May issue 2004

By | News & Politics | Published 20 years ago

“Baba, what is kari?” a young girl asks her father. He ponders over how best he can explain this barbaric ritual that involves killing women in the name of ‘honour’ to his young daughter, and wonders where she has heard the term. He presumes she has read of it in newspapers, where such incidents are regularly reported. Before he can muster an appropriate explanation, his daughter asks if Marvi — a romantic heroine of Sindhi folklore — was a kari. She gleaned this information from one of her textbooks in school, she says.

Various references to karo-kari are found to crop up in textbooks in current use in local schools, particularly in lessons pertaining to local folklore. Many of the references are, however, completely erroneous. Apparently the concerned authorities believe that karo-kari is now a part of the country’s culture and thus deserving of mention in the curriculum. Ironically, according to some reports, the Federal Curriculum Wing (FCW) — an authority that regulates textbooks in the country — rejected the proposal to include late journalist, Najma Babar’s article ‘Madam Chairman, Sir,’ in a Class 10 English textbook. The article is about a married woman who goes out to work, while her husband, who is unemployed, takes care of the children and the home. The fact that male unemployment has become almost endemic particularly in Pakistan’s lower and lower middle classes and economic compulsions have pushed many women into the workplace — in essence resulted in a role reversal of traditional male-female positions — apparently does not register with the authorities who rejected Babar’s article on the grounds that “it goes against Pakistani culture and society.”

Meanwhile, a poem by Kahlil Jibran, a world-renowned philosopher and writer and a Maronite Christian, was rejected by the FCW on the grounds that he was a Jew. Similarly a lesson containing a letter by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s daughter, Dina Wadia, about her father in a textbook was rejected, because the concerned authorities decreed that since the Quaid had disowned her and Wadia is not a Muslim, she is not eligible to feature in local academic curricula.

Welcome to Pakistani public schools, which are laying the foundations of future generations, where children are introduced to bigotry and intolerance from the primary level, and the conditioning continues throughout school. The lessons of tolerance included in the country’s curriculum in the first two decades of the country’s existence are being systematically replaced with lessons emphasising militancy, jihad and an ideology of hate. A case in point: recently a book was returned to its authors by the Federal Curriculum Wing for not carrying enough material on jihad.

The amount of influence school textbooks wield on students’ impressionable minds is indicated by a survey of schoolchildren published recently. Almost half of those surveyed do not support equal rights for minorities. A third of them support jihadi groups. Two-thirds of them want the Shariah to be implemented in letter and spirit. Nearly a third said Kashmir should be liberated by force, and nearly 80 per cent of them support Pakistan’s nuclear status.

Once a platform from which healthy, informed minds emerged, Pakistan’s public school system today is a cesspool of ignorance, obscurantism and corruption. A graphic example: when a high school teacher at one of Karachi’s public schools asked her class students to write an essay on any subject of their choice, one of the boys came up with a detailed and rather chilling ‘Autobiography of a pistol.’ The student summed up his essay with the statement, “I fall into the hands of a burglar who points me at a child, and demands ransom money from his parents in exchange for my life.”

The percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to Pakistan’s education budget is puny. According to a UNESCO estimate, it is smaller than that of most Muslim countries, smaller even than that of most sub-Saharan nations. Small wonder then that the country is lagging behind her South Asian neighbours in assorted respects: Pakistan has the distinction of having the lowest literacy rate among this group, the lowest female participation in education, the highest female primary school dropout rate, and the lowest enrolment in the area of tertiary education. It is also the only country in the region where the expenditure on education as a proportion of the Gross National Product (GNP) has gone down since 1990 from 2.6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 1.7 per cent in the last few years.

Officially Pakistan’s literacy rate is 45 per cent, although most education specialists maintain that the actual figure is less than 30 per cent. A World Bank report states that more than a third of the nation’s 10-year-olds have never attended class.

According to experts, it is not just the fact that Pakistan’s education budget in relation to the Gross Domestic Product is insignificant; corruption, mismanagement and criminal negligence by the bureaucracy, policy-makers and feudal politicians have contributed substantially to the declining standards of the country’s public education system. Combined, these factors have resulted in a low investment in education, ghost schools, ghost teachers, open-air schools devoid of even the most basic facilities, etc. Add to that the curricula of these public institutions and the output can only too easily be assessed.

A recent study, ‘The Subtle Subversion: The state of curricula and textbooks in Pakistan 2003′, carried out by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), exposing the nature of the curricula taught to schoolchildren puts to lie claims emanating from the helm of the promotion of tolerance and moderation in the country. The report illustrates the myriad complex means used to disseminate ideologies of hate through the state’s educational system.

The 140-page SDPI report contains a detailed analysis of currently used textbooks and the general curriculum in government schools which demonstrates how the education system is contributing towards the creation of a culture of sectarianism, religious intolerance and violence. It notes how historical facts have been twisted and mutilated at length by certain vested interests to promote their respective agendas.

Ironically, instead of debating the issues raised in this report, some of the country’s policy-makers and right-wing elements have started questioning ‘the agenda’ of the organisation responsible for the report, and the credibility of its authors. And when the government set up a committee to review the findings of this report and indicated it may consider making some changes in the academic curricula, the situation turned ugly.

In Karachi, school and college students held a protest march against any proposed changes. The Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT), the youth wing of the Jamaat Islami, organised the event. The protesters carried banners and placards inscribed with demands that Quranic verses be included in the syllabi, the federal education minister be dismissed and US intervention in Pakistan’s affairs be halted. The protestors also condemned the findings of the SDPI report and issued threats of dire consequencies, if the government attempted to “secularise” the curriculum.

Members of the six-party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), also voiced their protest: They walked out of a National Assembly session on the grounds that a certain reference to jihad as well as some Quranic verses had been excluded from the new edition of a state-prescribed biology textbook. Liaqat Baloch of the MMA alleged, “Under the conditionalities of the US Agency for International Development, all verses containing any references to jihad or exposing the anti-Muslim prejudices of Jews and Christians are being omitted from the syllabi.” And Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, warned that his party would move a privilege motion against government censorship in the syllabi.

Federal Education Minister Zubeida Jalal responded to these charges by stating in the National Assembly that no chapter or verses relating to jihad or shahadat (martyrdom) had been deleted from local textbooks. She clarified that the particular verse referring to jihad which the MMA was up in arms over had been ‘shifted’ from the biology textbook for intermediate students (Classes XI and XII) to the matriculation level courses (Class X), not omitted. The minister was visibly on the defensive when she said that the government had rejected the SDPI report because the committee she had set up to look into the report had rejected it as representing an “extremist” view.

One of the co-authors of this report, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, however, accused the education minister of not sharing the findings of the committee with members of the National Assembly. He contended that before submitting the report to the education ministry, nine members of the 15-member government review committee endorsed the report, while six expressed dissenting views on some findings. Nayyar wrote in a recently published article, “I don’t know what prompted the education minister to remark on the floor of the National Assembly that the committee rejected the report.”

textbooks-2-may04This is not the first time that Pakistani educationists have researched the curricula set for local schools. In 1994 another educationist, Dr Rubina Saigol wrote a detailed paper, called ‘The boundaries of consciousness: interface between the curriculum, gender and nationalism,’ in a book called Locating the Self.

In this paper she demonstrated with several examples how our textbooks depict Hindus in a negative light enemies and how they incite permanent enmity, hatred and alienation with India. The author’s contention was that local textbooks promote militarism and violence and indirectly justify heavy defence expenditure.

Likewise, some other scholars, such as Dr Mubarak Ali and Professor K.K. Aziz have also published reports on this issue. KK Aziz has pointed out in detail the major inaccuracies, distortions, exaggerations and slants found in each officially prepared and prescribed textbook and in a representative selection of private commercial publications which are in wide use as textbooks. Khurshid Hasnain, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Tariq Rahman have also examined the distortions in history and social studies textbooks.

According to some reports, in 1999, the National Committee on Education, which was constituted under the chairmanship of the federal education secretary at the prompting of some eminent educationists, prepared a report ‘National Curriculum 2000: A Conceptual Framework,’ calling for a paradigm shift in the curriculum in order to produce “involved, caring and responsible citizens.” This report was filed somewhere in the ministry, and no action has been taken on it to date.

Experts on the subject disclose how different things were. They maintain textbooks prepared in the early years of Pakistan did not contain any kind of hatred or animosity towards Hindus despite the fact that the wounds from Partition were still raw. “The early textbooks in Pakistan written after Partition were free of the pathological hate that we see in textbooks today,” says an expert. According to him the early history books contained chapters not only on old civilisations like Moenjodaro, Harappa, Taxila, etc., but also on the Hindu mythology contained in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and extensively covered, often with admiration, the great Hindu Kingdoms of the Mauryas and Guptas. While these books admittedly indicated some bias when referring to more recent history, particularly the politics of independence, one found school textbooks featuring and praising Mohandas Gandhi. And the creation of Pakistan was attributed to the intransigence of the All India Congress and its leadership in respect of accommodating the Muslim League rather than to ‘Hindu machinations.’

Some books also clearly mentioned that the most prominent Islamic religious leaders were all bitterly opposed to the creation of Pakistan. “Such was the enlightened teaching of history for the first 25 years of Pakistan even though two wars were fought against India in this period. The print and electronic media often indulged in anti-Hindu propaganda, but educational material was by and large free of hate against Hindus,” reads the SDPI report.

The rot set in with the advent of General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia’s ‘Islamisation’ of the country — widely recognised as a political tool to legitimise his rule — saw him cosying up to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist political party, and his government openly started transforming the education system. What resulted was a brand of education that officially fostered intolerance, bigotry and violence.

Experts in the field contend that the concept of jihad was widely incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan war. According to Dr. Nayyar, at that point it suited Washington, and its most allied of allies, Pakistan, to encourage and glorify the mujahideen or ‘holy warriors,’ in the war against the Soviets — and an American institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for Pakistani schools in keeping with his agenda. Says Nayyar, “The institution — the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a centre for Afghan studies — was tasked by the CIA in the early eighties to rewrite textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new books included hate material even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has five bullets and two go into the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are left… that kind of stuff. This was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about 2002.”

The right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami that was given the task to make changes in the Pakistani school curriculum at that time, introduced as the cardinal principle of education the philosophy of its spiritual mentor and political guide Syed Abul Aala Maududi, who believed that in an Islamic society all that is taught should be in the context of religious knowledge. Every subject thus became Islamiat. A new breed of textbook historians came into existence and lessons emphasising militancy, jihad and hate became a predominant part of learning. Since actual history — researched, narrated and compiled by serious professional historians — did not conform to their agenda, they created a new history of Pakistan which began with the arrival of Muslims in the subcontinent. “They have rewritten history in a manner which has impoverished it and taken away from students material that could enrich their perspective,” Nayyar contended.

In the revised textbooks the ancient history of the region, the glories of Moenjodaro and Harappa, the Hindu kingdoms, the advent of Buddhism, the incursion of the Greeks and Bactrians, and so much more that has made our region the cradle of one of the richest civilisations in the world, have all been eliminated. A sample of what we have instead from a textbook currently in use: “As a matter of fact, Pakistan came to be established for the first time when the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim occupied Sindh and Multan in the early years of the eighth century, and established Muslim rule in this part of the South-Asian subcontinent. Pakistan under the Arabs comprised the Lower Indus Valley. During the 12th century the Ghaznavids lost Afghanistan, and their rule came to be confined to Pakistan. By the 13th century, Pakistan had spread to include the whole of Northern India and Bengal. Under the Khiljis, Pakistan moved further southward to include a greater part of Central India and the Deccan. During the 16th century, ‘Hindustan’ disappeared and was completely absorbed in Pakistan.”

Gradually subjects such as Indo-Pakistan history and geography which earlier formed part of the local educational curriculum were replaced by Pakistan Studies. In the new books Pakistan was defined as an Islamic state and the history of Pakistan became synonymous with the history of Muslims in the subcontinent. The pre-Islamic history of the region meanwhile ceased to exist as subject matter. The new curriculum started with the Arab conquest of Sindh and swiftly jumped to the Muslim conquerors from Central Asia. Alongside, the seventies saw the so-called ‘ideology of Pakistan’ increasingly entering study courses. This involved the creation of an ideological straitjacket whereby the history of Pakistan, especially that of the Pakistan Movement was rewritten with an utter disregard for the truth. Pakistan, it was now said, was created with an aim to establish a purely Islamic state in accordance with the tenets of the Quran and Sunnah. Suddenly, the ulema who had bitterly opposed the creation of Pakistan were cited as the heroes of the Pakistan movement, Muhammed Ali Jinnah (whom the religious clergy used to refer to as ‘Kafir-e-Azam’ and was labelled an infidel by them because of his distinctly liberal lifestyle) was portrayed as a pious, practicing Muslim, and Hindus began to be reviled as the permanent enemy.

According to the SDPI report, the instructions laid out for the revised curriculum in fact, stressed on portraying Hindus not just as the enemies of Islam, but as altogether unsavoury. The textbooks read by our students today elaborate on the alleged ‘social evils’ of Hindus, including their disrespect for women, their practice of child marriage, suttee, the caste system, etc. Even our collective memories were no longer to be trusted. For example, in describing the tragedy of East Pakistan, the new textbooks squarely lay the blame on the general elections of 1970 and on the Hindus living in East Pakistan.

According to the SDPI report, some of the major problems in the current curriculum and textbooks are the “distortion of facts and omissions that serve to substantially alter the nature and significance of actual events in our history; insensitivity to the existing religious diversity of the nation; incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of jihad and shahadat, perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women and religious minorities, and other nations, a glorification of war and the use of force.” The study points out that the syllabus omits events that could encourage critical self-awareness among students, and includes outdated and incoherent pedagogical practices that “hinder the development of interest and insight among students.”

The report further states that the educational material attempts to teach Islamiat to all the students, irrespective of their faith, through the compulsory subjects of Social/Pakistan Studies, Urdu and English. Although non-Muslims are not required to take the fourth compulsory subject of Islamiat, there is an extraordinary incentive for them in the form of 25 per cent additional marks for learning and taking examinations in Islamiat.

According to the report, the post-1979 curricula and textbooks openly eulogise jihad and shahadat and urge students to become mujahids and martyrs. The report dilates on the instructions laid out for students: “Learning outcome: recognise the importance of jihad in every sphere of life; learning outcome: Must be aware of the blessings of jihad; must create a yearning for jihad in his heart; Concept: jihad; Affective objective: Aspiration for jihad; Love and aspiration for jihad, Tableegh (Prosyletisation), jihad, shahadat (martyrdom), sacrifice, ghazi (the victor in holy wars), shaheed (martyr); simple stories to urge for jihad; activity 4: To make speeches on jihad and shahadat; to make speeches on jihad; Evaluation: to judge their spirits while making speeches on jihad, Muslim history and culture, Concepts: jihad, Amar bil Maroof and Nahi Anil Munkar.”

The textbooks require every Pakistani, irrespective of his (her) faith, to love, respect, be proud of and practice Islamic principles, traditions, customs, rituals, etc. What the report says is even more disturbing is the fact that non-Muslim students are expected to read the Quran, not in the course study of Islamiat, which they are not required to learn, but in the compulsory subject of Urdu.

Urdu textbooks from Class I to III, which are compulsory for students of all faiths, contain lessons on the Quran. These progress from a lesson titled ‘Iqra’ in Class I, where Arabic alphabets are introduced, to the lesson entitled ‘E’rab’ on punctuation in the Class II Urdu book, to the lesson titled ‘Quran Parhna’ in the Class III Urdu book. In fact, the latter has seven lessons (out of a total of 51) on learning to read the Quran. It is mandatory for non-Muslim students to take these courses and take examinations in them — a clear violation of the rights of religious minorities. The report also states that the National Curriculum of March 2002 lays down the first objective of teaching English: “To make the Quranic principles and Islamic practices an integral part of curricula so that the message of the Holy Quran could be disseminated in the process of education as well as training. To educate and train the future generations of Pakistan as a true practicing Muslim…”

The religious (Islamic) content of the most recently published Urdu textbooks in the Punjab and the Federal Area is worth noting: it features in four out of 25 Islamic lessons in Class one, eight out of 33 lessons in Class-II, 22 out of 44 lessons in Class-III, 10 out of 45 lessons in Class-IV, seven out of 34 lessons in Class-V, 14 out of 46 lessons in Class-VI, six out of 53 lessons in Class-VII, 15 out of 46 lessons in Class-VIII, and 10 out of 68 lessons in Classes IX and X.

The new textbooks are also replete with gender bias. A 1985 study found that girls were shown most often in passive roles, enforcing traditional stereotypes. Experts say matters have not improved over the years, and a “gender-biased division of roles is woven into almost all the exercises and stories in these books, thus we have constant references to men performing active or heroic roles and women engaged in passive, often frippery activities.”

The mindset of the policy-makers not only disfigures history at the school level, it also dissuades those at the employment level from questioning or differing from the official line as laid out in the texts. For example, candidates appearing in the Muslim history papers in the Federal Public Services Commission have strictly been advised to condemn Mughul emperor Akbar — known as ‘Akbar the Great’ for his 50-year-long secular rule over the Indian subcontinent — and eulogise Emperor Aurangzeb, a fundamentalist Muslim who shunned music and most arts as unIslamic.

Similarly, there are unwritten guidelines to condemn Hindus, criticise India, support the Kashmir cause, and refrain from expressing independent or divergent views. All candidates appearing in the country’s competitive exams are, in fact, asked to read only the books written by certain authors, and to desist from reading books that do not make it to the prescribed list since these could “confuse” them, leading to their failure in the exams.

Given this backdrop, it would be a fallacy to believe it is only the madrassahs which are indoctrinating children in the politics of hate and bigotry. The country’s public schools are equally responsible for the rise of militancy and regressive thought. In the words of Dr. A.H. Nayyar, “The full impact of what happened under General Zia is now being felt in rising religious militancy, sectarianism and violence in our society and our politics, and another generation of young Pakistanis is now going through the same education.”