WASHINGTON: Pakistan has been steadily reforming its education system and has also removed a number of offensive references from its textbooks, Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani said in his reply to a US report about objectionable material in Pakistani textbooks.

While reviewing the report “Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan”, Ambassador Jilani noted that the report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was a follow-up to an earlier study.

“Using that study as a baseline, the report concludes that majority of examples of religious intolerance found in 2011 textbooks had been removed. This conclusion drawn in the report clearly indicates that there is work in progress,” he said. “I consider this an incremental but positive change,” added the ambassador. “Teaching intolerance in Pakistan”, was released at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday afternoon. It urged Pakistan to reconsider its education policy and stop teaching material that creates hatred.

“This kind of education closes all doors for a new generation of Pakistani Muslims to see a peaceful future with Hindus of India,” said the report, adding that “And worse yet, it provides a rationale to treat Pakistani Hindus as outsiders. In contrast, it ignores how Hindus and Muslims have cooperated and coexisted peacefully for centuries in the Sub-Continent.”

The report claims that the textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies: Pakistani Christians as Westerners or equal to British colonial oppressors and Pakistani Hindus as Indians.

In his statement, Ambassador Jilani said education was a provincial subject in Pakistan and the report had acknowledged progress made in at least two provinces.

Curriculum reforms, he claimed, needed to be viewed as an ongoing process in Pakistan. “Its importance has been duly recognised and is being addressed in the implementation of the National Action Plan as well as National Internal Security Policy,” the ambassador said.

“Pakistan is an increasingly introspective society. We are open to and welcome constructive engagement by USCIRF and other such bodies in the ongoing process of review and reform. We believe that this process will yield positive results,” he added.

“These grossly generalised and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant,” the report noted.

“These messages are reinforced by the absence of deeper content addressing the complexity of religions, the rights of religious minorities, and the positive contributions of religious minorities in the development and protection of Pakistan.”

Using a baseline of 25 examples of religious intolerance found in the 2011 textbooks, the study concluded that most had been removed from the current textbooks.

However, the study noted that later, new religiously intolerant passages were inserted in the corrected textbooks as well.

The study’s review of 78 current textbooks exposed 70 new examples of religious intolerance and biases in 24 books, similar to the kind of materials found in the earlier study. Of the 70 new examples, 58 (84 per cent) came from books published by the Balochistan and Sindh authorities, while the remainder came from Punjab (seven) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (five).

RECOMMENDATIONS: The report includes a number of recommendations to make Pakistani textbooks more inclusive, including, constitutional guarantees provided to all Pakistanis of religious freedom, provincial educational ministries should be held responsible for adhering to constitutional guarantees provided to minority rights, no content should be taught to students that celebrates one religion at the expense of another and non-Muslim students should not be required to learn from Islamic texts.

The curriculum should inculcate a sense of constructive patriotism rather than a sense of fear. More educationally accurate and nuanced approaches are needed towards Western countries and Christianity to avoid gross generalisations that lead students to conspiracy theories.Overemphasis on Islam as being the “only correct” faith must be eliminated from the textbooks, the study suggested.

It also suggested that peaceful coexistence and religious diversity be acknowledged so that students learn to respect all faiths while national heroes from all groups in science, literature, medicine, and sports should be included.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2016


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