Past present: Lies and half-truths

Published January 31, 2016
Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

In the mediaeval period, education in the Christian world was controlled by the church. In Europe it continued in this way right up to the French Revolution in the 1789. The revolution strengthened the nation state and promoted the idea of nationalism. The monopoly of church was abolished and the education system nationalised. This radically changed the structure of textbooks. The church’s object of education was to create a sense of universalisms and brotherhood among the Christians but under the nation state, the emphasis was not on the Christian brotherhood but on the interest of the nation.

In 1799, Napoleon (d.1821) usurped power and made himself the emperor of France. This was when he realised the importance of textbooks which he used to project his image and to create loyalty among the young generation. Since separate textbooks were developed for girls emphasising domestic duties, music and dance lessons, they discriminated female students, limiting their educational vision. The French pattern was followed by other European nations as well.

When European powers colonised Asian and African countries, they also used textbooks to promote their image. In India, the British government introduced lessons to emphasise the glory of their rule and how it was a blessing for people. Efforts were made to distort Indian rulers’ who resisted British hegemony. Tipu Sultan (d. 1799) who fought against the British was portrayed in textbooks as a fanatic and an extremist who forcibly converted Hindus to Islam. On the contrary, Tipu was a liberal and enlightened ruler.


Why are we telling our students stories that we know are false?


However, in much the same way other rulers of India like Siraj ud-Daula (d.1757) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (d.1862) were also maligned. The war of independence, 1857 was presented as a mutiny and those who fought were dubbed as rebels. The English generals and politicians who conquered India were introduced as the heroes and builders of the empire. English literature was also included in the curriculum and at the end of every textbook was a lesson about the British government of India. As a result, those who studied from these textbooks were highly influenced and impressed by the British culture. It changed their world view and instead of studying their own history and culture, they preferred the European outlook.

Gradually, the situation in the subcontinent changed and the struggle for freedom started. The spirit of nationalism inspired nationalists to challenge the educational system and the contents of the textbooks. The nationalist historians begin to construct the anti-colonial narratives. After independence, this process was accelerated and the textbooks that were developed changed the entire format of colonial textbooks. For example, mutiny became the war of independence, the rebels were converted to freedom fighters and Tipu Sultan achieved the status of national hero. These textbooks were about politicians who struggled against the foreign rule. They were given an elevated status. The new textbooks created a concept of birth of a nation with new energy and fresh spirit to build its future and wipe out all the traces of colonialism that had come to an end.

Textbooks suffer immensely in ideological states where the ruling classes consciously exclude anything that could be harmful or damaging to their ideology. The motive of the textbooks therefore is to indoctrinate a certain ideology therefore these textbooks provide selected information while all other material that contradicts ideology is carefully deleted. For example, in Stalin’s Russia (d.1853), all his rivals were excluded not only from textbooks but also from its national history. Trotsky (d.1940) who played very active role in the Russian revolution was expelled from all official documents. In Nazi Germany, Hitler (d.1945) was depicted as ‘Fuhrer’ or Leader who delivered Germany from the humiliation and raised her status as a powerful nation. These textbooks also contained the purity and supremacy of the Arian race and were meant to inspire the young generation to play a significant role for greater Germany.

Pakistan has also declared itself as an ideological state. As a result, textbooks include the concept of the two-nation theory as the basis for this country. Our textbooks have also been Islamised. So the first lesson in the science textbooks is about the contribution of Muslim scientists so much so that history is distorted and historical facts manipulated to justify the basis of a specific ideology. When students are not provided complete and correct information, their knowledge and vision of the world is reduced. Whenever an attempt is made to remove the errors and improve the textbooks, religious parties and conservative circles start to protest and demonstrate and force the authorities to continue the inclusion of ideological material in the textbooks. It is quite obvious that defective textbooks create a defective mindset. Ideology limits people from acquiring new knowledge in order to understand the fast changing world.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 31st, 2016

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