Seventy-five years of education: Part - I

August 15, 2022

As Pakistan celebrates its platinum jubilee at 75, it is time to take stock of the country’s achievements and losses in various fields. A country can measure its progress in terms of several...

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As Pakistan celebrates its platinum jubilee at 75, it is time to take stock of the country’s achievements and losses in various fields. A country can measure its progress in terms of several indicators such as education, electricity provision, employment opportunities, financial stability, fundamental rights, gender equity, health facilities, internal security and stability, international relations, and many others.

Ideally, the government should have conducted an extensive exercise to assess our achievements and losses in each area, but it is either unable or unwilling to do so lest it shows a mirror to our rulers – both de facto and de jure.

As an educationist, I can briefly discuss what we have done to our education in the last 75 years. The dismal state Pakistan finds itself in – culturally, economically, politically, and socially – has a lot to do with our failures in the education system, and I can cite multiple reasons for that.

All indicators of development are interconnected and influence each other. Political decisions and will, or lack thereof, have their direct bearing on how a society develops or degenerates. Perhaps the most devastating impact that our society had in its early years was the Objectives Resolution that put the country on a path of ever-increasing religiosity.

Apparently, it had nothing to do with how education evolved in Pakistan but a careful look at our recent history shows that the country’s fixation with theocracy has had far-reaching ramifications across nearly all areas and sectors, including education.

Attitude formation and behavioural change depend, to a great extent, on how a state and its functionaries form their attitudes and display their behaviour. If a state itself becomes biased, its bias is invariably reflected in its curriculum and the entire education system.

Unfortunately, right from its inception, the leadership of this country selected a trajectory that was bound to make its education infertile, intolerant, and incapable of nurturing new generations able to fit in the world as capable, decent, and responsible citizens. Instead, we have been grooming hatred, incompetence, jealousy and lawlessness.

After the passage of the Objectives Resolution in March 1949, the priorities of the state became quite different from what the father of the nation had enunciated in his speech on August 11, 1947. But irrespective of what he had or had not said or wanted, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the UN ratified had outlined a basic structure of what should have become a pillar of our education and political system just three months before the Objectives Resolution in Pakistan. The country’s leadership had least interest in education development and was more involved in palatial intrigues and using religion for its short-term political benefits.

Various events of the early 1950s showed that religious minorities would remain on the receiving end of injustice; and the dream of an intolerant and harmonious society would remain just a dream. The musical chairs of the 1950s did not allow any political leadership to pay much attention to education. In comparison, India’s first Union education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad held that office from 1947 till his death in 1958. He put India on a sound footing of liberal and secular education that lasted for at least 60 years, before the BJP started dismantling it from 2014 onwards.

The dissolution of provinces and the formation of one province called West Pakistan in 1955 – with its capital in Lahore – was a major blow to education in the country. All provincial education ministries ceased to exist and bureaucracy in Lahore took all administrative and curriculum decisions for West Pakistan.

Local cultural diversity required localized decisions, but even primary and secondary education became highly centralized in Lahore where all educational hiring, postings and transfers took place. Nearly all languages from Balochi and Punjabi to Pashto and Sindhi suffered as ‘one-unit’ education did not take into account the aspiration of people who loved and spoke these languages.

From 1960 onwards there was a clear focus on changing the curriculum with more religious orientation. Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi, who remained the vice-chancellor of the University of Karachi for a record ten years, played a significant role in this change to more religiosity. He was an historian with an agenda, just like bureaucrats like Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, Qudratullah Shahab, and many others.

Textbooks eulogized religious leaders and warriors more than they did academics, explorers and scientists. There was a clear denunciation of ‘Hindu mentality’ and ‘Hindu conspiracies’ against Muslims. This tendency portrayed all Hindus as enemies of Islam and Pakistan. Gradually, this narrative targeting the ‘kufaar’ (infidels) became so pervasive that nearly all religious minorities became villains in the eyes of students right from primary education.

The curriculum that should have been promoting harmony and tolerance became increasingly tinged with religiosity and self-righteousness in which our past was glorious and all others were enemies and conspirators against Islam and Pakistan. This nurtured a generation that fed on hatred and had blinkers on their eyes that the system had foisted on them.

The next turning point for education in Pakistan was the selection of Nawab Amir Muhammad Khan of Kalabagh as the governor of West Pakistan by the self-appointed president and field marshal General Ayub Khan. Nawab Kalabagh was a feudal lord known for his brutal and ruthless handling of political matters. He hardly had any interest in educating the people and crushed all dissent with an iron hand.

Students were playing a considerable role in the fight against the military dictatorship; Kalabagh was bent upon destroying that democratic spirit from all students. Colleges and universities remained closed for months, but the Nawab was not bothered.

The war of 1965 between India and Pakistan took its toll on education too. There were at least three adverse impacts of that war on education. One, the country now had to spend much more on defence and education was lowered on the priority list of all future governments to come – both civilian and military.

Two, education in the social sciences became even more replete with references to heroic warriors as role models, at the cost of others. Three, the falsification of history became even more intense as there was no room for students to read or think about an alternative version other than the official one which glorified its ostensible success.

By the end of the 1960s, Pakistan had little to show on its educational record as in the previous 20 years the curriculum had declined in quality, and most of the people were still illiterate. When the country was about to celebrate its silver jubilee in 1972, the nation had gone through a brutal military action in former East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Zulfikar Ali Bhutto apparently had good intentions when he introduced his policy of state control – dubbed as nationalization – of major sectors including education, but his government failed to make it a success for various reasons.

Ultimately it turned into the bureaucratization of education rather than nationalization. The idea was good as essentially it is a prime responsibility of any state to provide accessible and free quality education to all from primary to higher education. But the Bhutto government failed to improve the quality of education as it declined even in those institutions that had been performing well previously.

There was a ban on any new private venture in education, and though the government established new state-run schools and universities, their performance was below par.

To be continued...

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK.

Twitter: NaazirMahmood


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