Textbook tinkering

Published October 28, 2014
.— AFP file photo
.— AFP file photo

The contents of Pakistani textbooks have come under particular scrutiny, especially after the events of 9/11. As many scholars and analysts have noted, there is considerable material in our schoolbooks that promotes obscurantism, while the fudging of historical facts has left generations of Pakistanis confused and ill-informed about the past and its impact on the present.

And most efforts at reform have met with stiff resistance from certain quarters that prefer their own hard-line ideas. In the latest case, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa education department has decided to remove content from a grade 10 Pashto book that discusses the problems confronting society.

The demand for removal of the chapter came from the Jamaat-i-Islami, the PTI’s junior partner in the KP coalition government; reportedly the Jamaat put immense pressure on Imran Khan’s party to remove the material, amongst other demands, indicating that it would otherwise withdraw its support.

The material in question discusses instability in Pakistan caused by the arrival of Afghan refugees, the negative effects of overpopulation, as well as the exploitation of the poor and uneducated by forces claiming to be ‘pious’.

Though the changes were implemented in the last few years of KP’s former ANP-led government, they date back to 2006 when education was steered by the centre. An education officer told this paper the material could “create a bad impression of the state” amongst students, while a JI activist said the offending text “would increase hatred in society”.

Earlier this year, the Jamaat had also objected to material in KP textbooks that included pictures of Christmas cakes and girls without dupattas.

KP is not the only province where political interference in the writing and editing of educational texts occurs; the practice is spread across the country.

Nearly all political parties tinker with curricula when in power to suit ideological or religious compulsions, with the JI pursuing ‘Islamisation’ of education with particular zeal. However, the results of this meddling have been troubling; instead of empowering young minds with the spirit of inquiry, we end up feeding ideological shibboleths and historical inaccuracies to students.

If anything, students need to be encouraged to discuss the world around them so that they can understand and accommodate different points of view. The writing and editing of textbooks should be left to educationists and academics and must be totally free from political interference. The PTI, in particular, which talks of a ‘new Pakistan’, must realise this in the province it rules.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2014

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