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Pakistan: Bias in the textbooks and education - report on a meeting in Karachi

19 March 2013

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The Express Tribune, March 19, 2013

Textbook biases show when Muslim students ask non-Muslim high achievers to convert

by Mashal Usman

National Commission for Justice and Peace holds a talk on biases in textbooks.

KARACHI: Intellectuals from a number of fields came together to point out the horrifying prejudices found in text books in Pakistan at a talk on ‘Biases in Textbooks and Education Policy’ organised by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) on Monday.

“I have heard of cases where Muslim students ask non-Muslim high achievers: Why don’t you convert to our religion,” recalled Karamat Ali, the executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research. “And it is not just Muslims and Hindus, but also Shias who are given this treatment. This is because of the horrifying myths about people of other faiths that we fill our children with.”

Ali criticised political parties for having a narrow vision. “Every party says that they’ll bring ‘roti, kapra and makaan’. What about the freedom to practice your religion?”

Dr Bernadette Dean, the principal of St Joseph’s College for Women, spoke about the religious and gender biases found in text books in Pakistan. “In the curriculum, Islamiat was included in the ‘general knowledge’ taught to children and was made compulsory for students in classes one, two and three,” she pointed out.

“This goes against Article 22 of the Constitution, which states that no person will be forced to attain religious education.”

Dean found religious biases in textbooks written for English, Urdu, Pakistan studies and social studies. “Teachers have to teach these textbooks because students are tested on them in the examinations. They don’t have the choice of breaking out of the system,” she said, adding that the cherry on top is the system of rote learning.

“Imagine thousands of students all over Pakistan rote learning biases against people of other religions by heart and then regurgitating them.”

Quoting acclaimed works, such as K. K. Aziz’s ‘Murder of History of Pakistan’ and Nayyar and Salim’s ‘A Subtle Subversion’, she went on to explain how Pakistan’s history is subverted by “omissions and additions”. “Our students aren’t taught that the first chief justice of Pakistan was a Christian,” she said. “Neither are they told that there were more Hindus than Muslims in Karachi at the time of partition.”

The partition is a tricky topic. “When I asked my students to write about the problems faced by Pakistan during partition, they said: Hindus are bad because they didn’t want to give us the Rs200 million promised to us at partition,” she said.

She then spoke about how textbooks fail to represent gender in a fair manner. “Our text books are full of great men,” she explained.

“You hardly ever come across any great women and when they do turn up, you find them in stereotypical roles, as mothers and housewives.” Dean stressed that textbooks need to be rewritten to reflect the changing times.

The executive director of NCJP, Peter Jacob, also wondered that if the study of religion is so important as to be included at every stage in the curriculum, then why does it only focus on Islam. “Why not include other religions as well.”

Sharing her views with The Express Tribune, Dr Nuzhat, the former principal of Government College, Karachi, felt the discussion was particularly saddening if the history of education in Pakistan, and Sindh in particular, was kept in mind.

“Why do we forget that all great schools in Karachi, including Karachi Grammar School and Mama Parsi, were built by non-Muslims? Muslim parents have been dying to get their children admitted into these schools ever since they were built around 100 years ago.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2013.


The above is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use