PU English Department Chairperson says English a tool to a better life and better opportunities
Interview by: Mahpara Baig, Bareera Abbas,
Meamoona Qadeer and Mushk Umar
Dr. Amra Raza is the Chairperson of Department of English Language and Literature, Punjab University, Lahore. She did her double Masters in English Literature and in Linguistics from the University of Karachi and is the first PhD in English Literature from the Punjab University. She has vast experience of teaching from the Undergraduate to the PhD level.
“We must realize our potential, define our roles and then challenge ourselves in order to make progress”, she said while advocating self-recognition in young souls. Following are the details of The Educationist discussion with her:
The Educationist: Was it your aim to study English Literature and do a PhD in this subject since the beginning?
Dr. Amra Raza: No, it was not. I actually thought that I might pursue a degree in Fine Arts. That was before I fell in love with poetry and discovered the magic and power of words. Literature found me, I didn’t look for it. As for the Phd, it was a labor of love.
The Educationist: What were your sources of inspiration?
Dr. Amra Raza: My father who inculcated the love for reading, amazing teachers and life itself.
The Educationist: Students prefer to study abroad so that they can get good jobs but you never went abroad for your further education and job?
Dr Amra Raza: When I was a child my father was posted in Germany for eight years so my primary education has been abroad. Thus the charm of studying abroad was compensated to a certain degree. Then, since I got married early, I put my family before my career. It was a sacrifice willingly made and I never regret it.
The Educationist: What were the hurdles of your life and how did you manage to survive those hurdles being a woman?
Dr. Amra Raza: The major hurdles in my life were related to juggling a career and a family, to be accepted as a voice of reason rather than just a woman and thus break the gender barrier, to help our students discover their potential and groom them for the market as well as make the environment of my department physically and academically conducive to research and self-discovery. I survived because I have faith in Allah. I stopped worrying what other people thought; I planned changes after thoroughly investigating feasibilities and taking people on board who were positive and goal oriented. And I take pleasure in small things which keep me from becoming bitter or cynical.
The Educationist: Being an educationist, how you define education?
Dr. Amra Raza: Education is not a degree it is a mindset. It is the readiness to learn and discover the hidden secrets of existence which may be scientific or aesthetic. It is a process of empowerment through a knowledge of the Universe and the Self. It should continue till our last breath.
The Educationist: Many students fail every year in the English BA examination. Is it the fault of the system?
Dr. Amra Raza: No, absolutely not. They deserve their ill fate because they have crammed pre learnt answers from papers, do not address the questions posed, and do not read the primary texts, relying on summaries instead; so the result reflects this. In our country while teaching the English Language, we mostly only teach the rules of a language, and not the rules of language use.
The Educationist: English is taken as a superiority complex in our society and those who don’t know English are considered inferiors. There is a gap. How can this gap be filled?
Dr. Amra Raza: People who can speak English, if they have a superiority complex, then there is something wrong with the people, not with the language. English is a necessity or a tool to a better life and better opportunities. So the people who misrepresent the language, create this impression. There is nothing wrong with the language. Moreover, the colonial era is over now, but if we still continue to have that colonial psyche then it is our fault. We should do all those things that will empower us in this very competitive world.
The Educationist: Do you think quality education is affordable in Pakistan?
Dr. Amra Raza: Yes, quality education is affordable in Pakistan. In order to provide that quality, it should not be limited to the institutions. Education and especially the value system should be inculcated at home. Parents must take the responsibility to participate in the education of their children at home. We consider this word “education” as applicable only to when a child goes to school and ends when he/she comes home from school. That’s not education. Every person should contribute to this atmosphere of education which does not stop when a child comes home.
The Educationist: What difference do you see between private and government universities?
Dr. Amra Raza: In private universities because of their funding, they have more audio visual equipment, and a better physical study environment. They can pay their teachers better and thus they have more qualified teachers. These teachers are afraid of being fired when they don’t deliver, and thus perhaps they work harder. Students also work hard because their parents are more involved as they pay higher fees so they feel obliged to take greater interest and their child becomes regular in private school or universities. Now in places where the fee is low, education is sometimes taken for granted.
The Educationist: What about the education in Punjab University?
Dr. Amra Raza: Punjab University is the oldest and highest seat of learning in the Subcontinent and I am very proud to be a part of it. There are so many poets, so many scientists and so many eminent personalities who have been groomed/polished by this Institution. It’s the wonderful hub of learning.
The Educationist: Being a Chairperson, are you in some external or internal pressures?
Dr. Amra Raza: There are always external and internal pressures but one has to make choices, which are ethical and the choices which are good for the institution. When you are in the Chair, then you have no favorites. If your vision remains clear and you set your priorities then there is no problem.
The Educationist: How do you develop practical learning in students?
Dr. Amra Raza: Besides interactive class engagement, my faculty focuses a lot on the teaching and acquisition of knowledge outside the class room. For example we host seedling plantation campaigns every year, as well as photography competitions, poetry recitals, and interactive sessions with contemporary writers, as well as seminars on interdisciplinary subjects. Dramatic enactments and presentations build confidence and communication skills. And class discussions facilitate the development of critical thinking and problem solving.
The Educationist: What was the happiest moment of your life?
Dr. Amra Raza: (with a laugh) When my grandson was born and I looked straight into his bright little eyes. I have no words to explain that feeling.
The Educationist: What is your message for the students?
Dr. Amra Raza: Don’t waste time since the present has already become the past and the future is on the threshold. Stop cramming as it’s an insult to Allah’s creation of the human being, and be respectful to anyone who contributes to your knowledge of Life and Living (no matter what their social status).