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Karachi

March 31, 2016

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‘To remove hate material from curriculum, us-vs-them philosophy needs to go’

Recent changes made by Sindh government are far from sufficient, say speakers

Karachi

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) in its annual report has underlined the need for removing hate-based content from school textbooks being used in schools across the country.

The report titled “Habs-Zada Taleem Se Rehai” was launched on Wednesday in a conference organised with help of Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research (PILER).

At the conference, titled “Uprooting Religious Intolerance through Formal Education”, speakers noted that if Pakistani society has to progress and assure the rest of the world that it is indeed peaceful, structure of school education needs to be changed and curriculum has to be amended.

Speaking on the occasion, Kashif Aslam of the NCJP said the commission for the past five years had been collecting and highlighting hate content in textbooks of public schools. As part of its research, he said, the commission had studied and analysed 70 textbooks.

Talking about the report, Aslam said the material published as part of report was only 25 percent of the total resource gathered from textbooks.

“Though some changes have been made by governments in textbooks of Punjab and Sindh, it is far from sufficient. The two other provinces, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, have not made any progress towards decreasing hate content from their textbooks due to political compromises,” Aslam remarked.

Talking to The News, he said as compared to Punjab, textbooks in Sindh contained less prejudice and hate material against religious minorities. However, given that the hate content is less in Sindh, he said, it was still far from being satisfactory.

“The education boards that call the shots, lack pluralistic values. They hold on tightly to their far-right views which are toxic for the society and state,” he said. “The subject writers too are part of the problem; when we ask them to review their writings on religious minorities, we are told they may be able to let Christians off the hook, but couldn't do the same for Hindus.”

Talking about Sindh, Aslam said though there was progress in removing hate content from textbooks, it was very slow. “On the other hand, in Punjab we see that the process of removing hate material from textbooks has been expedited under the National Action Plan, but little or no action in this regard has been seen in Sindh,” he said. “This is because the progressive intelligentsia in Sindh is restricted to certain sectors. Their active presence is direly needed in the educational sector.”

 

Recommendations

In its report, the NCJP recommended that besides imparting empirical knowledge, textbooks and teaching resources in schools should also focus on educating young minds on universal humanity, dignity of human beings and responsible citizenship.

The report also called for reviewing the current curriculum and education policies to remove practices and material that were discriminatory and inflammatory in nature, especially towards minority communities.

Ideally, it was said, public education should be separated from religious education. However, if this was not possible, then under Article 22 of the constitution, students of other faiths than Islam should get equal opportunities to study their own religion(s). “This should be a substitute of Islamiat. Instead of general Ethics, students should be able to study their own religion,” he said. “Practical steps are required for students belonging to Hindu, Christian, Sikh and other religious groups to study their own religions as a substitute for Nazrah as well. Also, classes and subjects other than Religious Studies should not have lessons on any particular religion.”

The report also called for including the role religious minorities played in the creation and development of Pakistan.

 

Who is a minority?

Dr Charles Amjad Ali, a Martin Luther King Jr Professor Emeritus for Justice and Christian Community, said Pakistan is a state in making. In sociological terms, he said, a minority was a group without power.

He said any state that could not look after its minorities was fundamentally a dysfunctional state, since a state that could not protect the weak within it was not morally or systematically complete.

“Every state has its own ideology, but the problem with Pakistan is it does not have a definite ideology,” he said. “Pakistan ka Matalab kiya, La Ilaaha Illallah sounds beautiful, but what does it really mean?"

Dr Ali was of the view that the basic purpose of any curriculum was to instigate new thinking, imagination and innovation among its learners. However, he said, it appeared that the Pakistani educational system aspired for a society comprising only orthodox Muslims.

Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan People’s Party MNA Dr Shahida Rahmani, lamented that the teachings of Islam were erroneously preached through the school curriculum.

“Islam is a religion that upholds equal rights of all people and asks it followers to attain education and explore the universe as an obligation. This will only come through modern education,” she opined. “Islam focuses exclusively on character building of the society, and this is why there is a need to also improve the curriculum of seminaries and bring them in the fold of public school system,” she said.

An MPA of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Syed Hafeezuddin, said the problem of religious intolerance was serious in Pakistan and could only be tackled with a multi-faceted approach, while observing that the number of seminaries were more than government schools.

He said religious intolerance had destroyed the entire fabric of the society and political opportunists had used these elements to extend their powers over the masses.

An MPA of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Haji Shafi Jamote, observed that teachers and books played an important role in shaping the minds of children.

The executive director of Piler, Karamat Ali, stressed that the influence of religion in politics should be curtailed.

The dean of social sciences faculty at Szabist, Dr Riaz Sheikh, maintained that schools shaped societies. “But in our country, the social construction of society has been based on religion and hatred of people from other faiths. This is why societal marginality in Pakistan has increased where the majority has power over minority communities, whose space in the society has shrunk. Unlike progressive societies, education in Pakistan was an agent of ‘anti-socialisation’,” he said.  

He talked about a senior educationist and a member of the government-appointed advisory committee for curriculum and textbooks reforms, Dr Bernadette L Dean, who left the country in 2015 fearing for her life after she received threatening calls and faced a hate propaganda campaign that he asserted was initiated by the Jamaat-e-Islami.   “To be able to move forward, we need to eliminate the binary of us-versus-them,” he said.

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