Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw

Is this education?

by I A Rehman, 13 November 2010

print version of this article print version

Dawn, 11 November 2010

The contribution public school textbooks make to the production of narrow-minded elements, even if all of them do not become suicide bombers, has not received due attention. It is time this attitude was abandoned.

Many civil society initiatives have exposed the atrocious contents of textbooks. But the revised integrated curriculum has only confirmed its authors’ inability to address the demands of a plural, democratic society.

Commenting on the new textbooks for classes I to III in Punjab, a curriculum expert observed that their content was insufficient to enable a child to gain basic knowledge in any subject and that these textbooks were overloaded with religious and moralistic preaching and paid scanty attention to themes related to nation-building.

Even a cursory perusal of textbooks for classes I to V in Punjab shows that these are full of poorly written religious essays and are apparently designed to keep children ignorant of their society and environment.

For instance, Meri Kitab for class I declares that Punjab, Frontier, Sindh, Balochistan and Kashmir are parts of Pakistan. Is it fair to tell children that Pakistan includes Kashmir? The provinces are mentioned in textbooks for primary classes but the Punjabi, Sindhi, Pakhtun and Baloch people are nowhere recognised. In the textbook for class IV students are told of two poets who wrote in Punjabi — Mian Mohammad Bakhsh and Mian Waris Shah — and both are essentially religious figures. It is only in the Urdu book for class V that Sachal Sarmast is introduced as the founder of the Kafi tradition in the Sindhi language “while Punjabi is rich in Kafis, thanks to Hazrat Bulleh Shah”. Sachal also is basically a religious figure. The Punjab Textbook Board is not aware of any Pakhtun or Baloch poet or any other figure or does not consider it appropriate to mention them in Punjab schools.

The Urdu book for class V allows students to look beyond Punjab — at Quetta and Ziarat. While the lesson on Ziarat does not disclose that this town is in Balochistan, in the description of Quetta a reference to Balochistan is unavoidable: “In respect of area, Balochistan is the largest province of our dear homeland Pakistan…. Many tribes live in this province. Its inhabitants speak, along with national language Urdu, Balochi, Brahvi and Pushto.”

There is no discussion on Pakistan’s non-Muslim citizens in the book for primary classes. Meri Kitab for class II only says that Pakistan’s population includes non-Muslims. Then in the Urdu book for Class V, while describing ‘Our Punjab’, non-Muslims are mentioned: “the majority of people living in Punjab are Muslim. The people order their lives according to Islamic teachings. [Delusion is sweeter than ignorance.] Here, besides Muslims, the inhabitants also include non-Muslims.”

In all stories in these textbooks the children are Muslim boys and girls. None of them meets a non-Muslim child. The textbooks for classes I to V contain 41 poems but Allama Iqbal’s beautiful poem, Child’s prayer, which is supposed to be recited at each school before the start of classes, comes last in the class V Urdu book, possibly because it refers to the poor and infirm.

It is easy to see what kinds of half-truths and distorted facts are dinned into children’s ears. The attempt at converting and reconverting Muslim children to Islam, and putting each hero in religious clothes can induce boredom or worse reactions. Introduction to religious belief is one thing. An obsession with religiosity is far less creditable. Apart from undermining the purpose of education such exercises confuse impressionable minds and cause a huge waste of time, to use an expression favoured by great religious authorities such as Aurangzeb and Sir Syed.

However, if the textbooks for the primary classes attract criticism for distorting reality or their preference for selective factualness, civic textbooks contain much mischief. At a recent seminar in Karachi, the material contained in the textbooks in Sindh was criticised for being outdated and distorted. The situation in Punjab is equally pathetic. Here, too, the books on civics prescribed for classes 9 to 12 are full of subjectively edited quotations from the Quaid. He is said to have described Pakistan as a ‘laboratory’ for testing religious principles. All these books are loaded with controversial interpretation of many themes, such as the Pakistan ideology, the Islamic state and the continued relevance of the two-nation theory.

For instance:

— Democracy and dictatorship have seven merits and eight demerits each. A merit of dictatorship is that under it “the whole nation is inspired by the will to progress and each citizen considers honest labour as his duty and therefore the pace of creativity and progress is fast”. Another merit of dictatorship is that “because of the absence of opposition political parties the people are rid of partisan politics and factionalism; the people’s solidarity and national unity are assured and this makes the country prosperous”. (Civics, Classes 9-10)

— “One merit of Urdu language is that it upholds Islamic civilisation and culture: therefore, its promotion is one of our important obligations from the religious and national point of view, too.” (Ibid)

— “Provincialism is a curse that undermines national unity. Some opportunist elements fan provincial and regional affiliations; we should eradicate such trends.” (Ibid)

— The Khilafat movement is discussed over four pages in the textbook for class 12 but there is no reference to what the Quaid thought of it.

— A demerit of the federal system: “Dictatorial attitude of the judiciary”… “the central government and the governments of the units often quarrel with one another and this, on the one hand, weakens the federation and, on the other, the judiciary, as the superior guardian of the constitution, gets an opportunity to intervene”. (Book for class 12)

When a student reads that it is necessary to practically enforce the divinely ordained system in Pakistan so that the Islamic revolution prevails across the globe (book for classes 9-10), he might wonder as to what is wrong with the Taliban. More objectionable are omissions such as the absence of any reference to the havoc caused in Pakistan by authoritarian regimes and war-mongers.

Quite a few educationists claim that a review of civics textbooks was undertaken in 2008 but that the government has been sitting on recommendations that would have replaced the present material with new and democratic concepts of citizenship. Similarly, there are allegations that the curriculum review decisions of 2004 and 2007 have not been fully or properly implemented. If true, these claims reveal a scandal of the first order. Delay in revising school textbooks to promote the values of pluralist and participatory democracy, inter-faith harmony and human rights will render the government liable to indictment for laying, unwittingly if not deliberately, the foundations of religious extremism.