Maxwell Shanti – The “Pakistani”

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Mr. Maxwell Shanti is a Sri Lankan expat who came to Pakistan on 7th January 1971, as a 19 year ambitious boy. Currently serving as the Principal of St. Anthony’s High School Faisal Town, Lahore, Maxwell Shanti has spent his life dedicated to education and empowering thousands of students and teachers. He was still a student in Sri Lanka when the call for volunteering in Pakistan was made, whence; unknowingly he made the biggest decision of his life.

“I still don’t know why I raised my hand and said I want to volunteer in Pakistan. I didn’t even know where Pakistan was!”

Within six months he landed in the country.

“Pakistan was a very different country at the time. As a Sri Lankan I could just walk in without a visa and likewise leave whenever I wanted. I easily passed for just another local, it was only at the time of speaking Urdu that people realized I was a foreigner.”

La Salle High School Faisalabad was the institute from where Mr. Maxwell’s teaching career in the country started. For the first five years he was responsible for sports and for the matriculation grade. Suddenly the, then acting Principal of the school had to go back to his home country (France), due to his ill health and Mr. Maxwell was asked to take over as an interim principal. At that time he was the youngest staff member. A position that he accepted reluctantly stretched into fourteen years of service.

“I don’t know where time flew. I made a lot of mistakes, learnt from them as well. I would admit, made too many mistakes way ahead of time. In those says Faisalabad was called the biggest village of Pakistan! Despite all that I enjoyed working with my colleagues and the students there.”

During the same time period, Mr. Maxwell was involved in the social activities of the Church as well, like monitoring the youth programme where he used to take the youth to villages to teach in schools.

“One of the schools that we started under a single tree has now been turned into a proper high schools and this is one of many of our success stories. From one of these schools, a student is now pursuing his PhD in Australia. He is one of many individuals who have changed the lives of the many living in the local community. The education they got helped them come out of this slavish attitude that if their parents are sweepers they will have to follow the same fate. It is not that all those who were enrolled in those schools have been able to make shinning careers. Even if they are still in the same profession they have a much broader mindset and are determined to educate their children.”

“Another progressive sign is that of increased choice. Parents are looking for quality education and they have few options to choose from.”

“One of the things that I have been discouraging recently is the insistence on English Language education. Not that I am against it but my opinion is that if that facility is not available, quality Urdu education is equally good enough. Many of the high achievers in this country are products of Urdu medium schools.”

The St. Anthony School, Faisal Town was built in 1988, with only eight classrooms with a jungle around. “I was asked by the bishop, if I could come and start this school and seeing it as an opportunity for change I accepted and started working here in 1990.” This year marks 25 years of the school.

“Unfortunately, many of the students are not in the country anymore, which is sad because we would want them to stay in Pakistan and use their skills here.”

“In the education sector you don’t get to see the results in the short term, unlike in a business. Here you are dealing with humans and human souls and if a teacher wants to see results he or she has to wait for a period of ten to twenty years.”

“In general we develop a strait jacket and fit all students in it.” Every student has his or her own unique talents and it is important to nourish that. There is a lot of pressure on the students to excel in a specific skill sets and measuring them only according to that set is not right. The real purpose of education should be transform into better human beings, better citizens and only then can the society move forward. Focusing solely on academic success does not full fill the purpose of education.

Another issue is the plastic values that are being incorporated in the education sector. The real values need to be focused upon. The real purpose of an educational institution is where a student has room to explore and grow and polish his or her abilities without any fear. This is the key idea upon which the institutes under the auspice of Mr Maxwell run.

In terms of education and as per his experience of 45 years, Mr. Maxwell is of the opinion that Pakistan has undergone tremendous amount of change at very fast pace. “There is still a lot to do especially in the rural sector but despite all that there is immense improvement. The key flaw is in the management of our education system. As long as you have money you can have access to the best of education.”

Talking about the brain drain, he said that the State has to take responsibility to bring up healthy, progressive individuals. It is not fair to expect that an individual from a low income background or a rural background will succeed in a professional setting, without any improvement in life style. Not everyone can be Edhi or Mother Teresa. People are willing to stay in their home towns because that is what they are most comfortable in but the State needs to provide the basic facilities and then expect from the people to contribute.

When asked do you see Pakistan capable of emerging from her current state, Mr Maxwell answered:

“Absolutely! Despite its many problems, Pakistan is a great country to live in. It is in need honest leadership. Changes that are needed in the country are only going to come from top to bottom and not the other way around. When a law abiding citizen is going to see law breakers progress while he is stranded in the same place, it is going to create a sense of despair pushing people in the wrong direction.”

There is a general sense of mistrust among the people because of corruption and insecurity. “I remember once travelling from Faisalabad to Multan and our car broke down in the middle of nowhere. A passing truck stopped and the driver took us in for the night, got our car fixed in the morning and refused to take any money for it. Now a days if a truck stops and makes an offer I won’t be going with him anywhere!”

“The people of Pakistan are very hospitable, it is part of their nature and even to date whenever anyone comes to know that I am a Sri Lankan I am treated with great respect. It is the macro level conditions that have contributed to the stereotypes. There is immense potential here and with the right kind of leadership this county will excel beyond expectations.”   

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