KARACHI CHRONICLE: Child of Sindh and mother of Pakistan
On September 1, Sindh Madresstul Islam (SMI) celebrated its 129th Foundation Day. Situated in the commercial heart of Karachi, it began as a school in 1885, became a college in 1943 and was elevated to university, in 2012.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2014
No other institution embodies the fluctuating fortunes of national education as does SMI. It was the beacon for Muslim uplift through education; it was the victim of political indifference to mass education. Its outreach to students from the towns and villages of Sindh was cut off when its hostel was closed; it lost land commandeered for a line of shops; it lost its international prestige and deteriorated to a non-descript school following the advent of martial law regimes.
Such is the story of nearly all education institutions, big or small, weither established before or after the creation of Pakistan. I cannot help imagining what might have happened to SMI's beautiful building and eight acres of land if the downslide had continued unabated into the 21st century. It might have become a bank, or a two-star hotel with colonial ambience, or the classrooms turned into godowns, its grounds into a truck park. Heaven knows, such nightmare fears are there, if you look at what has happened to old buildings in Saddar. Magnificent, with vast open area in the centre, they are today either commercialised or falling down in ruin, used as godown and car parking space. To think such could have been the fate of the Quaid's old school, gives me the creeps.
It was not just SMI, but other buildings associated with the Quaid that were neglected in the 60s decade. His birth place, his property called Flagstaff House, now Quaid-i-Azam museum, and his car left to rust in the open air. When a Sindhi became prime minister hope revived for the rebirth of SMI's past glory. Z.A. Bhutto transferred control of SMI to the federal government in 1974 because it was a national heritage and historically linked to the Quaid; it was his school from 1887 to 1892. Besides the Quaid many leading personalities of Sindh were educated at Sindh Madressatul Islam: Sir Shanawaz Bhutto, Sir Abdullah Haroon, Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, Muhammad Ayub Khuhro, Abdul Majid Sindhi, Allama I.I. Kazi A K and his brother A A Brohi, Muhammad Duadpota. Interestingly none of them chose SMI for their sons, who were sent of missionary schools.
It was Benazir Bhutto who took an active interest in SMI and ordered the revival and development of the institution. Later her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who is also great grandson of the founder, Hassanally Effendi, elevated SMI to University status. Consequently Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Madressatul Islam Bill in 2011 and in 2012 the charter was handed over to the first Vice Chancellor Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh by Governor Sindh, Dr Ishrat ul Ebad Khan.
What the involvement of Bhuttos and Zardari indicate is that the standard of education in Pakistan can improve only when political leaders take an active interest. Without political interests neither the budget allocation for education will increase nor a rational, realistic and modern education policy be framed.
The next point is education in the public sector versus private sector. Schools, colleges and universities in the public sector are affordable but the quality of education is poor compared to institutions in the private sector where fees are very high and so is the standard of education. The exception seems to be SMI, a public sector university where top quality education comparable to the best private universities is offered at affordable fee. And who says university offering inexpensive education cannot prosper? The SMI is in the process of establishing a highly modern new campus over 100 acres in Education City, Malir.
Insofar admissions to this institution are concerned, there is as dissemination on the basis of religion or socio-economic background, and at given time there are at least 10 percent non-Muslims among the alumni. The university is open to boys and girls. Fanaticism has not invaded this campus as yet.