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February 27, 2016

‘Educators must be protected,hate material removed from curricula’


February 27, 2016

CLF panel discussion highlights all that ails our public schooling
system and the skewed ideologies impeding much-needed reforms


As the Children's Literature Festival got off to a steady start on Friday, one session in particular asked and answered all the right questions about the curriculum taught in schools across the country.

Moderated by Peter Jacob, who has also written about the matter, the session – titled 'Curriculum of Peace or Hate' – saw an insightful discussion among Dr Fozia Khan, Ameena Saiyid, Zubeida Mustafa, Romana Hussain and Sabrina Dawood.

Beginning the session, Jacob said the reason we are used to hearing news about bombs and killings, and the transformation of our war anthems to our national anthems, lies in the policies drafted by the state, especially the ones addressing educational curriculum.

He mentioned that two provinces, namely Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab, were still stuck in the quagmire of a hate-proliferating syllabus. 

Referring to an incident in Lahore about a deputy director of a student board, he said that the director had said that the books of third and fourth grades should carry the name of Allama Iqbal instead of Dr Muhammad Allama Iqbal, which resulted in a protest against him and he was suspended for a while for merely suggesting the change.

Oxford University Press, Pakistan’s Ameena Sayyid also supported what Peter had said by citing an instance when OUP was asked to work on textbooks for the board. ''We were asked to submit manuscripts for the ninth and tenth grade books and wherever we added the name of Jinnah, we were asked to add Rehmatullah Alleh (RA) with his name. Hence, the books were never used,'' she said.

But, she added, that the publication had freedom when it came to private schools, where history books stated the facts as they happened with special reference to the separation of East Pakistan, which is conveniently removed or greatly altered in various history books taught in government schools.

''We are also trying to bring gender balance in our curriculum. For instance, we will show a woman reading the newspaper or getting groceries instead of the man of the house. It will be surprising for you that all this got a lot of criticism and parents asked as to why the mother was stepping out of the house,'' she remarked on the mindset of the parents.

Author Rumana Hussain also echoed Sayyid's words and pointed to the recent bill passed in Punjab in favour of women and how religious cleric Mufti Naeem has opposed it.

''One of the artists here painted a woman riding a bike and a little boy argued with her as to how she could show that, so yes the reinforcement of stereotypes is very much there,'' she said.

Veteran journalist Zubeida Mustafa alluded to the harsh reality of the education system and how educationists were forced to quit their work if they try to amend the curriculum by removing hate speech and replacing it with neutral matter. She took the name of educationist Dr Bernadette Louise Dean who was forced to leave Pakistan because a certain religious group had declared her 'wajibul qatl' for her efforts to review the public school syllabus.

''I saw the books which were amended by Bernadette and I can safely say they didn't carry any matter that would have incited hate in any way. Even she was aware of the pitfalls and was very careful,'' said Mustafa.

She lamented that Dr Bernadette did not get the support she deserved as the Sindh government failed to take a stand against the party threatening her. “She was a Pakistani and shouldn't have been made to leave in such a manner.”

Stressing that the syllabus needed to be secular, Mustafa said that though Sindh’s textbooks have become slightly better, there was still a lot of room for improvement as the religious overtones in Urdu books were unneeded.

Giving an insight to the affairs that led up to Dr Bernadette having to leave the country, Dr Fauzia Khan, head of the curriculum wing of the education and literary department, said that following the 18th amendment in 2013, the curriculum was transferred to the provincial government from federal control in 2014 and a committee was formed to look after curriculum reforms. 

In the first phase, grades first to fourth were targeted and hate speech and gender equality was given special attention. ''When we removed a religious chapter and added chapters on Younus Masih and Malala Yousufzai, a major religious party strongly objected to the move. Dr Bernadette was heading that committee and it's extremely disappointing that she couldn't complete her task. However, all the additions made by Dr Bernadette and Rana Hussain have been retained and I take pride in saying that their curriculum was officially notified by the Sindh government yesterday,'' said Dr Fauzia.

She said that if we wanted to revive peace and stability, we would have to revamp the curriculum, along with the teachers who are supposed to teach it. Dr Fauzia also said that budding writers who wished to contribute to children's textbooks would soon be taken on board by the government.

Answering a question in the light of recent attacks on various educationists including Professor Sibte Jaffar and Professor Auj among others, Dr Fauzia said that the state should indeed own such individuals and take responsibility to protect them.

''If any minister or industrialist can get protection from the state after a threat is issued, then educationists too have the right to seek such protection,'' she mentioned.

Pointing to the identity crisis in the state, Sabrina Dawood said in the race to become different from our neighbours, we lost our own diversity which greatly affected how the curriculum was designed.

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