Senior educationist Dr Bernadette leaves Pakistan after receiving death threats

Updated 12 May 2015


Dr Bernadette L. Dean —
Dr Bernadette L. Dean —

KARACHI: A senior educationist and member of the government-appointed advisory committee for curriculum and textbooks reforms has left the country ‘fearing for life’ after receiving threatening calls and facing a ‘hate propaganda campaign’, it emerged on Monday.

Dr Bernadette L. Dean, director of VM Institute for Education and former principal of St Joseph’s College for Women and Kinnaird College, in an email sent to her friends and colleagues first said ‘sorry’ that she had not been able to contact them in recent days and then described reasons for that. She said she had to leave Pakistan fearing for her life on the advice of family, friends, colleagues and police.

She said a political party was instrumental in unleashing the ‘hate campaign’ against her for writing textbooks as a member of the advisory committee. “This campaign started a few months ago with threatening phone calls to members of the advisory committee on curriculum and textbook reform and Sindh Textbook Board, visits of religious leaders from the Punjab and Sindh to the STBB to complain about me and the work I am doing with respect to textbook writing, a vicious letter accusing me of being a foreigner woman who has single-handedly made changes to the curriculum and textbooks that made them secular and called me an enemy of Islam.”

With her email, she also attached multiple files. One of them included a letter to the Karachi police chief from a civil society organisation appealing for the removal of banners against her put up by the political party.

She also referred to the ‘All-Parties Conference’ held at the Karachi Press Club in April where she had been blamed for carrying out such amendments to the curricula. She raised the concern with the authorities but in vain, said the email.

The fresh statement from Dr Dean came just weeks after the gun attack on an American national, Debra Lobo, on Shaheed-i-Millat Road. Mrs Lobo, the Jinnah Medical and Dental College vice principal for student affairs, was seriously wounded in the attack carried out by four unidentified gunmen on Shaheed-i-Millat Road. In her email, Dr Dean also clarified her role as a member of the committee citing that she just co-authored the reformed books with Muslim authors and all the books were reviewed multiple times before being approved.

“The New National Curriculum 2006 approved by the federal government included Islamiat as part of general knowledge in class 1-2 and from grade 3 Islamiat was made a separate subject,” she said.

“The decision was taken at that time that Islamiat-related content would be removed from the other subjects, as Islamiat is a compulsory subject for grade 3 onwards,” she explained.

Dr Dean said the new national curriculum 2006 was reviewed by a committee appointed by the Sindh government following the devolution of power to the provinces for education.

With some minor changes, it was approved in 2011 and textbook writing based on it began in 2012, she added.

“The textbooks for class 1 were written, reviewed, published and distributed to schools in 2013. Books 2-4 in 2014 and Books for class 5 in 2015,” she stated in the email.

“The general knowledge books 1-3 and social studies books 4-5 are co-authored by me. All the co-authors are Muslim and they were responsible for writing the Islamiat sections. Moreover, all the books go through an internal review and a provincial review,” she explained.

Dr Dean has served as principal of St Joseph’s College for Women, Karachi, principal of Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, and as professor at the Aga Khan University. She has a PhD in education from the University of Alberta, Canada.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2015

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