Our textbooks and the lies they teach
By Raza Rumi
Due to the 18th Amendment, a momentous shift in Pakistan’s governance arrangements is taking place through a politically mediated and largely consensual manner. The federal government is being trimmed and 10 ministries have already been devolved to the provinces. A key development pertains to the devolution of education — lock, stock and barrel — to the provinces. Most notably, the odious era of setting poisonous, centralised curricula in the name of a ‘martial’ nationalism is finally over. Whether the past practices of turning Pakistan into a jihad project will end is uncertain, unless the provinces take the initiative and reverse the regrettable trajectory of the past.
Pakistani textbooks have preached falsehoods, hatred and bigotry. They have constructed most non-Muslims, especially Hindus, as evil and primordial enemies, glorified military dictatorships and omitted references to our great betrayal of the Bengali brothers and sisters who were the founders and owners of the Pakistan movement. It is time to correct these wrongs.
However, this shift will be daunting for many reasons. The provinces are not well-prepared and would need to build capacities at their end. Similarly, generations of pseudo-historians, inspired by state narratives, exist who are willing to perpetuate the culture of weaving lies. Other than the ideological issues, bureaucratic slovenliness has also marred past performance. While the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa textbook boards have been updating curricula, those in Sindh and Balochistan have not done so for nearly a decade.
So it is heartening to note that the Sindh government has finally made some headway now on the issue. The education department is working to update and align textbooks with the 2006 guidelines agreed to by all provinces. In addition, efforts are underway with the expertise of civil society to introduce critical modes of teaching, with supplementary learning material for both teachers and students.
The Sindh education department and the textbook board under the 2006 policy will be following a transparent process, inviting private publishers to submit books for subjects such as English, Mathematics, General Knowledge and Social Studies. For the first time, private publishers will be submitting transcripts for approval. The draft textbooks will then be reviewed by a committee comprising government and private experts and will finally be published in time for the April 2012 academic year.
What are the chances of this brilliant idea being implemented? Despite the odds, there is a strong likelihood that it may work. Largely, because the ruling coalition has an agreement over this issue and the 18th Amendment give full powers to the province. It is critical that other provinces also take note of Sindh’s initiative and set up similar reform committees.
Extremism in Pakistan has grown beyond belief and radicalisation of the young minds is a great challenge for Pakistan’s future. The provinces need to move quickly and undo the wrong committed by central authorities in the past.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2011.