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Published Date: Nov 14, 2011


There is a new report out yesterday titled, Connecting the Dots:  Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan. It is an extensive look at textbooks used in both public schools and in the madrassas in Pakistan, along with pedagogical methods used by instructors. The picture is not very pretty. Some of it is not much of a surprise for me as I went through the same system in the 80’s. You can download the full report here (pdf). I haven’t gone through it in detail as yet, but it looks thorough and has a nice literature overview as well.
Here is what International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) did:

ICRD and its partner, the independent Pakistani think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute, reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1 through 10 from Pakistan’s four provinces. Students and teachers from public schools and madrassas were also interviewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province), Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab. Thirty-seven middle and high schools were visited, with 277 students and teachers interviewed individually or in group settings.  Researchers interviewed 226 madrassa students and teachers from 19 madrassas.
And here are key findings:

The study involved the examination of social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks and pedagogical methods in Pakistan’s public school system and its madrassa system, and the interviewing of teachers and students about their views on religious minorities. The goal of the year-long study was to explore linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities in public schools and madrassas, biases that exist against these minorities, and subsequent acts of discrimination or extremist violence.
The study found that –

  • Public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation, and Pakistan’s religious minorities were referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether;
  • Hindus were depicted in especially negative terms, and references to Christians were often inaccurate and offensive;
  • Public school and madrassa teachers had limited awareness or understanding of religious minorities and their beliefs, and were divided on whether religious minorities were citizens;
  • Teachers often expressed very negative views about Ahmadis, Christians, and Jews, and successfully transmitted these biases to their students;
  • Interviewees’ expressions of tolerance often were intermixed with neutral and intolerant comments, leaving some room for improvement

This is an important report. The findings in the report are not exactly shocking. I’ve had conversations with highly educated Pakistanis about Ahmadis, Christians, Shias, etc. where the level of vitriol or simple disrespect has been astonishing. That said, I also want to point out (and have done so many times before) that there are also a number of fantastic Pakistanis who are constantly fighting this tide of intolerance. But it makes it harder to fight this battle when such discrimination is embedded in the education system (as is pointed out in this report) or in the constitution (as is the shameful act of explicitly declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims and making an affirmation of this a part of passport requirement!).

Intolerance begets intolerance.

There has been an effort to reform the education system, but the effort has so far been anemic. Since this report on religious intolerance is going to get a lot of play in the US, lets also not forget America’s role in promoting violence in shaping madrassas textbooks. Oh – not now. But in the 1980s. Here is a recent piece from Tribune Express:

Imagine that you learnt the alphabet and numbers with images of Kalashnikovs and tanks instead of apples and oranges.
During the mid to late 1980s, a USAID funded project printed millions of textbooks in Peshawar. The funds came from Saudi Arabia and the books were distributed amongst school children in Afghanistan and in new madrassas across Pakistan.
These textbooks were prepared to indoctrinate. Specialists from the Afghanistan Centre at the University of Nebraska Omaha received nearly $60 million to develop a curriculum, which glorified jihad, celebrated martyrdom and dehumanised invaders.
By the mid-1980s, the Afghan mujahedeen were bleeding the Soviet Union, hastening her economic collapse and nearing the eventual end of the Cold War.
The schools that survived across Afghanistan along with various madrassas continued using these same textbooks throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.
Only in 2002 did the process of replacing textbooks begin, however, by then the template had been improved and widely distributed across both Afghanistan and Pakistan. A generation had been born to celebrate death rather than life. They accepted violence as a natural part of everyday life.

Pervez Hoodbhoy has documented some of the questions that were included in these textbooks. Here are two examples from textbooks published by University of Nebraska around 1985:

One group of mujahidin attack 50 Russians soldiers. In that attack 20 Russians are killed. How many Russians fled? [Grade 3]
The speed of a Kalashnikov bullet is 800 meters per second. If a communist is at a distance of 3200 meters from a mujahid, and that mujahid aims at the communist’s head, calculate how many seconds it will take for the bullet to strike the communist in the forehead. [Grade 4]

This is stunningly insane! You can read more about the US sponsored textbooks in this Washington Post article from 2003: From US. the ABCs of Jihad. Now again, we have to be careful to not use this to deflect criticism of the education system in today’s Pakistan. The anti-Hindu, anti-Christians, and anti-Ahmadi elements in public textbooks have nothing to do with the Soviets or the jihad. Those come from local politics and existing prejudices. Ultimately, the promotion of tolerance – and I would rather use the word ‘respect’ – of minorities is in the very interest of a 21st century Pakistan.