Published Date: Nov 14, 2011
A recently published report, ‘Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan’ commissioned by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) concluded with a stark picture of religious intolerance being taught to young students.
According to the report, over 100 textbooks for pupils from grade 1 to grade 10 across the four provinces were reviewed, results of which, according to the report, showed immense amount of religious discrimination and falsified historical accounts in the textbooks, which led to increase in violent religious extremism.
One may argue that the sample size of interviews held or the number of books reviewed may not be sufficient but what can be stated without doubt that textbooks in Pakistan, particularly those that deal with social studies are said to have been found prejudiced to a fault against minorities.
As mentioned in the report, there are many examples taken from textbooks which show the prejudice and a myopic vision of religious plurality.
A report published two years ago highlights the revisionism inculcated in the educational system during the Zia era, which caused ideological rifts and developed a pro-religion, pro-state narrative and was presented as gospel truth.
National Education Policy implemented during the tenure of dictator Zia in 1979 shows a bias indoctrination which portrays Hindus in a negative light.
This is one of the issues forcefully highlighted by the commission.
It serves no purpose except planting the seeds of hatred in a young mind when they read about Hindus who are described as “extremists and eternal enemies of Islam whose culture and society is based on injustice and cruelty”, completely ignoring the fact how it might affect a Hindu student who may be reading the same textbook.
The result of such discrimination is evident in today’s society.
The doctrination of religious intolerance is deeply rooted in the mindset and has resulted in increasing hate crimes against minorities.
Admittedly, ever since the devolution of education ministry to provinces, Sindh government has taken a commendable step towards re-evaluating the curriculum and has made strides towards a modern, secular structure in alignment with the 2006 education policy.
Private publishers have been asked to submit drafts of textbooks on subjects such as English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and General Knowledge, which will be reviewed by a panel of government and private experts.
This is a positive step towards taking proactive measure to bring a level of tolerance in curriculum and should be appreciated and implemented.
More so, the fact that government of Sindh is taking the lead is even better, since the province has had a recent history of subjecting Hindus to discrimination.
Apart from Sindh, government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has also taken steps to bring reforms in their educational system while replacing “strong words” with “soft words” to promote tolerance.
New textbooks have been amended to preach lessons of peace and love rather than quoting radical text introduced during the Zia era.
Contrary to usual governmental rebuttals and pointing out flaws in the USCIRF report, officials need to consider it as a guideline to devise a modern syllabus, which could eventually help eradicate the wave of extremism and hatred so reflective in our society.