11 March, 2017

A Morning in Mingora

Malala woke up in her bed to another cold morning. She was tempted to hit the snooze button, but thought better of it. After all, one of the sisters had to appreciate the gift of life, as her parents did when they named her after the Englishwoman, Malala who had dedicated her life for education in her native country. Since then a lot had changed. Malala, inspired from her namesake childhood heroine, took up a career in education. During her Bachelors she realized for the first time how the internet had revolutionized education in the past half-century. For the first time, she gave a thought to the possibility of the world without computers. She’d come to believe that mankind went straight from the stone-age to her era. She’d heard stories, but she could never appreciate them till she delved into what she did best – study it. Malala took up a Master’s in history with a particular emphasis on evolution of education and the internet. She was somewhat amused to find that terrorists such as Taliban and ISIS of the early-21st century, who had almost impaired the progress of the world and had looked on the brink of world-domination, were immobilized by a bunch of anonymous kids with an internet connection. As serious it might be, she never failed to smile while thinking about it.

Malala cycled off to the university. She could live here all her life. In fact, she did. Since the age of 16, her daily life comprised of visiting different universities in Pakistan earning accolades wherever she went. She spent 2 years at the University of Peshawar, when she first had to choose (or choose not to choose) where she wanted to go in her life. Till then all students like her went to school to log into Aristotle, a digital software which gave students all-over the world basic education in social sciences, languages, mathematics, and basic sciences while identifying general areas of interest for the students. At times students chose not to go with Aristotle’s recommendations, choosing the path less taken. For Malala, it had been a marriage made in heaven. Yet Malala wanted to tread the water before jumping in. She completed high-school studying mathematics and social-studies but realized early on that calculus was not her cup of tea. 2 years later, she gladly deleted all mathematical formulae from her phablet and continued on with understanding how the mind learns. She was impressed to see there existed geniuses who understood exactly how the human mind responded to learning. She wondered if she could ever be one of them. But till then, she enjoyed what she was doing. Her parents often said that one doesn’t get to do what they enjoy doing for a lifetime. She did not understand that. In her world, everyone ended up doing what they wished for. And of course there were those who never figured it out. For them, the economy defined their interests. But most of Malala’s friends had become what they had set out for.

Malala reached the university. Times had changed since her schooldays. Now she did not need to sit in front of her assigned computer. She could now bring in her own phablet and work on any of the couches she liked. She loved the pink round one which looked like a beehive. It gave her a sense of seclusion from the world. She’d have loved to stay at home, near her mother while she tried to figure out the flaws in the current computer system of education. But there were resources which she could only access from within the campus bounds. She thought about how education had changed in the last century and wondered how long such bounds would remain. There was a time when a human teacher would gather students and teach them unprotected under the elements of nature. Education had seen a lot of experimentation and change since then but with time the bad practices had simply – died. The world simply killed any system which did not add value to the students. Universities like Harvard and Lahore, which chose to change with the needs of the times could survive. Most were left in dust in the wake of online videos available on the internet free of cost. Yet when it came to higher education and specializations, parents still thought of sending their kids to universities. Her dad used to say, ‘it’s not the knowledge I’m paying for. It’s the piece of paper you’ll get.’ Malala didn’t agree to the thought completely, but maybe her dad was right. Or maybe it was one of those thoughts which would die with the changing times.

Schools now did not employ an array of teachers. Only a few specialists who could answer questions for students who needed a human touch. Malala knew their days were numbered. Soon Aristotle would become good enough to render schools teacher-less and teachers would be confined to sharing knowledge not to students directly but through a technological medium. Not that anyone minded though. Schools anyway had become a hub of sports and social interaction where the focus lay on teaching children civic morality and social interaction, something few believed Aristotle would ever be able to do. Fewer believed that schools were even necessary. There were better ways to teach students about living in the world while staying at home. But Malala knew schools would never go out. It was not just the learning environment which they provided.

Malala’s school took 7 hours of her time during the day. Time, which her mother used to live her own life. A few years ago her mother had told her that women’s life earlier came to a standstill when their children were born. Specially those whose children didn’t go to school. As much as she loved Malala, she was afraid that after Malala was born, she could never pursue her dreams again. Today she was writing her 3rd novel. None of the other 2 got published on any website, but she was happy that her mother was trying. Malala had read those. She knew her mother’s work would end up on one of the blogs every writer used and no reader read. But it gave her mother solace and that gave Malala solace.

Gathering her thoughts back Malala realized that she had to start reading now. It was high time and there was work which needed to be done. The noon sun reflected on her phablet, as she turned it on. Today was going to be a good day, she thought.