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Misguided zeal

June 11, 2000


"ALL bigotry is blind and stupid and savage. Sectarian bigotry is as bad as inter-religious bigotry. Bigotry stifles reason and the bigot in his frenzy is out to force all to believe what he believes."

This is what we were taught at school in Karachi not very long ago. But then our teacher was not a preacher. He was a Dasturan Dastur, a Shams-ul-Ulema, a Ph.D. from Colombia (1908), and in 1929 was given an honorary D.Litt. from the same university when it celebrated its 175th anniversary and honoured its alumni. His name was Maneckji Nusserwanjee Dhalla. He died in May 1956.

To move on to what is being taught to the children of today in our government schools and colleges and to quote from a recent report entitled 'The Menace of Education' written by Pervez Hoodbhoy, a member of the Education Advisory Board of the Federal Ministry of Education, an MIT man, who has managed to remain 'educated' in Pakistan. He teaches at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad and each year is invited to lecture at MIT and the University of Maryland.

"So what are the values currently being transmitted and communicated in Pakistan's schools? Obviously there is some variation across rich and poor schools, between villages and cities, and across provinces. But the basic road-map is provided by the school curriculum. Lest there be any confusion the reader should know that, by an act of Parliament passed in 1976, there is one and only one allowed road-map, prepared by the curriculim wing of the federal ministry of education, Government of Pakistan.

"The usefulness of having a national curriculum was soon recognized by Gen Zia-ul-Haq. In 1981 he decreed that henceforth Pakistani education was to be totally redefined and history rewritten according to his vision of Pakistan. From now on the struggle for Pakistan was no longer to be shown as a victorious struggle for a Muslim homeland. Instead, it was to be depicted as the movement for an Islamic state run according to Islamic law. Even if it conflicted with reality, the heroes of the Pakistan movement - Jinnah, Iqbal, Syed Ahmed Khan - were to be projected as Islamic heroes. Furthermore all subjects, including the sciences, were to be speedily Islamized."

Consider the impact of the national curriculum objectives on the mind of a 12-year old child in his last year at primary school. He is not taught to hope for a joyous future, a good life in a peace loving country in which goodwill towards man and the well being of its citizens prevails. The child is told that life is all about battling invisible enemies and that fear is to be feared.

The kindergarten to class v curriculum adopted by the ministry of education in 1995 is, to say the least, a bizarre piece of work. At the completion of Class V the child has to be able to - 1) explain the importance of the work of past heroes of Pakistan. 2) identify the great personalities who contributed to the making of Pakistan. 3) demonstrate an appreciation for the work of Muslim heroes. 4) demonstrate respect and reverence for the founder of Pakistan. 5) demonstrate respect for the leaders of Pakistan.

How is a child meant to do all this? In fact, how can any sensible adult be expected to respect, lumped together, a group consisting of, inter alia, Ghulam Mohammed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia-ul-Haq, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto?

Amongst the objectives to be achieved is the ability to - 1) understand the Hindu and Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan; 2) know all about India's evil designs against Pakistan; 3) acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan; 4) demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of Allah; 5) demonstrate the desire to preserve the ideology, integrity and security of Pakistan; 6) make speeches on jihad and shahadat; 7) guard against rumor mongers who spread false news and to stage dramas signifying the evils of rumors; 8) understand the Kashmir problem; 9) collect pictures of policemen, soldiers and National Guards.

How can a child be expected to preserve ideology of Pakistan? And how on earth is a 12-year old expected to understand and know all about the 'Kashmir problem'? As for the speechifying, one is rendered speechless.

He must also know - 1) the place of Pakistan in world affairs; 2) the importance of the location of Pakistan in the world and specifically to other Islamic countries; 3) the role of the Defence Forces of Pakistan; 4) the functions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; 5) the problems of Pakistan.

He is expected to - 1) discuss electric load-shedding; 2) visit garbage dumps and police stations [presumably to define the basic differences between the two].

Now to quote from a textbook entitled 'Pakistan Studies' published by the government to be taught in Classes IX and X : "After the death of Aurangzeb Alamgir in 1707 AD his successors could not control the vast Moghul Empire and as a result South Asia gradually fell prey to the forces of anarchy." One reason given is "the spirit of holy struggle and war (Jihad) which was the fountainhead of power of Muslim kingdoms faded gradually. Thus the military power became weak. Ease and laziness blunted the military prowess."

For some unknown reason, when the story of Pakistan catches up with the 20th century and the 1980s, there is a lacuna as to the departure of Zia-ul-Haq from the national scene : "Unfortunately the Junejo government was dismissed on May 29 1988 after it remained in power for three years and two months. The National Assembly and the provincial assemblies were dissolved by the president. In November 1988, general elections were held on a party basis."

Discussing factors that lead to the high birth rate in Pakistan, the book teaches that the primary factor is the "hot climate of the country." And on the secession of East Pakistan, all that the book has to say is : "Bangladesh was separated from Pakistan and became an independent country in 1971."

Compulsory reading for BA, B.Com, MBBS, and B.Sc Engineering is another book entitled 'Pakistan Studies' which attempts to explain the ideology of Pakistan : "What does Pakistan mean? It means there is no God but Allah." Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi defines it further : "Thus the Pakistan ideology is the guiding principle of the Muslim majority regions of the South Asian subcontinent for obtaining an ideal Muslim state, Pakistan which has been chosen as a keynote for passing life, both individually and collectively, according to the Islamic conception of life and for resurgence of Muslim society."

In the year 2000, we finally have a government which acknowledges that education is a most vital sphere of national development : "A comprehensive review of the education sector is in progress with the aim of identifying specific strategies and actions to ensure fundamental and purposeful improvements in every sector of this most vital sphere."

The Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, has chosen well as far as his education ministers are concerned. Dr Zubeida Jalal, the federal minister of education, is a liberal well-qualified woman, approved of by all our known and able educationists who in the past have had to cope with men such as Ghous Ali Shah. Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, the provincial minister in Sindh, has mobilized a team of twenty English-speaking university teachers and engaged them in rewriting the English text for the Sindh Textbook Board of books taught from Class I to Class XII. The minister in Punjab, Akhtar Saeed, is also reputed to be liberally educated as is the able and indefatigable literacy minister Shaheen Attiqur Rahman. In Balochistan, Dr Razia Babar is a Ph.D. in Geography; and in NWFP, we also have a liberal man in Imtiaz Gilani.

The six in charge of the country's education, with four women in the majority, get on well and form a competent team. They are keen to revise the curriculum and with the generals, the mullahs, and the politicians busy elsewhere, they should be able to get on with the job undisturbed. Cleaning up the curriculum is a must if there is to be any worthwhile education imparted to our citizens of the future.