‘Saving Face’ – A documentary and discussion on Acid Burn Victims in Pakistan

On the 22nd of November, Edinburgh University Amnesty International Society organized an event that featured the screening of the Oscar-winning documentary ‘Saving Face’. We were fortunate to have Dr Mohammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon who featured in the film, at the event with us to do a question and answer session after the screening.

The film centered on the lives of various women in Pakistan who had been helpless victims of brutal acid attacks. As survivors of such inhumane acts, these women emerged both physically and emotionally scarred. The film chronicles their struggles in moving forward from their traumatizing abuse, and 2 of them even attempt to bring their assailants to justice. They meet Dr Jawad, a prominent plastic surgeon who returns to his home country Pakistan to help these women not only rebuild their faces, but also rebuild their confidence and lives. The film importantly highlights the Senate’s unanimous passing of historical bills upholding the rights of women in such assaults. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 recommends 14 year to lifetime imprisonment sentences and levies fines up to Rs1 million for perpetrators of the crime. One of the featured women attempting to bring her assailant to justice saw her husband put in jail for two life sentences as a result of the bill’s passing.

After the screening, Dr Jawad explained the nature of his work in greater detail, and the motivation and challenges involved as part of it. An interesting point that he highlighted was that regarding society itself and the challenges in overcoming horrific social problems such as these. The passing of the bill indicated the changing status of Pakistani women, and it now stands to protect women from a common form of abuse in a country with a terrible history of gender inequality. The passage of this legislation marks a historical and huge step in society. However, the rate of change in society and the mindsets of many individuals within it continue to prove slow. It could be even more difficult to guarantee even greater protection of women’s rights that many men in this patriarchal society are likely to oppose. It is important that the role and perception of women in society is altered in order to put a proper end to these forms of assault. Without this, protection of women’s rights and their protection from other forms of assault could take an even longer time to secure.

Despite all this, one thing is for sure – it is individuals like Dr Jawad who inspire people both in society and all over the world to keep fighting to make such change a reality. Acid throwing is a form of violent assault. Both men and women alike in more than 20 countries around the world are attacked in this inhumane way, and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are among these countries. Attacks see as many as 1,500 a year being injured and disfigured, leaving some of them with long term consequences such as blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body. It is important to keep fighting to end such violent and inhumane assaults on individuals. The spread of awareness can help shed light on such forms of assaults and can pressure governments in these countries to make the necessary changes to protect individuals from them. While making the plight of scarred individuals in society known, it also pushes for the implementation of legislation in order to further protect others from such attacks.

As Dr Jawad said in the film, ‘in a way, I am saving my own face. I am part of the society, which has this disease. I am doing my bit, but there is only so much I can do. Come join the party.’ As citizens of a global world, we should all ‘join the party’ in any way that we can to help put an end to these attacks.

For more information on ‘Saving Face’, Dr Jawad, or on how you can help fight this violence, please visit www.savingfacefilm.com

Written by Lian Selby

Learn By Rote: Creativity In Indian Education

In 2007 I spent three months in Tamil Nadu teaching English. Despite being hopelessly out of my depth in a classroom 70-strong, on occasion I managed to engage the children in learning. In one class I set students the task of writing a few lines about their dream holiday. When I read through their work half the class had written about Kanyakumari – 30 miles south of the village. Other pieces were similarly unadventurous and confined to nearby coastal towns. I encouraged them to think of more outlandish places. We started with the Taj Mahal and moved on to Antarctica to see penguins, London to see the Queen. After a while the children sat down and wrote a few lines on their dream holiday, as opposed to the one they’d been on before. This was one of several instances when I was struck by the lack of imagination and creativity among schoolchildren in India. Teaching methods are often based entirely on listening and repetition, leaving children only able to reproduce what they have heard or seen before. Rote-learning provides little opportunity to think, form new ideas, or apply existing knowledge to a new situation. In the private sector, which has grown exponentially in the last decade, the emphasis is on ‘good academics’, or pass rates. With the growth in competition, schools have to sustain ‘good academics’ to increase (or maintain) enrolments. As a result, teachers are preoccupied by maximising pass rates in an education system that is driven by assessment, leaving little space for more creative pedagogy. Although ostensibly children learn facts and formulae, they rarely understand them. Rote-learning and a counterproductive emphasis on internal and external assessment is not just confined to primary education. In 2009-10, I studied at the University of Delhi, taking MA-level courses in history. Despite being in their fifth year of higher education, my classmates were rarely encouraged to form opinions: marks were generally awarded for the most effective regurgitation of lectures. The failures of such a system are only exposed at MPhil, when students suddenly have to submit a unique proposal for PhD, having never been encouraged to think critically and develop their own ideas. Currently, Indian education is constrained by a somewhat archaic learning culture. Whilst the country has long promoted high-quality government-financed universities, it continues to neglect primary and secondary schooling, thus failing to instil in students the necessary values with which to excel in higher education. A paradigm shift away from existing pedagogy is required – at all levels of education – for learning to become more rewarding and meaningful.

BUTTERFLY FIELDS: why crawl when you can fly…

Butterfly Fields set out in 2005 to affect real change in education, by developing activity-based learning solutions that encourage creativity and promote real understanding of key concepts. Focusing on Science and Maths, the organisation markets learning tools, games, and models that are designed to help the child truly understand what they are learning. I have been working with Butterfly Fields for three months, giving me time to observe the achievements of the organisation’s unique approach. They are certainly impressive: data from the Assessment of Scholastic Skills through Educational Testing [ASSET] showed a three-year improvement from 20% below the national average to 20% above in schools that utilise Butterfly Fields programmes in Science; similarly in Maths, test scores rose by 25%. Furthermore, the ‘trophy cabinet’ of innovation awards – that includes a glowing endorsement by former President of India Abdul Kalam – and the sheer number of schools that have taken up the organisation’s methods in such a short time demonstrate the significant impact Butterfly Fields has had on education in Hyderabad. Yet beneath the veneer of the corporate presentation – compiled before the company signed contracts with over 3000 government schools and Affordable Private Schools (APS) – the results are not quite so persuasive. Although there is currently no data on the less affluent sectors of Indian education, it has become clear that teachers are finding it difficult to embrace this shift in pedagogy. Butterfly Fields aims to improve student understanding by promoting a learning model that is based on self-discovery. Teachers are encouraged to set individual and group tasks so that children understand the process of arriving at the right answer, rather than simply knowing what the right answer is. For teachers, this requires a big leap from standing in front of 30 silent children dictating equations, to engaging and inspiring students through a more creative methodology. In many of the schools I have seen, this leap has proved too daunting; in all but the very best schools, Butterfly Fields kits are misused and underused. The problem, as it exists, is very simple: teachers with good degrees from esteemed institutions (who leverage high salaries) are more able to adapt to new teaching methods. But with such a dearth of quality teachers – around a quarter of teaching positions in India are currently vacant – the best are largely confined to the upper end of private education. APS and government salaries are not sufficient to retain their services. Teacher quality has thrown up significant challenges to Butterfly Fields as it attempts to expand into the APS and government sectors. The picture often seems bleak when schools front such resistance to change. However, seeing the animation in the classroom, some teachers are beginning to realise the potential for new methods to inspire children. In this way, Butterfly Fields is equipping teachers (many of whom have insufficient training) with the resources and instruction to be better educators. It is a slow, at times frustrating process, with obstacles at every turn; but it is one that the organisation is committed to. After decades of inertia, it is exciting to observe innovation beginning to impact the field of education in India.

Written by Ben Thurman

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