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Rewriting the 'Curriculum of Hate'

Updated on May 29, 2015
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We live and interact in an increasingly globalised world. In the contemporary world, it is vital to be mutually considerate. Quintessentially, History teaching is an indispensable ingredient of our formal education that can enhance awareness of the wider world, and can ensure the promotion of peace in post-conflict societies or in situations where conflict is taking place. In the context of education, Pakistan is an intriguing case. It is a country of over 190 million people - 33.3% of whom are in the age range of 0-14 years and 21.5% fall in the 15-24 years range - with total area that is almost twice the size of California, as per the World Factbook. While just about half the population is of school age, the country's youth is "frustrated and angry", aided by the extremely poor learning outcomes of schools. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report acknowledges the miserable state of Pakistani education system, and asserts that the government spends seven times more on the country's military than on primary education. During a probe into the country's ailing education sector by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the former Chief Justice of our apex court said: "There are animals kept in schools and the buildings have been turned into stables. This is what we are doing to our children when education is a constitutional right".

Moreover, in the report The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, UNESCO maintains that the country's national curriculum glorifies war and focuses on the Hindu-Muslim and Shia-Sunni conflicts through incorporated contents that promote self-serving propaganda. The post-1971 textbooks of History contain vivid examples of hate material that do not offer historical narratives "but rather a carefully crafted collection of falsehoods". Generally, education has been employed by numerous actors around the world to advocate certain ideologies- good or bad. But it is History education in particular that has been influenced by governments throughout the world. For instance, there is a widespread consensus that history taught in the schools of Rwanda advocated the regime's ideology, i.e. propagating "colonial stereotypes" and emphasising the country's ethnic groups' "separate geographical and racial origins", writes Lyndsay Hilker, a lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sussex. In this regard, during the interviews conducted by the African Rights in 2001, numerous Rwandese teachers saw a direct link between the genocide and history curriculum. One teacher expressed his view in the following way: "The contents of the history course, which used to be taught in primary schools, had a direct bearing on the genocide of 1994. It concentrated exclusively on ethnic divisions ... [and] children used to learn them by heart as if they were the gospel truth". Correspondingly, during the Belgian and German colonial periods, the textbooks would passionately praise the ‘gifted’ Tutsis and describe the Hutu as "unintelligent, meek, and suitable for manual work”. Likewise, history curriculum writers of the Nazi era, as Lisa Pine notes in her book Education in Nazi Germany, emphasised "the significance of German blood in history teaching", and referred to the Jews as "enemies of the Reich". in Pakistan too there are tensions between the national and international educational aims, i.e. both global and local forces are competing to dominate the national narrative.

A review of the curriculum was carried out by Peace Education And Development foundation, an advocacy and training organisation, which concluded that the contents inserted into textbooks of schools and colleges in NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are "not in sync with the current socio-political realities because of their controversial, discriminatory and gender insensitive nature". The dilapidated education sector of the province managed to grab international attention after the United States of America launched Operation Enduring Freedom in the neighboring Afghanistan as part of the global War on Terror. While looking into the causes of growing militancy in the province, as noted by Winthrop and Graff in their report for the Brookings Institution, the concerned international community recognised "the education system's power to shape students' worldviews and thereby either instill a more militaristic or radical outlook, or help students challenge extremist beliefs and develop more constructive and tolerant alternative realities, thus reducing the likelihood that they will support or join militants".

The madrassa (religious school) education system in Pakistan has been under the international spotlight since September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Commission Report views Pakistani madrassas as sources for the propagation of militancy, which fueled concerns regarding these religious schools. However, in a study conducted for the World Bank in 2005, the "highly inflated" claims of numerous reports with reference to the increasing enrollment in madrassas, including that of the 9/11 Commission Report, were refuted by the authors- emphasising that the madrassa sector in Pakistan "accounts for less than 1 percent of overall enrollment in the country". Some researchers also assert that there is no major link between extremism and madrassas in Pakistan, as noted by C. Christine Fair in The Madrassah Challenge. In June 2010, whilst quoting the Brookings Institution report, the BBC maintained that "the real cause of militancy" is the country's public education system, and therefore, "the almost exclusive focus on madrassas as a security challenge - which is especially prevalent in the West - needs to be corrected".

With reference to public education system, the issue came into limelight only after a study was released in November 2011 by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The study surveyed 37 public schools in the four provinces of Pakistan, interviewed 277 teachers and students, and analysed the contents of more than 100 textbooks from grades 1-10. It repeatedly emphasised the need for "basic changes to the texts" in order "to present a history free of false or unsubstantiated claims". In fact, numerous curriculum reforms have been administered by various governments in the past to look into the 'false or unsubstantiated claims'. However, none of those reforms truly addressed the underlying problem, and in many cases the beautifully crafted reform proposals only remained on paper. For instance, in a study authored by Peter Jacob, executive director of National Commission for Justice & Peace, textbooks for grade 5 to 10 were thoroughly scanned in the province of Punjab. The study revealed that the 'hate content', in total, appeared 12 times. In response, the government revised the curriculum in 2012. In the revised textbooks, 'hate content' now appears 33 times, concluded the same study. Ironically, the government is well aware of that. A document under the Pakistan National Education Policy Review acknowledges the fact that there is "no mechanism for feedback once the curriculum is implemented and, in any case, the government lacks the requisite evaluation capacity".

Moreover, no in-service training on effective pedagogy is provided to the teachers. This implies that by removing the hate content or inaccurate description is not enough as we also need to focus on how history is taught in our classrooms, and how students are influenced through that instruction. In History teaching, it is fundamental to pay “attention to more than discrete items of information”, argues the book titled Teaching History for the Common Good. The content of the textbook, the what, greatly depends on the how, the teaching strategy chosen by the teacher. If dialogic pedagogy is absent is the classroom, the democratic instruction and learning cannot occur. Therefore, our national curriculum needs to be revised. As curriculum design, planning, and pedagogy fall under the purview of the provinces, according to the 2010 18th Amendment Bill, the relevant provincial bodies must address this issue. Without meaningful education reform with reference to History teaching, "Pakistan is living in delusion", says Ayesha Jalal, a professor of History at Tufts University. We need to recognise, as noted in the Aims of School History National Curriculum that "the reason for history teaching is not that it changes society, but that it changes pupils, it changes what they see in the world, and how they see it". Fortunately, though after a long and painful delay, the new ruling party in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is taking right steps in this direction, which need to be appreciated in the rest of country. Our students deserve a curriculum that is not 'biased' and 'dangerous' and 'untrue'. They deserve better teachers. The deserve better and peaceful schools. Our classrooms do not need to fill children with forgettable facts and prepare them for standardised tests. But teach them how to be mutually considerate and lead a happy life.

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