Experts call for extensive review of textbooks
KARACHI: “The Shariat Act says that you are not to enforce Islamic teaching on non-Muslims, but here you have syllabi which teach Islam to non-Muslims. Our courses really require an extensive review,” said retired Justice Majida Rizvi at the education conference on ‘Right to education without discrimination’ organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist) on Monday.
“In our textbooks, when we talk of things such as Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanting ‘unity’ among Muslims then where will the other people go?” she said. “Look at history. Jinnah’s companions, who helped Pakistan become a reality, belonged to different faiths,” she pointed out.
“As students we used to be taught by Sunni as well as Shia maulanas and no one was bothered but now people want to know which school of thought you belong to and just saying that you are Muslim does not satisfy their curiosity,” she said.
Dr Riaz Shaikh, dean, faculty of social science and education at Szabist, said that the basic issue was about what kind of a state we want Pakistan to be. “Do we want a national state or an ideological state? Of course, a national state would mean being an inclusive state,” he said, adding that the Objectives Resolution was the first dent to this country preventing that and dividing the people.
‘Education is the country’s backbone, but are we doing it right?’
“Jinnah had said that we will not have a theocracy but after Zia, Pakistan changed into a theocratic state where the president and prime minister must be Muslim,” he said.
“Before Zia, there were only about 179 madressahs in Pakistan but after 1979 their number has increased to more than 26,000. And they are not creating human beings, they are creating biased people,” he said.
Social activist and former caretaker minister Anis Haroon said that what we see in our society now is the result of the kind of education we have imparted. She also said that there was confusion about what to teach and how to teach children. “There are no values, no concepts, no systems while the focus is on teaching English. But just teaching English is not education. What about teaching them your history, what about teaching them about your society? Kids going to affluent schools live in a cocoon for not being taught all these things,” she said, while wondering what happened to teaching children to keep an open mind and to ask questions.
“Today’s education doesn’t encourage one to go past the state’s narrative. Education is the country’s backbone. But are we doing it right?” she said. “In my opinion, illiteracy here is better than bad education,” she said, while asking if there could be 20 marks extra awarded for taking Islamiat and 10 extra marks for being a Hafiz, “Why can’t the non-Muslim students get the same marks for doing well in ethics?”
While speaking about bias in education in Pakistan, Peter Jacob, executive director of the CSJ, quoted the example of the recent killing of a teacher by a student in Bahawalpur and the Mashal Khan murder in Mardan with several examples of forced conversations. “We see intolerance and extreme violence not just on streets but on campuses also. And here there are so many cases of attacking the marginalised,” he said.
“It is good then that the country is now headed towards some kind of an education reform. But the basic flaw in this new education policy document called the ‘New Deal’ is that does not include freedom of conscience or thought, making it imbalanced,” he said.
Kulsoom Monica of the CSJ said that menial jobs here are usually reserved for minorities. “There are also fewer chances for [them to get] education,” she said.
Rana Asif Habib, a social worker, said that despite Article 25-A that guarantees the right to free and compulsory education to children between the ages of five to 16, children were out of school here. “We have laws and policies here which are not followed. We have laws for not letting children under the age of 14 do labour, but it is still happening. Bonded labour may have been abolished on paper, but is it gone really?” he asked.
“In our textbooks, we write Muslims keep clean because Islam preaches cleanliness. As if people belonging to other faiths are dirty,” he said, adding that textbooks should not have things that may lead to hate and intolerance. “They should carry lessons of peace and harmony,” he added.
“Prejudice in schools will discriminate and then children discriminated against will drop out, of course.”