THE MENACE OF EDUCATION
brain size and hair colour to the shape and texture of toe-nails, every
characteristic of an individual is totally determined by just two twisted
strands of human DNA. A similar cultural DNA - a society's education system -
contains within it the detailed genetic blueprint determining what that society
is destined to become tomorrow. Forward oriented or fixated on the past,
democratic or authoritarian, egalitarian or elitist, peaceful or violently
engaged in civil strife - the choice between such options is made when one
generation passes on to the next one its values and preferences.
what are the values currently being transmitted and communicated in Pakistan's
schools? Obviously there is some variation across rich and poor schools, between
villages and cities, and across provinces. But the basic road-map is provided by
the school curriculum. Lest there be any confusion the reader should know that,
by an act of Parliament passed in 1976, there is one and only one allowed
road-map, prepared by the Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education,
Government of Pakistan.
usefulness of having a national curriculum was soon recognized by General
Zia-ul-Haq, an Islamic fundamentalist who hanged his benefactor, prime minister
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, after staging a coup in 1977. In 1981 he decreed that
henceforth Pakistani education was to be totally redefined and history rewritten
according to his vision of Pakistan.
now on the struggle for Pakistan was no longer to be shown as a victorious
struggle for a Muslim homeland. Instead, it was to be depicted as the movement
for an Islamic state run according to Islamic law. Even if it conflicted with
reality, the heroes of the Pakistan movement - Jinnah, Iqbal, Syed Ahmed Khan -
were to be projected as Islamic heroes. Furthermore all subjects, including the
sciences, were to be speedily Islamized.
FROM CURRICULUM DOCUMENT FOR CLASSES K-V
Bureau of Curriculum and Textbooks Federal Ministry of Education, 1995.
the completion of Class-V, the child should be able to:
and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan."
by actions a belief in the fear of Allah."
speeches on Jehad and Shahadat"
Hindu-Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan."
evil designs against Pakistan."
safe from rumour mongers who spread false news"
pictures of policemen, soldiers, and National Guards"
respect for the leaders of Pakistan"
decades later the mindset of the Zia era, and the release of a pent-up religious
rage, continues to reflected in Pakistan's currently enforced curriculum
objectives for primary school children. Sadly, while many Pakistanis are aware
that there is something wrong with the nature of our schooling, only a few have
access to public documents such as those reproduced here and which expose us to
international shame, condemnation, and ridicule. [Interestingly, in the foreword
this curriculum document acknowledges that "support was provided by
international organizations, in particular UNICEF, USAID, GTZ, and World
Bank". Shame on them!]
the impact of the national curriculum objectives on a 12 year-old child in his
last year of primary school. Instead of a future that is joyous, and a peaceful
country that offers hope to all, he is told that life is actually about battling
invisible enemies. Fear is ever-present because beneath every stone lurks a
venomous snake and Pakistan is under the siege of sinister forces which the
child must learn to acknowledge, identify, and fight to death. What mental space
can remain for this child's innocence when he or she must learn to make speeches
on jihad and martyrdom? And what scope exists for being tolerant and accepting
of beliefs other than your own?
kind of people does the national curriculum seek to install as role models? They
are not scholars and poets or scientists, nor those who have struggled for the
rights of others. Instead they are policemen, national guards, and soldiers. The
child must collect their pictures, revere them, perhaps kiss them. His visits to
police stations - where rapes, tortures, and deaths in custody occur so
routinely as to be unremarkable - is expected to imbue him with the spirit of
humanism and patriotism. Is a greater perversion of human values really
of the curriculum objectives present more than just a slight difficulty of
implementation. To "demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of
Allah" certainly left me stumped, but surely some wise reader can think of
ways to grade a child on this. How it is possible to "be safe from rumour
mongers who spread false news" is also beyond my intelligence to answer. As
for the requirement to "demonstrate respect for the leaders of
Pakistan", one presumes that on the morning of the 12 October 1999 coup, a
model student had to present evidence of respect for prime minister Nawaz Sharif,
and in the evening for General Musharraf.
any part of what has been quoted above be false? It all sounds so utterly
bizarre that the reader may well raise this question. Indeed, at the ALIF
education conference in Islamabad, held in April 2000, the head of the
Curriculum Wing, Dr. Parveen Shahid, flatly denied that these points formed part
of the present curriculum document. In front of a full audience of over 200
people she stated - as may be viewed on videotape by anyone interested - that no
document in her department exceeded a few pages whereas the page numbers I had
quoted were 153 and higher. A few days later, as a member of the Education
Advisory Board, I brought my copy along to her office. It has 211 pages in all.
At this point she informed me that she had multiple copies of the same document
(containing exactly the points listed above). She did not need my copy!
I have related above is but one example of how bureaucrats of the Federal
Ministry of Education, and particularly the Curriculum Wing, brazenly pursue
their narrow and destructive ideological agenda, unfazed and undeterred by those
seeking change. Knowing that governments come and governments go but they will
stay on forever, the education bureaucracy has closed ranks to protect their
mutual interests. Therefore demands by Education Advisory Board members that
certain parts of the curriculum be dumped, as well as numerous strong reform
proposals for school education, have been opposed, ignored, or mutilated out of
what must constitute the most brazen of practices, minutes of Advisory Board
meetings have been changed at will, twisted around, and manipulated as seen fit.
Not surprisingly what has emerged at the end of several months are mere
platitudes. Add to this that the language used is so pathetically poor that one
has difficulty in deciphering official documents and minutes. For example I
invite any reader to explain to me the following recommendation of an Advisory
Board subcommittee: "females must be oriented for mental health".
moronic, incompetent, self-obsessed, corrupt, and ideologically charged
education bureaucracy today squarely blocks Pakistan's entry into the 21st
century. We cannot entrust the future of our country to those who cannot write a
single straight sentence, and for whom good education means passivity, blind
obedience, and indoctrination. We must also do battle with those who insist that
Pakistani children learn in at least three languages - Urdu, English, Arabic -
and often the mother tongue as well, which is usually different. This linguistic
burden alone is sufficient to cripple children's minds.
there are no quick fixes to a problem that has compounded over five decades, not
a moment should be lost in beginning the slow process of rehabilitation and
reform of the education system. A country suffering from xenophobia and hatred
for others harms primarily itself. Therefore, instead of being virulent and
aggressive, Pakistani patriotism must be identified with civic responsibilities
such as paying one's fair share of taxes, acceptance of Pakistan's diversity of
cultures and peoples, assurance of social justice, preserving the environment,
and so forth. Without this change we have no future.
Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. This article is based upon talks given on several occasions in Pakistan.