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Playing with fire: Urdu syllabus changes


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POISED to transfer the reins of government from one elected party to another, there is no doubt Pakistan is at a historic juncture. But instead of this giving the political elite confidence, what we are seeing are increasingly craven electioneering tactics. Viewed through this prism, the Punjab government’s reaction to criticism of its changes to the province’s 10th class Urdu textbooks acquires a far more serious dimension. In the new edition of the textbooks published in February, the government had excluded several chapters of prose and poetry that discussed Islam. This is something that has been argued for by reformists for years, given that the curriculum already has an entirely separate, mandatory subject — Islamiat — on the topic. Why should similar material be included in textbooks that teach the art of writing and articulating concepts in Urdu, when far more diversity is available? State-set curricula have over the decades faced legitimate criticism for the manner in which the dominant religion and a jihadist ideology have seeped into them, feeding into the polarisation of society and the further shrinking of space for minority and progressive groups.

But instead of standing by the reformist move, the Punjab government did a pusillanimous about-face when the exclusions were pointed out on Sunday. Swayed, no doubt, by the temptation to not be seen as doing anything that might disturb mainstream sentiment, it announced that the old chapters would be restored. That Shahbaz Sharif was, in fall last year, a proponent of the changes on his official Twitter account only makes the latest move more unfortunate. Is Punjab’s political elite really as insecure as this? Yes, there’s an election to be won, but much more important in the larger context is that there is a country to rebuild, and this will not happen unless leaders learn to set Pakistan’s house in order in more ways than one.

Whatever the shape of the next government, winning will only be the beginning of the battle. The far more serious challenge will be to somehow claw the country back from the edge of the abyss into which it is currently staring and redirect it towards progressiveness, prosperity and security. This will involve making tough choices and going against right-wing sentiment where necessary. Yet there are few signs that the political elite have the courage and commitment to do so.

Comments (11) Closed

aziz Mar 27, 2013 07:18am
Education in Pakistan should comply with nationally agreed objectives duly approved by an elected parliament (at provincial and national level). It should not become hostage to pressure groups- right wing,liberal or left wing or any other kind including foreign financed ones.
SS Mar 27, 2013 07:54am
Our politicians except for a few like Imran Khan don't care for country but only need Power to increase their wealth and to enjoy perks at the cost of people.
Karachi Wala Mar 27, 2013 02:38pm
Aligning himself with Jamaat e Islami speaks volume about Imran's care for the country. When it comes to appeasing religious parties, what is the difference between PML-N and PTI?
moiez Mar 27, 2013 04:11pm
Every child deserves the best education especially in the area of language. Regardless of the which language it is we must teach impeccable language skills to our kids.
Ahmed Mar 27, 2013 04:35pm
Imran Khan is the one who is even more beholden to the taliban and the molvis than the rest of the politicians. Things will be worse for the next generation of Pakistanis if he comes to power. Dont make the mistake of blindly following someone instead of keeping your eyes and ears open to their actions, not merely going by their self-serving words. While Imran Khan did a good job in raising donations for the cancer hospital, he has used that to launch his political career. Edhi is an example of a person who is dedicated to Pakistan selflessly.
Ram Krishan Sharma Mar 27, 2013 04:46pm
The first objective of Any education is to stop teaching of hatred for others to school children. Infact , it is a crime against humanity.
Cyrus Howell Mar 27, 2013 05:16pm
Pakistan's solution is cooperative businesses, not cooperative education. A business co-op can educate and promote it's own workers. It has to pay it's taxes, but does not have to have it's decisions taken by corporate presidents or others. Many monasteries in the United States and Europe operate their own cooperate businesses to financially support and manage their own affairs.
jaziba khan Mar 27, 2013 06:51pm
Islamic knowledge is very necessary for the young children. The chapters those contained Islamic teaching should not be removed either in Urdu or Islamiat.
Beg Mar 27, 2013 08:40pm
Education in pakistan should be approved by a non graduate parliament what a joke. Parliament with fake degrees will formulate a good education policy hahaha
Faisal Irshad Mar 28, 2013 06:23am
Nationally agreed objectives? I thought education was to be without any bounds (religious, ethinic or national) and targeted towards the advancement of civilisation and securing a nieche in the modern world.
hyderphd74 Mar 28, 2013 02:09pm
That is why Mr. Imran Khan has never criticized Talibans behaviour and activities. Mr. Khan should understand that politics is not cricket.