprise ex-soldiers and members of Janbaz Force to promote literacy through 16000 centres to be controlled by General Headquarters and District Soldier Boards. The money that came from Iqra Surcharge vanished, while the ambitious objectives of Sipah-e-Idrees project were also not accomplished.

It is while going through Shahid Siddiqui’s latest book Education Policies in Pakistan: Politics, Projections and Practices that a reader comes across telltale signs of Pakistan’s unenviable status in the field of education. A reader of his 320-page book is guaranteed more than a dozen, cyclical walkthroughs of the nine educational policies and guidelines that have so far been presented in Pakistan.

This is the first, book-length study on the subject and is already being hailed as a one-stop read for academics who wish to know about educational thinking in the upper echelons of power. The book has fourteen chapters in total and has a recurrent structure.

Chapters 1 to 13 take us from the first report of the Pakistan Educational Conference 1947 to the last Education Policy of 2009, each time by focusing on one aspect of the policies. One advantage of it is that by the time the reader reaches the end of the book, he/she will have the number of education policies at her fingertips.

In the final chapter, Dr Siddiqui writes: “A trend that emerged in the recent past is the patchwork of reforms funded by donor agencies in the areas of UPE, literacy, and female education. Such patchwork strategy may prove good for neatly written end-of-the-project reports bragging their success but they are of little use for sustainable outcomes.”

The book has six appendices. These add-ons include: Jinnah’s speech delivered just a month after seven students were killed protesting against Bangla’s exclusion as a national language; Pakistan’s first interior minister Fazlur Rehman’s speech who also held the education portfolio; excerpt from the first opposition leader, Sris Chattopadhyay’s speech, hitherto a blocked narrative. The last chapter of the book is exclusively dedicated to the issue of implementation, its challenges and recommendations.

The lenses that the author has employed in discussing educational policies are most relevant to a critical discourse on education in the Pakistani context. From looking at the ever-changing backdrops of the educational policy making to the perennial concerns of literacy and universal primary education, there is hardly any significant issue pertaining to education that Dr Siddiqui has left unaddressed. Higher education, female education, language issues, technical and vocational education, special education, religious education, madrassas, curriculum, textbooks, teacher and teacher education are also dealt with separately by dedicating chapters to each of these vital issues.

The book is a serious attempt on the part of the author to highlight the inadequacy of the policies that have so far been presented. The author also seems to be wary of the foreign agencies that push reforms.

Book review

In the final chapter, Dr Siddiqui writes: “A trend that emerged in the recent past is the patchwork of reforms funded by donor agencies in the areas of UPE, literacy, and female education. Such patchwork strategy may prove good for neatly written end-of-the-project reports bragging their success but they are of little use for sustainable outcomes.” Then there is another information that is worth looking at and can be reverse-engineered to understand the core of the problem. Consider, for instance, Dr Siddiqui’s citation of unreliable data regarding literacy rate in the country in 1992-93: It varies in different reports between 41.3, 34.0, 31.0, 35.0.

Despite commenting upon and analysing the remarkable disconnect between the policy making process and the situation on ground, Dr Siddiqui maintains his poise throughout the book. Being an academic himself and an academic administrator, the author is presently the vice-chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University, and the author of two more books on the subject. Siddiqui has himself been privy to the process of policy-making.

Thus, the suggestions that come from him in the last chapter carry a lot of weightage. The recommendations given by Dr Siddiqui are sieved through the analysis that he has made in the first thirteen chapters of the book.

An interesting table presents the number of pages in the nine policy documents discussed in the book. The incongruity of the numbers, imply a whimsical approach towards the vital issue of education in the country. The shortest education policy has 26 pages, while the longest has 370 pages. How can one explain this inconsistency? It probably implies that the policy makers had nothing tangible in front of them and the throbbing multitudes of masses was nothing but something amorphous for them and all they did was to inscribe their impulses in these policies.