Three things reflect the state of education in Pakistan and the respect it gets: Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam’s persecution; the bullet that was fired at child education activist Malala Yousufzai’s head and consequent attempts to discredit her, and lastly the Army Public School attack followed by security provisions that were no better than band aids stuck on schools to stop future attacks.
You can also tell so much about the reverence we give education and independent scholarship through some of the people we glorify: a known nuclear proliferator who now runs a school system; leading Urdu columnists who regularly incite violence against minorities and free thinkers, and the televangelists who profess to know all religious scholarship but have been caught on camera being foul-mouthed and inciting violence against Ahmadis. This is all terribly sad and gut-wrenching but it is now also bizarre, with one self-proclaimed author reviewing his own book in a national newspaper and called his own research a milestone.
With all this in the background, is it then a surprise when leading educationist Dr Bernadette L Dean is forced to flee the country? A malicious hate campaign was launched against her by a political party. Having been on the committee for curriculum and textbook reform of the government, she has served Pakistan unselfishly for years and made countless contributions to education here. The accusations against her are the same accusations that are levelled against anyone who tries to stop Pakistan from becoming a putrid infestation of backwardness and ignorance: that of being secular and against Islam. When all else fails, these two allegations are the lightning rods to forever mute anyone who has progressive aspirations.
One worries to a great extent for a country that is concerned with saving the glory of religion by employing the most pre-Islamic of tactics. Those involved in the use of these tactics ensure that they use might, manipulation, barbarity, lies and fear to corner their opposition. As educationists, people like Dr Dean have not spent their lives sharpening those sinister fangs. With the absence of an educated debate, the loss will be only our nation’s. Perhaps, for generations to come.
Dr Dean has been a former principal of two colleges and a professor at Aga Khan University and as part of her duties on the curriculum committee, reviewed textbooks and suggested changes that had to go through rounds of approvals before being printed. To single her out and subject her to senseless suspicion reeks of profiling and discrimination. Yet, there was no action taken against those threatening her. Silence, callousness and spectatorship are becoming a regular time-spend on the government’s duty logs.
The reason our schools are blown up is because many have been kept out of the empowering powers of an education to begin with. Moreover, the education we finally get is highly lethal. According to K K Aziz’s book, Murder of History, the revisionism in our textbooks is largely responsible for our population having a xenophobic and self-righteous notion of what we have achieved and what we are entitled to and by extension what others don’t deserve to have in our country.
Pakistan is among those countries with a highest number of out of school children in the world. Day after day, there are stories that pour in about general incompetence of teachers, of corporal punishment awarded to young students and of blatant abuse. Our education system is in a shambles. With the exit of Dr Dean, we may as well say goodbye to all well-meaning people in this country working in one of the most thankless professions. Those in the highest echelons of power need to stuff several coffee beans up their noses. Apologies need to start pouring in from them for their failures and they ought to start with apologising for the blatant disregard of the scholarship of Dr Salam. In the case of both Dr Salam and Dr Dean, the people of this country and its hardened leaders have not been able to get past these scholars’ personal religions. Shame is not heavy enough a word.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2015.