Many public-school students in Thoha Bahadur, Pakistan, use old textbooks with xenophobic passages. Scholars blame government underfunding. (Jan. 15, 2010) ||RICK WESTHEAD/TORONTO STAR
Public schools not always tolerant in Pakistan
The Star finds incendiary passages common in outdated textbooks studied by Pakistan’s secular students
By Rick Westhead South Asia Bureau||Sunday 21 Feb 2010
THOHA BAHADUR, PAKISTAN–When towns and villages in a stretch of verdant Punjabi farmland had the chance to have cable TV installed in every home earlier this year, most jumped at the offer.
But elders in this village of 7,000 a few hours south of Islamabad said no. They weren’t interested in watching death and despair play out on 24-hour news channels.
So it’s interesting to hear how students in this village of wheat and rice farmers perceive their country and its neighbours. Most everything they’ve learned comes courtesy of textbooks and teachers.
On a recent afternoon, one of the 250 students who attend one of Thoha Bahadur’s public schools, shared his views about India, Pakistan’s neighbour and archrival.
What’s good about India?
“Its natural minerals,” said 12-year-old Ashir Hussain.
What’s bad? “The way they have stolen Kashmir from us. It’s their wrongdoing that they are there. They are our enemy.”
Asked why he believes this, he cites his teachers and textbooks.
Hussain’s attitude highlights a protracted debate in Pakistan over how religious extremists are made.
While some political leaders here and abroad have ratcheted up warnings about madrassas, charging the religious schools fuel Islamic militancy and stoke hatred for the west, some scholars say the real problem is Pakistan’s underfunded public schools and their often incendiary textbooks.
Consider Hussain’s sixth-grade Punjab provincial textbook called “Social Studies 6.”
In one chapter it explains the forefathers of Hinduism “were fond of gambling, drinking and dancing … the foundation of Hindu set up was based on injustice and cruelty.”
Another textbook used by students throughout Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous state, is called “Social Studies for Class V.” It begins: “Islam gives women a high position of respect whereas Hinduism gives a very low place to women.” The same book outlines the concept of jihad.
Texts for older students offer more of the same.
“Social Studies for Class VIII” describes how during the 19th century, “the Hindu racists were not only against Muslims but also against all other minorities …” The book charges Hindus and Sikhs practised ethnic cleansing during partition in 1947 when India and Pakistan were carved out of British India and became independent states.
While the Pakistani Ministry of Education in 2006 said it would remove some of the incendiary language, several educational experts say that hasn’t happened.
A researcher in Islamabad with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Ahmad Salim says he’s been battling the government over textbooks for years.
Sitting on a bright orange couch in his living room in a quiet residential neighbourhood of Pakistan’s capital, Salim said he’s collected evidence that shows public-school texts are littered with anti-India, xenophobic passages that promote contempt for non-Muslims.
“It’s supposed to be that schools are liberal and secular,” he said. “We used to say religion has nothing to do with the state and education.”
But that ideology began to change in 1971, he said, when Pakistan battled an uprising in East Pakistan. Pakistan lost – thanks in part to India’s decision to send in troops – and the territory became independent Bangladesh. From that point on, textbooks began dropping references to non-Muslim historical characters, promoting heroes of Islam and excoriating India.
Nearly 40 years on, the curriculum remains controversial and even as the government promises change, some experts say the pledge rings hollow.
Dr. Haroona Jatoi, a former official with the education ministry who was in charge of Pakistan’s public-school curriculum, said ministry officials aren’t interested in modernizing. “The textbook boards are a group of conservatives,” she said. “They couldn’t care less about gender issues. They want to promote Islam in a rigid way.”
For instance, Jatoi said the textbook board recently told the World Bank and other funding agencies that a section quoting Surah At-Tawba, a section of the Qur’an, had been removed from ninth- and tenth-grade textbooks.
“Fight against those who believe not in Allah nor the last day,” the Qur’an reads. Of Jews and Christians, it adds, “Allah’s curse be on them; how they are deluded away from the truth!”
“They said it was removed, but really it was just moved to Grade 11 and 12 books,” Jatoi said.
Aurangzeb Rehman, the education ministry’s policy and planning advisor, declined to comment while a ministry spokesperson didn’t return repeated calls.
One of the hurdles educators face is simply keeping pace with Pakistan’s surging population.
When the country was carved out of British India in 1947, it had roughly the same population as Iran, said Abid Qayyum Sulehri, an Islamabad economist.
Today, Iran has 66 million citizens to Pakistan’s 171 million. “That’s a huge issue,” Sulehri said. “Iran has a successful family planning program. We don’t.”
More than 20 million students attend public schools in Pakistan, compared with the 1.5 million who go to madrassas. Yet instead of buttressing social programs such as education, Pakistan still pumps roughly one-third of its $29 billion (U.S.) budget into the military.
And as the country’s security situation deteriorates, even more money is being re-allocated to the military, Sulehri said, noting Pakistan now spends less than 2 per cent of its GDP on education.
Textbooks are supposed to be issued by provincial boards each year, but several schools visited by the Star were using undated battered texts full of hand-written notes and torn pages.
In Thoha Bahadur, a teacher said he couldn’t recall the last time textbooks were replaced.
“We have 250 students and we get 50,000 rupees ($621) a year from the government,” he said. “It all goes to maintenance.”
Courtesy : Toronto Star.