Polarised education By M. Zaidi - Monday 2nd May 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/02/polarised-education.html

EDUCATION is a social panacea, which generates ideas that drive social reform. Conversely, the polarisation of education may result in conserving politically motivated status quos. These different forms do not necessarily exist in isolation, and may coexist given certain educational policies.
Biased education may lead to unequal power relations, and a distortion of the educational policy will impact negatively on students. This is true especially in post-colonial societies, which struggle to preserve a nascent liberated heritage which is often viewed as an imposition of the coloniser`s thinking. This manifests itself in a country`s educational discourse and curricula.
Given its narrow technological base, after partition Pakistan was compelled to focus on development with the result that a significant number of thriving technical institutes came into being, including government polytechnic institutes, and were given major incentives. The focus was more outward-looking as well since Pakistan was expected to compete on par with the comity of nations. Ayub Khan himself supported such reform which encouraged a much more forward-looking curriculum than would appear later.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Ziaul Haq`s efforts to reform the syllabus according to a particular worldview radically altered the curriculum, particularly the social sciences. Zia wanted the highest priority to be given to the revision of the curricula with a view to reorganising the entire content around Islamic thought and giving education an ideological orientation.
Curriculum revision committees were set up to marginalise the so-called disruptive forces of parochialism and religious diversion. In subsequent democratic governments, hardly any comprehensive educational policies were put into action. There was more effort to resolve dynamic cultural influences by incorporating social variables in nationalist paradigms. Slanted histories manipulated some chosen genre of national identity, which was then utilised to arrive at some predestined collective identity story of the state. This official narrative and history often departed from objectivity. Ideology became a driver of historiography in secondary-level social studies textbooks at the highest levels of education, an indoctrination strategy institutionalised during Ziaul Haq`s rule.
Many students interviewed at local colleges are cynical about the quality of the courses. Hardly any student chooses to attend the social studies classes, utilising his or her time to study for `important` classes such as math, Urdu or English. Also, it seems there is hardly any additional hierarchical interpretive discourse which builds upon previous ones grade-wise. This makes the learning process boring.
Textbooks in Pakistan must first be approved by the curriculum wing of the education ministry in Islamabad after which they are published by the provincial textbook boards located in Jamshoro, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar. The social studies curriculum in Pakistan is driven by a set of state directives.
Special editing committees systematically sift existing textbooks for identification and remove content deemed unsuitable. The then University Grants Commission had issued a directive in 1983 that textbook writers were: “To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion.”
Prominent Pakistani historians were co-opted to propagate this ideologically grounded historiography. I.H. Qureshi, K.K. Aziz and A.H. Dani were eminent Pakistani historians who tended to ground their arguments in a particular world view. Qureshi and Dani were patronised by both Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq. They were instrumental in constructing a past for their new nation that would set it apart from the Indus Valley civilisation. The issue was not just the defence of partition, or independence from Pakistan`s vantage point, but a different reading of the past involving, among other things, the relegation of a diverse but vibrant composite cultural and intellectual legacy to the back burner.
The long-term effects of a slanted reading of history were recognised early on. Pervez Hoodbhoy and A.H. Nayyar prophesied a blowback at the time through an article, `Rewriting the History of Pakistan` in 1985, in which the process was lamented. Standard Pakistan Studies textbooks rarely include chapters that discuss the cultures and histories of the Baloch or Pathans or Sindhis in comprehensive detail, a fact which nationalities in Pakistan have tended to resent. The Baloch have affinities with and draw their historical identities from Iran and Central Asia, not South Asia.
The ancestors of the Sindhis and the Baloch arrived in this area in the ancient pre-Islamic period, and are thus denied prominent places in the curricula which in many cases start with the advent of Islam in South Asia. An irrational paradigm implemented since the days of One Unit assumes that the denial of cultural differences in the country will bridge the gap between national identities. Religion has also been used as a tool to bridge this identity gap.As Feroz Ahmed in his book Ethnicity and politics in Pakistan , wrote that “the state and its ideologues have steadfastly refused to recognise the fact that these regions are not merely chunks of territory with different names but areas which were historically inhabited by peoples who had different languages and cultures, and even states of their own”. This official and intellectual denial has, no doubt, contributed to the progressive deterioration of inter-group relations, weakened societies` cohesiveness, and undermined the state`s capacity to forge security and sustain development.
The writer is a security analyst.

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