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Curricula and socio-political security


By Imtiaz Gul

The Express Tribune, Jan 12,2012

Distortion of facts, glorification of war, a bloated sense of Muslims’ self-righteousness and the dehumanisation of followers of ‘other faiths’ or subtle projection of non-Muslims as sub-humans, continues to cast its shadows on the curricula taught in our government schools and madrassas. This, in a way, also imperils the socio-political security of our society. However, the review implementation process — in light of the 2006 curricular revision i.e., review of textbooks, particularly of Islamiat, Pakistan Studies, History and Urdu — with the objective of correcting or rationalising some of the content, has been painfully slow.

The Washington-based International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute partnered in 2011 to conduct field research in all four provinces to analyse the curriculum of public schools and madrassas.

Their report pointed out that Pakistan’s public schools and privately-funded religious madrassas have an “unmistakable tendency to devalue minority religious groups, fostering a climate conducive to acts of discrimination and even violence against them”. Another such is a recent report by the Islamabad-based Peace Education And Development (PEAD) Foundation, which scrutinises the content of textbooks for Pakistan Studies, Islamiat, Urdu and English for classes one to 10 in schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This study, too, entails disturbing findings about the quality, nature and connotation of the content being imparted to nascent minds.

The two themes that stand out in the Islamiat textbooks for classes three to nine are ‘glorification of war’; jihad, and the ‘other-isation’ or stereotyping of non-Muslims. The presentation of reality in a unidimensional way is the third recurring theme which essentially distorts history.

Overemphasis on subjects such as jihad is also common. The chapter on this in religious studies books for students of class eight, for instance, defines ‘jihad’ as, ‘doing everything possible and utilising all of the strengths for the purpose of fully practicing Islam and taking it to other people’. Jihad is also explained as a process of clearing the way for Islam to spread and getting rid of ‘fitna’, which is defined as the creation of hurdles in the way of Islam. Such definitions not only express reality through a unidimensional prism, but also paint non-Muslims as ‘others’ and the world outside of Islam as inherently bad. Such texts can very easily sway emotions.

Absence of knowledge on other religions and their teachings, or minimal mention of women (as equal members of society), are also common features in the textbooks that were studied. The whole idea of teaching Islam to students, without any comparative model of other religions like Christianity and Hinduism, amounts to perpetuating ignorance about their teachings, the implicit signal being that the latter are not worth studying.

The PEAD report essentially tried to investigate instances of glorification of war, stereotyping of other faiths and cultures, and classification of gender roles — elements that easily and negatively impact the mental development of the students. This report analyses the textbooks used by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board and compares them to textbooks used in other provinces. It finds that the KP textbooks are no exception when it comes to the predominance of religious discourse in their content. It also states that traditional stereotypes of gender roles in society are reinforced in the textbooks. Surprisingly, the provincial government had taken the lead by revising textbooks after 2006 recommendations, yet they still contain the flaws mentioned above.

As a whole, despite the attempts so far to rationalise the overemphasis of religion in the mainstream curriculum, Pakistan’s educationists have to go a long way in reforming study materials. A multi-layered bureaucratic structure, along with the inhibiting mindset, still seem to be the biggest hurdles in the way of broad-based curricula reform. One would hope that devolution of education facilitates rather than obstructs the revision of Islamic and social studies courses. Therein lies our future social security and harmony.

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk