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The price of courage

January 11, 2004


The world, as we know it, has last week lavished considerable praise on President General Pervez Musharraf for his courage, and for his newly found statesmanship.

One British newspaper, The Times (known in times of yore as 'the thunderer'), has suggested that for his courage Pakistan should be rewarded by re-admittance to the Commonwealth which "should convince the outside world that President Musharraf needs all the support he can find to pursue his agenda in the face of opposition from those whose preferred policy option is assassination."

If Musharraf has now correctly assessed the worth of his nation, realized its inherent strengths and weaknesses, and has decided to steer it accordingly, he is an exceptionally courageous man. He has perhaps, and hopefully, also finally realized that it is far more difficult to steer towards peace than to rush into a war and then lose it.

But what is the calibre of the men around him with whom he has to deal and work. One must not disregard the fact that bullies take themselves to be larger than life and stronger than the strong. The saving grace is that they are inherently cowards, which, if one has their measure, should make them easier to tackle. Assassinations and violence are tactics used by bullyboys. With a will, and a well thought out way, they can be dealt with.

Educated citizens, formally and truly educated, will not think in terms of violence; they will not forever wish to live with daggers drawn. Where we fall badly as a nation is in our system of education, in the schooling of our budding citizens. It is sharply divided into the elite and non-elite schools, our famous madressahs being included in the latter lot. The students of the elite minuscule group are fine. Their curriculum, textbooks and teaching methods conform to modern state-of-the-art standards and prepare them for examinations set by the University of Cambridge. Most of them do exceedingly well, and if they wish to end up with a complete education and internationally recognized qualifications they go abroad. They have no problems.

It is those who are educated in our non-elite schools, particularly the madressahs, the majority of the educated few of Pakistan, who have problems, and with whom the nation has problems. Children who are prepared for the Secondary School Certificate are subjected to textbooks prepared by the provincial Textbook Boards (all dangerous), and a curriculum approved by the federal education ministry (equally dangerous).

Let us just take history, which in itself is not a subject taught to our non-elite youthful citizens but forms part of what is known erroneously as Pakistan Studies. The Annual Review for 2002-3 on the State of Education recently released by the Social Policy and Development Centre of Karachi (dealt with in detail by our former finance wizard Sartaj Aziz on the opposite page of this newspaper on January 6) puts it rather well and it makes most depressing reading [].

Fifty-four pages of the Pakistan Studies textbook is devoted to what is termed history. The entire history of the region prior to 712 AD is dispensed with - it does not exist. History, to the larger majority of the few children who go to school, begins with the arrival of the Muslims in the subcontinent, though Mohammed bin Qasim is not mentioned and to all intents and purposes never existed. The text then leaps forward 300 years and recounts the violent and bloody incursions made by Mahmud of Ghazni into Punjab. After him, comes the listing of a string of Sufi saints beginning with Islam Shaikh Islam Lahori to Shah Abdul Latif Bhattai covering a 700-year period up to 1700 AD. The text then goes into reverse gear, travelling backwards 500 years to Qutubuddin Aibak. The glorious Moghul period, as far as our education ministry and the provincial textbook boards are concerned, began with Emperor Aurangzeb. He had no predecessors. No reasons for or description of the rise and downfall of the empire are given.

Nadir Shah, Shah Waliullah Dehlavi, Syed Ahmad Braelvi are briefly mentioned and they conclude the history of the region prior to the Pakistan movement. The entire era of the East India Company and the British Empire are lost in space, not even the stuff of fairy tales. Nothing is taught on the renaissance and rise of the western world.

Even the Pakistan movement is diluted and selective, omitting far more than it includes. The struggle for independence spanning a half-century consists of : the founding of the Muslim League, the founding of the college at Aligarh, the Khilafat movement, the Nehru report, Jinnah's Fourteen Points, the Government of India Act (said to be the 'new constitution'), the 1937 elections, the 1940 Resolution, the 1946 elections, the Cabinet Mission plan, and the establishment of Pakistan. Apart from the Fourteen Points, everything else is dealt with in a cursory manner.

Then there are nine pages covering post-1947 Pakistan right up to the 2002 elections. The constitution-making process is listed, as are the military takeovers and dismissals of the assemblies.

Our so-called educated children of the masses are purposefully kept ignorant of over a thousand years of history of their own region. They have no idea of any political, social or economic interplay at any point of time, nor do they have any clue as to why a constitution was made, why there were elections and why there have been regular military takeovers. They are kept ignorant of the reasons for the loss of half the country - they merely know it happened.

To deprive people of any knowledge of, or truth about, the history, of their country and that of the world at large, is to hamstring them for life. And with the stress put on an exaggerated violence-prone religiosity, the warping of their minds is guaranteed.

Things on the education front have to change. We are now on a fast-forward mode, with events on the move, and seemingly in the right direction. But without the true education of the masses, neither President General Pervez Musharraf nor any likeminded successor will be able to make the country progress on all necessary fronts.

The Nayyar Report (The Subtle Subversion) makes recommendations for the structural reform of the education system []. A national education board should be established, made up of leading academics, public and private qualified educationists, who are given a mandate to :

"Encourage, fund, coordinate and publish research on the state of education in Pakistan; assess and make annual proposals for improving public education; hold public hearings, investigate complaints and publish recommendations about the provision of education; and submit an annual National Education Report to Parliament."

This board would take over from the abolished textbook boards and oversee the replacement of all textbooks with the best available books in the market, free from untruths, half-truths and wilful omissions and inaccurate additions. It would commission and approve brand new textbooks. It would do away with the misuse of education as a means to brainwash and indoctrinate the children of Pakistan for politically expedient ends. It would heal the deep social rifts and problems and the violent bigoted mindset promoted by the present system. It would make sure that the education of the children of Pakistan is brought in line with the declared intent of this present leader and ruler, Pervez Musharraf, to bring Pakistan in line with the world, to transform it into a truly progressive and tolerant country, and to slowly usher in democracy and democratic values and concepts.

Fundamental reforms must start right away. The Ministry of Education, the Curriculum Wing and the Textbook Boards all have to be disbanded and reconstituted. The national curriculum and all textbooks in existence, together with their lies and malformations, should be consigned to the trash can - their rightful place. This is beyond the competence of those in office now responsible for the education of the masses of this nation, both at the centre and in the provinces. We can no longer afford job-hunting power-pursuers.