I recently began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, Tariq Hayat Lashari from Pakistan has agreed to answer a few questions:

Can you tell us about where and what you teach and what led you to become an English teacher?

Well, it all started in 2001 when I used to live in Sukkur, third largest town of Sindh province of Pakistan. Before that the last time I went to college was in 1998 for doing Bachelors in Science. Then I became financially broke. Not having enough money to buy books nor to study anywhere. Then in 2001, I got job at a private school as junior school teacher as a replacement.

I vividly remember my first day as a teacher. I was standing in front of third grade students, not knowing how to and where to begin. I knew nothing about teaching nor had any professional training. I was a total failure. It was like a load of bricks fell on me and I was trying to come out of it. It took me a month to establish rapport with the students and learn do’s and dont’s of teaching. But the lack of professional teacher training and incompetence in English would be Achilles heel and would pinch my conscience. So I took admission at English language centre for learning communication skills. In those days my love for learning English was at its heights. I used to read newspapers, watch English news and drama series (Full house, Perfect Strangers, Mind your language and Treasure Island) with a pen and notebook in my hand. I used to have my own strategies for learning English.

In 2002, I decided to get admission in MA English from Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, Pakistan as a private (external) candidate (which means doing home study, not attending the regular classes). I took admission in Masters class so as to learn English but out of my surprise, I had to learn literature which It was not my cup of tea. At that time private (external) candidates for Intermediate, Bachelor and Master used to rely much on Cheating and use of unfair means to get the good grades in the exams. Similarly I passed the exam of first year by cheating.

The next year as I was heading towards the examination centre on a bus, a sudden thought came in my mind and I got down from bus and went to home. I had decided to study at university as a regular student and would pass MA by the dint of my hard work. That was turning point in my career. Tears came into my eyes when the result was declared and I stood second in the entire Department of English in university. Since then I started concentrating on my teaching skills and content knowledge. My biggest inspiration of my life is my failures that didn’t let me slow down and be complacent.

Is there a lot of interest among Pakistani’s in learning English? Why?

To me, having communicative competence in English opens the doors of success and professional growth. Pakistanis are obsessed with English. Though Pakistan’s national language is Urdu, but the official language is English. In government offices, banks, courts, educational institutes and in official correspondence, English is the medium of written communication. If any person desirous of getting job, he is supposed to have excellent communication skills or else there is strong possibility that he may not get selected. In major cities of Pakistan, English language centres enhance language skills of the youth. Even in educational institutes English is considered as major subject of study and has maximum number of periods in week. All the arts and science subject books and medium of instruction at secondary and tertiary level is in English.

Majority of Pakistani youth love using internet, watching Hollywood movies, listening English songs and adopting western life-style which shows influence of dominant culture on economically and technological weaker country like Pakistan.

Today as we see, digital native child interacts at least five hours a day with technology and has more technical knowledge than we, the digital immigrants. Same situation also prevails in Pakistan. College Students’ favourite pastime activities are to do text messaging and use internet applications on their cell phones. They even manage to bring the cell phones at schools and colleges. For this reason, they get admission in English centres to enhance their language proficiency. To be honest, in Pakistan, there is craze of learning English in youth.

There’s a lot of confusion in the United States about how many Pakistani’s feel about our country. In a paragraph or two, can you try to help people here try to understand those feelings?

According to the recent survey conducted by one of TV channel in Pakistan, Majority of Pakistanis have negative sentiments for government of United States. As approximately 60 percent of Pakistani population is illiterate, they have either affiliation with religious or political parties. These parties influence people in having this wrong attitude towards United States. They blame US government for what is happening in Pakistan in form of terrorism and lawlessness. They think that US government is turning Pakistan into next battle ground. Just as what US did in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the other side of picture. But the reality is US government has helped Pakistan in difficult times. As it was seen during earth quake of 2005 and super floods of 2010 in Pakistan, United States was the first country to send relief aid for affected people. Plus different organisations (i.e. US Aid and other donor organisations) working under the umbrella of US government has done tremendous works to rehabilitate people, to provide health facilities and to uplift the standard of education.

Youth and literate people of Pakistan living in urban areas always think well of US government. They consider US as trustworthy ally of Pakistan in the war against terrorism. They also feel that with support and cooperation of US government, Pakistan can progress and develop in the fast-paced world of economics, information, and science and technology. I have met number of US citizens in Pakistan while I was working local NGO super floods in Pakistan. The reality is this that I found them very caring, cooperative and friendly and they were keen in extending cordial relations among the people in both countries. Having seen selfless and kind attitude of US citizens (NGO workers), I can’t tell you how happy those flood affected people were. When they were leaving for United States after the completion of relief mission, tears came into our eyes. The only thing that can bring two countries together is humanity and assistance towards achieving the common goals.

How is terrorism directly affecting your life and the lives of your students?

It’s really hard to imagine what devastation ‘Terrorism’ has brought in the lives of people. People of Pakistan have the sense of insecurity that they may become the victim of any act of terrorism on any day. Almost every day there is a suicide blast in any major city of the country. People leaving homes in the morning for jobs have no assurance that they would return home safe and sound in the evening. A constant fear prevails in the hearts of people.

I have to travel to Karachi (largest city in population) for MPhil classes on weekend. Karachi is some 170 Kilometres away from my residing place. Thanks to God, my university is situated in the outskirts of the city. Believe it or not, I hardly set foot outside of my car until I reach at university where I feel safe and sound. Those students who come from Karachi city find it hard to reach at campus if there is any political strike or any act of terrorism. Terrorism has turned the life every peace-loving person in hell.

I work at a boarding school which is run by board of governors from Pakistan Naval forces. Students from all corners of Pakistan come to study here in order to be selected in armed forces as second lieutenant. School offers education from 7 to 12 standard of Pakistani educational system. Parent of the students get worried when they hear and see any terrorist bomb blast on the TV channels. They keep calling us inquiring the well being of their child. Our school hardly let students out for any educational or pleasure trip due to security reasons. Situation gets even worse when students go for vacation. They are scared until their parents come to receive them. Even when students enjoy their holidays at home, they restrict their movement. In such precarious situation, there is hardly anything that we can do. But in the classes, we divert their minds away from any topic or issue that is related with terrorism.

What do you think Pakistan will look like ten years from now?

To me, there is always light at the end of tunnel. I am optimist that Pakistan will emerge as a developed nation and will contribute globally. This current turmoil and crisis that persist in Pakistan surely has the end to it. I am as citizen of this nation waiting for the prosperous time. The time when peace and tolerance will be the order of the day and no one will sleep on hungry belly. I see it coming. I believe that with assistance and cooperation of countries like United States, Great Britain and China, Pakistan will overcome the difficulties. I have strong faith in countries youth and in collective effort literate and enlightened Pakistanis who want to stand their country on sound footings.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

Yes, you didn’t ask me about current situation of education in Pakistan. Government of Pakistan spends 2 percent of its budget on education and 70 percent on defence. This gives ample evidence what government of Pakistan prioritize. It is worst at primary and secondary level. In Pakistan, schools imparting education are divided into four classes i.e. Cambridge schools (Schools for rich and privileged ones), English medium private schools (schools for middle class), government schools (schools for poor), and Madarsas (Islamic religious schools). The best education in schools is provided in Cambridge schools where students from rich and privileged class study. They have best teachers and learning atmosphere. The rest pseudo-learning places where rote-learning is taking place. In other words, parrots are being created who only have to memorize notes and lessons so as to print them on the exam answer script.

The salary of an English medium school teacher is less than 50 dollars a month. Teacher having no professional degree and experience find it easy to be teacher at English medium school. State-run government schools are in pathetic situation. Teachers having faulty teaching methods and no professional and academic background are appointed as government teachers. In rural areas of Sindh province, some government schools are called ghost schools. Schools that exist only on official papers and records and they have no physical presence. Ghost schools are one form of educational corruption. Lastly religious schools are for those who are physically handicapped and orphans who have been turned down by the society. Madarsas have only one purpose and that is to produce religious clerics and scholars. The name of madarssas is also associated with suicide bombing since they act as nursery for producing Muslim hardliners.

Cheating (use of unfair means in exams), political influence, bribe, outdated curriculum, wrong instructional methods, worst educational infrastructure, incompetency, lack of funding and many more issues add salt to the injury that has dented the educational system of Pakistan. I am also the product of this system but I know what is happening is wrong and that needs to be changed. That is why I, as a teacher, continuously strive for betterment in my teaching practices so that I can give quality education to my students. I know it is a little effort but this effort counts in this dry and outdated part of the world. I remember a dialogue from a movie “Every first drop rain on the hot burning soil, has to vanish and lose its existence. But after wards there will be loads of rain drop that will turn the dry land into heaven.”

Thanks, Tariq!