A packed audience of all ages gathered early on the first day of the Karachi Literature Festival eager to learn about our “Skewed History: How History Dies in the Syllabus?” Baela Raza Jamil, public policy specialist on education stunned the audience when she revealed that it was in 1972 that a major disruption in teaching history took place – and it was not just on account of the fact East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. The state decided to stop teaching history which was to be replaced by Pakistan Studies. From then on a re-writing of history and history text books was sanctioned and became a major state enterprise.
Author and educationist, Anam Zakraia made an interesting point. “Why are we so afraid of engaging with our history? It comes from a sense of not being able to define ourselves in terms of who we are, but being able to define ourselves of who we are not. And when you make that kind of distinction, it becomes very important to cut off from parts of our own history.” She called the revamping of the 1970s history not history at all, but an ideology.
Newal Osman, Karachi-based historian and an assistant professor of Social Sciences at IBA Karachi explained how she challenges her students by posing the question ‘What is history?’ “I like dissecting history in front of my students. The fragile nature of history makes it particularly susceptible to misuse or appropriation by the state, politicians, political parties to legitimise their rule, to gain legitimacy for a particularly party in order to popularise decent and organise themselves. It is basically a task of creating identities.”
Known for his innovative work on `The History Project,’ technology and social entrepreneur, Qasim Aslam spoke how three years ago he and his partner decided to encourage students in their formative years to question the narrative of hate taught to millions through history text books. He concluded, “The assessment system fundamentally drives what is going to happen in the class room. If a child writes anything different from what is in the textbook, not just his teacher but the entire education system tells him that he is wrong.”
Known as a master trainer of teachers nationally and internationally, Abbas Hussain said that unfortunately “Teachers have become enslaved to the textbooks and make children regurgitate exactly what is written.”
The session concluded after a lively debate between the audience and the panelists concerning how and when will our fractured history be resurrected.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.