The role of education in influencing mindsets is hard to deny. Given this fact, it is disturbing to see a growing body of research showing how public sector school textbooks continue instigating myopia in the minds of our coming generations. A new report released by the Jinnah Institute (JI) in Islamabad reached a very bleak conclusion in this regard, describing the existing educational curriculum of our public education system as one “of hatred”, one “which wholly or partially, is biased, selective and inculcates in the child a parochial and subjective outlook.”
The JI analysed the content of textbooks of social and Pakistan studies, Urdu and Islamiat and pointed out that even after revisions, according to the Textbook Policy of 2006, they still contain elements which are detrimental to promoting tolerance and continue distorting children’s understanding of the world at large. For instance, the JI report points out that the Urdu textbook for Class VIII, instead of teaching students about the language and its poets and authors, places undue emphasis on the importance of Islamic ideology and nationalism combined with anti-Indian sentiments. Moreover, the Urdu textbooks for Class IX and X fail to mention literary giants such as Ismat Chughtai, Qurratulain Haider or any other female writers for that matter. Such gross neglect will further reinforce gender biases and fuel increased gender discrimination within our society.
The JI report is also correct in pointing out that information which students receive is largely influenced by how teachers interpret it and transmit to the students.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has also highlighted how the curriculum printed by the Punjab Textbook Board disregards constitutional provisions for the protection of minorities, given the presence of what it describes to be “inflammatory” and “discriminatory” content. It pointed out that the social studies books for Class V published in May 2009, claims (on page two) that Hindus divide human beings into different castes and give women no dignity. We should be more concerned with disparities and injustices against women within our own country rather than worrying about how the Hindus treat their women.
Other provincial textbook boards also need to undertake serious revisions. Unfortunately, hopes for a revision in religious and history textbooks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have recently suffered a serious setback after the provincial government retracted its plan to introduce educational reforms following scathing criticism from religious parties.
The JI and other entities concerned and educationists have repeatedly been demanding that the government set up and ensure implementation of guidelines for mosque leaders, as well as the media, concerning issues relating to religion so as to prevent propagation of violence and intolerance.
A more serious effort to reform the madrassa curriculum (the Dars-e-Nizami) is also vital given that it was set in the 18th century under a very different sociopolitical reality. Attempts to financially or administratively regulate madrassas can bear limited results. Even without secularisation of madrassa education, surely the Islamic world has produced ample knowledge to help promote peace and tolerance instead of hatred and sectarianism.
Unless these multi-pronged measures are pursued with all earnestness, it will become increasingly difficult to remove myopia and extremism from Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2012.
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