EXPERTS and educationists broadly define curriculum as ‘all the learning that is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school’.
If we consider this definition valid, we see that the curriculum does not only include content but also the way learning takes place as well as the academic environment. Put simply, curriculum includes the syllabus and the process of teaching it. Hence, a standard curriculum is designed according to certain objectives that focus on the cognitive, psychological and physical development of students.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, instead of making learning a positive experience that brings out the best in students, successive governments have tried to harness the academic aspect of curriculum development for the purpose of indoctrination. At no other time has this approach been embraced with more fervour than during Gen Ziaul Haq’s era.
That period saw languages, Islamic studies, social studies and even the natural sciences infused with content geared towards developing an isolationist mindset. Moreover, the materials and content disregarded academic research while four main concepts were incorporated into the curricula.
Using curricula to indoctrinate students is nothing new in Pakistan.
First, the glorification of war and war heroes. Pick up any elementary or secondary language/social study book, and you will find only a few heroes who were not known for their martial prowess. Second, the denigration of other religions, nations, countries and races. Third, the representation of women as lesser humans unable to participate in social, political or even academic fields. Fourth, the distortion of indigenous history and neglect of indigenous civilisations and personalities known for their intellectual, political and social achievements.
Over the years, curriculum content, academic environment and the method of teaching have coalesced into a behavioural system that resists acceptance of the ‘other’. This leads to isolation and acts as a trigger for tensions not only with other countries but also along racial, linguistic and religious lines. In this way, the curriculum in Pakistani schools contributes to the country’s strained ties with India and Afghanistan.
Several studies have consistently highlighted problems in the curriculum here and suggested changes. The Education Sector Reforms Committee formed in 2006 consisted of eminent scholars, educationists and psychologists from all four provinces. It offered workable recommendations to bring about some changes and standardise curricula.
After the 18th Amendment in 2010 devolved education policy, planning, governance and curriculum to the provinces, the governments of Punjab and KP attempted to incorporate only a few of the recommendations. Some changes were planned to be gradually introduced.
The proposed changes had not discarded content related to basic Islamic teachings, biographies of Muslim heroes or Pakistani cultural values. In fact, repetition and overlap had been minimised. However, a campaign by some religious circles was initiated to block even those changes.
These religious circles, mostly belonging to the Jamaat-i-Islami, a party that has only eight members out of 124 in the KP Assembly, have since then been resisting the standardisation of curriculum in KP. As a result of these pressure tactics, it almost seems as if the JI’s senior partner in the provincial government, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, has capitulated and become a minority as the JI seeks to impose its own interpretation of Islam and culture on the majority.
In KP, the JI appears to have embarked on the next part of a radicalisation agenda through an education curricula campaign that it began in the 1980s under the military dictator Ziaul Haq. As mentioned earlier, in that era the educational curriculum was particularly instrumental in forging a mindset that perpetuated the stereotyping of the ‘other’ and engendered a culture of intolerance. The climate provided a fertile ground for the militant discourse that, along with other factors, laid the foundation of Talibanisation in Pakistan. Sectarianism, which is eating into the very vitals of Pakistani state and society, is one of the by-products of this process.
When the 2006 reforms committee shared its recommendations with the government, media and civil society, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, of which JI was a component, was governing KP (then NWFP). The MMA ruled the province from 2002 to 2007. Ironically, one cannot recall any difference of opinion officially expressed or alternative recommendations suggested by the JI at that time, let alone protest demonstrations.
It is important to realise that curriculum development is a specialised field and needs to be viewed through an academic lens. The cognitive, psychological and physical needs of elementary and secondary school students have to be understood before deciding on the content and method of teaching.
The writer is author of Re-thinking Education: Critical Discourse and Society.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2014