Pakistan textbooks raise debate about 'curriculum of hate'
Government-sanctioned textbooks across Pakistan contain numerous examples of anti-minority and anti-Western language, prompting activists to encourage teachers to stop using them.
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The current curriculum came into use following the end of colonial rule and bitter break with India, which was considered an enemy. Later, during the rule of Gen. Zial ul-Haq, the curriculum was further radicalized, introducing the Soviet war in Afghanistan as “a new front for jihad.” Haq’s vision was to Islamize Pakistan, inspired by Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islam.Skip to next paragraph
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Nayyar, who co-wrote a 2003 study called “The Subtle Subversion” that points out historical faults in textbooks and how the inaccuracies affect children, has been struggling for more than a decade to change them. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a minority rights organization, estimates that nearly every school in Pakistan uses the textbooks.
“During the early years of Musharraf [Pakistan’s last military dictator] rule, I was asked by the government to give in my recommendations to improve the curriculum, which were incorporated in the syllabus,” says Nayyar.
One of the changes he suggested and that was made was to redefine the word “jihad” in textbooks. Though the textbooks have it as “waging a holy war against infidels,” the literal meaning of the word means “struggle,” or “striving,” a meaning, he says, that deserves a much broader definition. He proposed that textbooks should explain that the term should refer to “fighting evils inside oneself.”
But his changes were short-lived.
Pressured by religious parties from whom he was seeking political support, Musharraf restored the original curriculum a few months later.
But the NCJP approached Nayyar recently, knowing he had led the fight to modernize Pakistan’s textbooks for years.
Now Nayyar and the NCJP have come up with an updated analysis of Pakistan’s curriculum in both public and private schools by detailing lessons from the books sentence by sentence, highlighting content that is biased against ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan, as well as hypernationalism against India and the West.
In many chapters outlined by NCJP, modern Hindus are referred to as “gangsters” and Christians are referred to as “violent crusaders.”
According to the report, the hate content in textbooks has more than doubled since the last time they were revised. For example, some 30 Grade 5 to 10 textbooks published in Punjab, examined in 2009, were found to have 12 instances of biased material that could be considered “hate content.” In 2012, the textbooks underwent a curriculum revision. After another review, the total number of quantifiable instances of questionable or factually incorrect material went up to 33, according to Peter Jacob, the study's author.
Curriculum authorities respond
When Pakistan’s Federal Textbook Board – a government body that authorizes and reviews content published in schoolbooks – was contacted, at first they denied that there was such content.
When a Monitor correspondent confronted them with the latest report by NCJP, Riaz Ahmad, head of the government curriculum committee, promised to look into it.
“We try our best to check such content, but since our society belongs to religious people, it is tough to bring [such] changes,” Dr. Ahmad says, adding that the curriculum has to respect the society it is being taught in.
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In the meantime, some schools have begun to write their own textbooks. One such private school, Indus Valley School of Learning, based in Rawalpindi, has come up with its own curriculum. It has yet to find a publisher, which makes education here expensive, but appears to be promoting understanding among the youths studying here.
Yasmeen Ashraf, the owner and principal of the school, says, “ The extremism that we have seen in Pakistan can be beaten through the school, through the education system by properly developing curriculum."