The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curicula and Textbooks in Pakistan

The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curicula and Textbooks in Pakistan

Publication details

  • Friday | 31 Dec, 2010
  • Muhammad Salim Khawaja, A. H. Nayyar
  • Research Reports,Project Publications
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Pakistan’s public education system has an important role in determining how successful we shall be in achieving the goal of a progressive, moderate and democratic Pakistan. A key requirement is that children learn to understand and value this goal and cherish the values of truthfulness, honesty, responsibility, equality, justice, and peace that go with it.

Children’s identities and value systems are strongly shaped by the national curricula and textbooks in Social Studies, English, Urdu and Civics from Class I to Class XII. The responsibility for designing them lies with the Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education and the provincial Text Book Boards. The Curriculum Wing is mandated to design all pre-university curricula and issue guidelines to textbook writers and school teachers. Provincial Textbook Boards commission writing of textbooks and get them

printed after their contents are approved by the Curriculum Wing.

A close analysis by a group of independent scholars shows that for over two decades the curricula and the officially mandated textbooks in these subjects have contained material that is directly contrary to the goals and values of a progressive, moderate and democratic Pakistan.

The March 2002 revision of curricula undertaken by the Curriculum Wing of the Ministry of Education did not address the problems that existed in earlier curriculum documents.

In some cases, these problems are now even worse. Our analysis found that some of the most significant problems in the current curricula and textbooks are:

  • Inaccuracies of fact and omissions that serve to substantially distort the nature and significance of actual events in our history.
  • Insensitivity to the existing religious diversity of the nation
  • Incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of Jehad and Shahadat
  • Perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women and religious minorities, and other towards nations.
  • A glorification of war and the use of force
  • Omission of concepts, events and material that could encourage critical selfawareness among students
  • Outdated and incoherent pedagogical practices that hinder the development of interest and insight among students

To give a few examples:

The books on Social Studies systematically misrepresent events that have happened throughout the Pakistan’s history, including those which are within living memory of many people.

This history is narrated with distortions and omissions. The causes, effects, and responsibility for key events are presented so as to leave a false understanding of our national experience. A large part of the history of South Asia is also omitted, making it difficult to properly interpret events, and narrowing the perspective that should be open to students. Worse, the material is presented in ways that encourage the student to marginalize and be hostile towards other social groups and people in the region.

The curricula and textbooks are insensitive to the religious diversity of the Pakistani society. While learning of Islamiat is compulsory for Muslim students, on average over a quarter of the material in books to teach Urdu as a language is on one religion. The books on English have lessons with religious content. Islamiat is also taught in Social Studies classes. Thus, the entire is heavily laden with religious teachings, reflecting a very narrow view held by a minority among Muslims that all the education should be essentially that of Islamiat.

There is a strong current of exclusivist and divisive tendencies at work in the subject matter recommended for studies in the curriculum documents as well as in textbooks.

Pakistani nationalism is repeatedly defined in a manner that excludes non-Muslim Pakistanis from either being Pakistani nationals or from even being good human beings.

Much of this material runs counter to any efforts at national integration.

The Constitution of Pakistan is cited but misinterpreted, in making the reading of the Qur'an compulsory in schools. The Constitution requires the compulsory reading of the Qur’an for Muslim students alone, but in complete disregard of this restriction, it is included in the textbooks of a compulsory subject like Urdu which is to be read by students of all religions. The Class III Urdu textbook has 7 lessons on Nazra Qur'an and its translations. The Urdu and Social Studies curricula even ask for all the students to be taught Islamic religious practices like Namaz and Wuzu.

Besides severe pedagogical problems like uneven standards of lessons in books on English and Urdu languages and bad English even in the English language books, glaring contradictions exist in books on Social Studies. Together, these factors make it almost impossible for students to develop critical and analytical skills.

The curriculum as well as textbooks excessively emphasize the "Ideology of Pakistan" which is a post-independence construction devised to sanctify their politics of those political forces which were initially inimical to the creation of Pakistan Most of the textbook problems cited above have their origin in two sources: (1) curriculum documents and syllabi and (2) the instructions to textbook authors issued from the Curriculum Wing of the Ministry of Education. As long as the same institutions continue to devise curricula, the problems will persist. Repeated interventions from the post-1988 civilian governments failed to overcome the institutional resistance.

The problems are further accentuated when the authors of textbooks produce books that are heavily laden with doctrinal material and devoid of much useful instructional content.

The provincial textbook boards are to be held squarely responsible for repeatedly failing to produce textbooks that are useful and interesting to students.