Study stresses need to reform education policies to counter extremism

By Arshad Yousafzai
August 30, 2021

KARACHI: ‘Assessing the National Action Plan to Counter Terrorism and Extremism’, a recent report launched by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies think tank in collaboration with the non-profit Friedrich Ebert Stiftung stresses the need for reforming education policies to eradicate terrorism and counter extremism.


“The state should end the policy of using education for shaping the national thinking on identity and security, and clear the textbooks of exclusionary contents and inaccurate presentations of Pakistan’s political history. Besides, terrorism and extremism should be taught as subjects at universities, with a view to counter them.”

Under the topic ‘Political and Policy Orientation of NAP [National Action Plan]’, the study states: “One of the most critical areas where NAP is silent is the educational curricula.”

NAP ignores education: Highlighting the role of textbooks, the report reads: “In the 1980s, a lot of religious and jihadist content was added to the textbooks that survives to this day, and NAP does not explain how that would be rectified.

“Similarly, the de-radicalisation component is also missing from the counter-extremism regime. The military has been running some limited de-radicalisation programmes, but not much is known about them.”

Quoting experts, the study states that eliminating hate speech from the educational curricula alone will solve many issues related to extremism. “Another major action related to NAP’s efforts to curb sectarianism relates to the National Counter Terrorism Authority’s collaboration with the Higher Education Commission to eradicate sectarianism from campuses. But like other related measures, implementation on this particular action has also been losing its earlier intensity.”

Madrasa reforms: Shedding light on education and students of religious seminaries, the report states that madrasas in Pakistan usually affiliate with five religious educational boards, which are managed by the Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahle Hadith, Jamaat-e-Islami and Shia schools of thought.

However, all of the seminaries are not associated with the Wafaq. They are registered with neither these five boards nor with the government. Despite studying similar content, students of madrasas find it hard to avoid sectarian thinking.

Discussing the mainstreaming of seminaries, the study reveals that the complete registration process of madrasas is still awaited.

Despite the fact that according to the federal education ministry’s website, registration is the first step to be followed by facilitation in the opening of bank accounts of madrasas and the issuance of visas to foreign students, as well as the provision of technical and vocational education to madrasa students. At present, around three million students are enrolled in an estimated 35,000 madrasas, out of which 26,160 are registered with the provincial governments under the Societies Act. Some 25,000 madrasas are affiliated with their respective religious education boards. There is a need to mainstream all the religious seminaries.

Textbooks promote extremism: The report highlights that education is a missing part of the NAP framework. It is, therefore, silent on the role of educational curricula in promoting extremist mindsets and narrow world views. The fact is that textbooks in Pakistan have been used both as a means of education and as a political tool to shape public thinking and perception.

“Studies have found that textbooks promote paranoid thinking, suspicion and even hatred of minority religious faiths, such as Hinduism, despite the fact that Pakistan is home to millions of Hindus.

“Such indoctrination through the education system may be a key reason behind the faith-based persecution of the Hindu citizens in the country. Therefore, it is only too apparent that the curricula taught at educational institutions have a critical relationship with the overall radicalisation of society. “Educational syllabus laden with Islamist ideological content has only contributed to extremism and exclusion of the religious minorities from the mainstream. But the NAP framework proposes no strategy on rectifying the educational curricula that have contributed to extremism in Pakistan. “Just like education, certain policies of the past and their fallout have also been a major source of growing extremism in the country.”The study states: “The textbooks must be clear of inaccurate or biased presentation of our political history so as to allow the young generations to have a factual reading of their past and learn from the wisdom as well as mistakes of their predecessors. Feeding half-truths to young minds in the name of nation-building only creates confusion and paranoia.”

Eradication of extremism: There have been some missing areas that should be incorporated, including education and curriculum reforms. The physical infrastructure of the public education system must be expanded in the region, and education made accessible to the locals. Strategies should be developed for creating an enabling environment for girls’ education.

“Just like education, certain policies of the past and their fallout have also been a major source of growing extremism in the country. Therefore, eradication of extremism is possible through curriculum and wider educational reforms that seek to promote principles and values of religious diversity, multiculturalism and non-discrimination.”