The textbooks and curriculum in Pakistan’s schools not only discourage critical thinking, but foster intolerance and hatred, said speakers at a panel discussion at the Children’s Literature Festival on Wednesday.
“When emotional and sentimental content, as opposed to objective fact, is added to the curriculum it adds a sense of intolerance, bias and even hatred. That is how our curriculum is designed,” said Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association Chairman Professor Anjum James Paul at the discussion on ‘Curriculum and textbooks: do they promote critical thinking?’
Prof Paul said the curriculum did not encourage critical thinking either. “We don’t ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ in our classrooms. We focus on asking ‘who’ and ‘when’,” he said.
Journalist Zubeida Mustafa said that the poor quality of textbooks, together with language difficulties, adversely affected the thinking capabilities of children. “If you take away the ability to understand, it limits critical thinking as well,” she said.
“Right from the start, our textbooks promote hatred and conspiracies,” said Zubair Torwali, executive director at the Institute for Education and Development in Swat. He said the textbooks taught lies and discouraged independent thinking. “They are designed in a manner that makes it boring and unimaginative for children to learn,” he said.
Primary education should be in the child’s mother tongue, said Neelam Hussain, founding member and coordinator at Simorgh Women’s Resource and Publication Centre. “How can we expect children to start talking in a language alien to them?”
Hussain added that textbooks were written not by educationists but by government officials, making them “largely useless”.
Tanveer Jahan, executive director at the Democratic Commission for Human Development, said unless the textbooks were based on truth, they would fail to encourage critical thinking. “Is the purpose of our curriculum to produce good Muslims or good citizens?” she asked.
Raheela Akram, principal at the Sanjan Nagar School, said that both teachers and-students were confused about textbooks and curriculum. “Our books are knowledge-based but they fail to address critical thinking,” she said.
Ameena Saiyid, managing director at the Oxford University Press, said that examinations were based on textbooks and not the curriculum. “Students are merely required to reproduce content verbatim. How is that going to promote critical thinking?”
Punjab Curriculum Authority Chairman Saleem Kiyani was the sole speaker to strike an optimistic note. He conceded that there were “certain exaggerations” in Pakistani history books, “particularly relating to conspiracies”.
He said while the textbooks needed to be improved, teachers also needed to be trained to inculcate critical thinking in children. “While I agree the situation isn’t as good as it should be, it isn’t as bad as it was and we are open to dialogue and recommendations,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2013.