Dr. Ahmer Mehboob, one of the renowned linguists and Ms. Mona from the University of Sydney, Australia were invited by the Department of English Language and Literature at Forman Christian College (A Chartered University) on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The invitation was extended to the Humanities faculty and many departments joined in to attend the talk.

Dr. Mehboob mentioned that unfortunately in many societies the goal of Education is “Literacy” –  which for ages has been defined as an individual’s ability to read and write –  with a special emphasis on the Education system in Pakistan. He added that reading and writing are only sub aspects of vision and posed a thought provoking question, “If we don’t discriminate a person who doesn’t have a vision (sight) then why do we discriminate against people who cannot read and write?” He emphasized that there is something fundamentally wrong with the concept of ‘Literacy’ and literacy as an indicator of development is a problem. He even mentioned UNESCO as part of the problem and not solution as it promotes Universal Literacy. He added that Higher Education Commission and the Government with the afore-mentioned notion and ideas essentially neuter us through a high focus on literacy and generation after generation we have been entangled in this and now it is high time we untangle our brains and not only break these shackles, but also free our power of vision. Literacy controls our belief system – How can a society without being literate build strong structures?  – that is the reason people who are well-read, lose perspective of reality, Dr. Mehboob added.

Dr. Mehboob emphasized the distinction between ‘Language’ and ‘Boli’, whereas the latter is both grammaticalized and lexicalized and mainly defined as science, inheritance and/or something local. He further added that ‘Boli’ is the only consistent thing that we got across generations from our ancestors and when we left ‘Boli’, we left our ancestral grounds. He mentioned British and Spaniards as the two dominant colonizer groups and advocated this by giving few historical examples. He further added that these groups have used people, language and products for centuries to satisfy their interests and strengthen their economies consequently wiping out the architecture, culture, heritage, language and written histories of different countries and nation and Pakistan is no exception to it. We don’t have any “Akbar-naama” and “Babar-naama” as full texts, all we have are extracts and epitomized versions of the Mughal literature art and all our rich cultural heritage has been destroyed by the colonizer groups, he emphasized. Dr. Mehboob also gave examples of the concepts of “family” and “paisa” that we have borrowed from the colonizer groups; he called the former as an instrument of divide whereas the latter is a schemata of killing and destroying brotherhood.

Our educational goal should be practice – creating change through practice and not literacy – and to look at the Subaltern perspectives within Pedagogy; it’s high time to decolonize pedagogy, Dr. Mehboob emphasized. Our belief that western civilization is the best civilization has made us live in a world of huge misconception for centuries and now we need to free ourselves from such myths and emerge out as independent, self-funded and sustained academia; an academia that builds and strengthens community.

Dr. Mehboob mentioned that we need to shift our focus from individual development to community development and get rid of disciplinary boundaries – everything is compartmentalized and we need unification – all work should be interdisciplinary in nature. He added that discipline ties us to certain way to do things and makes us self-centered; feeling proud of one’s achievement from getting a paper published to earning a scholarship while the city is burning around us, this is what for centuries our education system has done to us – creating divide – and the only way around is to reunify. Dr. Mehboob supported his argument by mentioning that indigenous communities didn’t know depression because their social systems kept them healthy whereas the youth and even our children of today are all suffering from one form of depression; therefore, we need to train our children to think socio-semiotically to help them reach their full potential of healthy community living.

Dr. Mehboob gave few practical examples from his own classes of community building projects both at the micro and macro level(s), these include community projects that discourage smoking and recycling shopping bags.

Ms. Mona shared the project of Linguistic Landscape known as the “Trash Project”. This project informs that everything in space that at times is taken for granted and ignored by our naked eyes creates meaning. “What does the trash tell us about the community health?” lies at the very heart of this project. Ms. Mona and Dr. Mehboob shared that in this project they basically look at the trash to identify health and other issues; for instance, the trash informs them about the consumption of soda and candies and other food items by the people. After collecting and collating data, based on the percentages, they write to the respective corporate institutions to take measureable steps about the health of the people.

Dr. Mehboob concluded by saying that literacy is now a tool and not a goal and it is important for all of us to revisit language and pedagogy and redefine it. Dr. Mehboob and Ms. Mona extended an open invitation to the audience to become part of their ‘Subaltern Trip’ and the ’Trash project’. In the end, Dr. Kamal, Chairperson of English Department was invited to give away the souvenirs to the guests. The talk was very well received by the audience and the questions and answers session took place over tea.

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