How governments tinker with textbooks and influence thinking: Case of Punjab in Pakistan…

December 1, 2017

Pervez Hoodhboy has a piece on textbooks in Pakistan. So far textbooks have been used to push hate. But there are some positive changes of late:

MANY think that our education rot is irreversible. Among countless other problems one stands out — school textbooks written and produced in Pakistan. These are probably the world’s worst. For decades, children have studied from books printed upon smudgy newsprint replete with mistakes, stuffed with materials containing hateagainst other peoples and religions, and impoverished of actual subject content.

There’s now a ray of hope. Last week, two towering piles of books from the Punjab Textbook Board somehow found their way onto my desk. Many bear the imprimatur ‘Punjab Chief Minister’s Programme for Education Reforms’ stamped upon their front cover. This immediately sent to me a negative signal — what business is it of any minister, prime or chief, to advertise himself using public money? But having flipped through thousands of pages I must reluctantly concede that the sin of self-promotion stands ameliorated.

The new books are cleanly printed on paper of decent quality, typographical errors are infrequent, and coloured cartoons show smiling girl children in class. Earlier textbooks typically showed docile boys facing grim-faced elderly teachers. My heart gladdened at suggested science experiments that are both interesting and doable. And, instead of beating the tired old drum of Muslim scientists from a thousand years ago, one now sees a genuine attempt to teach actual science — how plants grow and breathe, objects move, water makes droplets or freezes, etc.


Interesting earlier textbooks set Pakistan’s date of birth on 712 and not 1947:

On the history front one feels instant relief. Pakistan’s date of birth has thankfully been set at 1947 and away from 712 — the year Arab imperial conqueror Mohammed bin Qasim set foot in Sindh. Schoolbooks during Gen Ziaul Haq’s years contained this claim and no subsequent government dared to reset the clock. Astonishingly, one book frankly admits that Muslims had fought against other Muslims and ascribes the Mughal Empire’s downfall after Emperor Aurangzeb to his quarrelling sons rather than eternally scheming Hindu Rajputs.

But here’s the wonder of wonders: an Urdu translation of Quaid-i-Azam’s famous speech of Aug 11, 1947, has finally found its way into at least one social studies book! This declares that religion is a matter for the individual citizen and not of the state. The speech had hitherto been kept hidden for fear of polluting students’ minds and weakening the two-nation theory. Whether it will actually be covered in Matric examinations is difficult to say; if not then students and their teachers won’t take it seriously.

Some problems still remain and need to be reworked immediately.

In the end he sums up:

No country with a reasonable standard of education would think much of celebrating the publication of decent schoolbooks. Like having air to breathe or water to drink, these are considered givens. But with Pakistan being what it has become, let us be happy with what Punjab has done and hope that people in other provinces will insist upon the same or better.



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