KARACHI: The Sindh Textbook Board has decided to dub Abdul Sattar Edhi, Malala Yousufzai and Arfa Abdul Kareem as national heroes in its textbooks for grades I to VI while 'purging' textbooks of references to "non-democratic heroes".
The provincial education department's special secretary, Syed Zakir Ali Shah, who holds an additional charge for the textbook board, confirmed the revisions to The Express Tribune.
"The elimination of the mention of non-democratic heroes was undertaken as per the democratic government's policy that was reiterated by former education minister Pir Mazharul Haq and current education minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro," said Shah.
According to the textbook board technical affairs director, Yousuf Shaikh, the text that has been eliminated had been systematically included to 'glorify' the regimes of former dictators — General Muhammad Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf.
"A chapter on Abdul Sattar Edhi has been introduced in the general knowledge book for grade three, while chapters on Malala Yousufzai and Arfa Kareem have been added in the social studies book for class four," said Shaikh. Meanwhile, chapters on Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto are going to be a part of grades V and VI, respectively.
"For the ease of students who have to carry multiple textbooks, the board has decided to publish the new textbooks in a single jacket, having multiple books for the relevant grade," said Shaikh.
The textbooks that had to be based on the recommendations of the 12-member advisory committee on textbook reforms will be made available in April for the start of the 2014-15 academic year. "The textbooks have been sent for publication after being approved by the committee members," said Shaikh.
However, at least two committee members, when approached by The Express Tribune, denied any knowledge about the changes that the textbook board officials are claiming to have made. "I highly doubt that the members of the committee have unanimously endorsed these changes as I have not done so," said Fateh Muhammad Burfat, a committee member and professor at University of Karachi's sociology department. "We have not even finalised the draft for the revised curriculum yet."
For Dr Burfat, the inclusion of a chapter on Malala Yousufzai will make the textbooks more controversial since it will invite a difference of opinion. "I do not hold anything against Malala but I strongly feel that the textbooks should reflect a national consensus rather than promoting controversies and disputes," he said. "The culturally-rich Indus Valley, having a history of thousands of years, has an abundance of undisputed heroes, who can be a part of the textbooks."
He explained that the very purpose of the committee was to remove the existing contradictions in the curriculum and to promote evidence-based knowledge rather than focus on controversies and mythology.
While Shaikh did concede that though there was some hesitancy and disagreement amongst committee members over the inclusion of a chapter on Malala in the grade four social studies book, the writer had ultimately convinced the committee members of its inclusion.
Meanwhile, Edhi Foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi was appreciative of the decision to include Edhi as a national hero. "What I should say is that it is better late than never," he said. "Edhi Sahab has never shown an interest in personal publicity, but we at the foundation feel that he should have been introduced in the list of national heroes much earlier."
For Kazmi, the inclusion of social activists and humanitarians as our national heroes will inspire the younger generation to aspire to similar ideals.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2014.
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