Textbooks — the real culprit

Zubeida Mustafa

ALTHOUGH many factors affect the quality of education in Pakistan, textbooks are a major culprit. It is rightly said that children learn what they experience in the classroom. The two agents of learning at this stage are the teachers and the textbooks.

In my last post I had drawn a gloomy picture of the teachers whose impact on the young child’s mind is profound. What about the textbooks?

They can be described in a single word — appalling. More can be said about them. They are gender biased. They are anti-peace. They promote prejudice, anger and hatred.  Above all they do not promote tolerance and love or teach children to think critically as good books do. Numerous analysts, agencies such as Unesco and educationists have pointed this out.

Two years ago, a National Party Senator created a furore in the Upper House when he read out a passage from a textbook being taught in the colleges in Punjab and Sindh. In this the Baloch were defined as an “uncivilised people who remain busy fighting and killing”. He told the house that in another book, it has been written that the “Baloch were those people who lived in the desert and looted caravans.”

Wouldn’t children reading this start hating the Baloch? What an unwise and irresponsible thing to write when the Baloch are already under siege in Pakistan.

Then there is the gender bias that permeates our text books. Unesco, in a study that included 194 textbooks from four provinces of Pakistan for six subjects found that “the national curriculum reflected a significant gender bias towards males in at least three of these subjects.”

The report added, “In the analysis, only 7.7% of the personalities in the textbooks were found to be female, with most of them relating to Muslim history, and the rest were male. In the textbooks on the history of the subcontinent, only 0.9% of the historical icons mentioned were females.”

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A sentence very often quoted as an example of misogynist writing is: “A hundred sons are not a burden but one daughter bows our heads.”

All this no doubt reinforces the patriarchal tendencies in boys and accentuates gender disparity in society.

Our religious identity is another aspect of our national life that finds strong mention in our textbooks. The approach adopted is summed up by Tahira Abdullah in a review of KP textbooks as one that glorifies war, ‘otherises’ non-Muslims, takes a uni-dimensional view of reality, distorts history and stereotypes women.

This is not a positive style of writing on any sensitive issue, least of all for students who imbibe quickly what they read. These examples make clear why we should not surprised that militancy has taken root in Pakistani society. This has been promoted by a nexus between the “militant, extremist, jihadist and pro-ideology” elements who have come to dominate the education sector in all provinces.

As a result, efforts to revise and reform the curricula under American pressure in the post 9/11 years have yielded no result. Violence has also been used to drive away progressive forces from the reform process. Take the case of Bernadette Dean, a liberal educationist working on the revision of textbooks in Sindh, who  was forced to flee the country when banners and posters came up overnight in Karachi declaring her to be “wajibul qatl”  (worthy of the death penalty). She fled the country when the IG Police told her that he couldn’t guarantee her safety. A few weeks earlier another non-Muslim woman educationist had been attacked by militants.

Article 25-A speaks of compulsory education for all children 6-16 years of age. The need of the hour is not just to make education accessible to all children in Pakistan but also to ensure that the textbooks teach them what they need to learn.

The elections are the right occasion to ensure that textbooks receive the attention they deserve.

The writer is Dawn’s former Op-ed editor. She currently writes a fortnightly column on the social sectors. Her writings can be found at  www.zubeidamustafa.com

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