of the untaught chapters
The rote route
The culture of rote learning prevalent in the school system has ruined generation after generation of this country, rendering students incapable to think independently
The method of teaching employed by many schools is highly prescriptive in nature. Many a times, students do not grasp the basic concepts of what is being taught and merely understand the subject matter in order to solve particular questions being posed.
Muhammad Ahsan, a teacher of mathematics in one of Karachi's private schools, is witness to this educational malaise, and contends that teaching is turning out to be a very tough job. According to him, students preparing for matriculation examination have difficulty understanding algebraic functions. He said that in most cases, their knowledge is too limited to grasp basic concepts, while solving a conceptual problem is out of the question.
Despite that, tens of thousands of such students will easily pass out to join college next year. All they need to do is learn how to solve some exam papers which have appeared in the past years.
The culture of rote learning prevalent in the school system has ruined generation after generation of this country, rendering students incapable to think independently. Perhaps this can be attributed as one of the causes for the lack of scientists and credible researchers present here.
"Learning for students has become a predefined process of do this and then do that," said Ahsan, who has been teaching for five years now. "Most of them are very good learners; they'll score 100 out of 100. But just put the question differently, and half of them would fail."
In most schools in Pakistan, a child is promoted to the next class based on their performance in final examinations. All year long, there is hardly any assessment determining the academic and intellectual growth of a student. Class participation, assignments and extracurricular activities are seldom given any importance.
Educational experts and teachers Kolachi spoke to warn that the country cannot develop until the youth is made to think critically. This requires some serious efforts on part of the elected representatives.
The issues are deep-rooted and complex. State sponsored, out-dated textbooks, are presented as divine scriptures to children from the primary grades onwards. And the teachers become akin to demigods who can not be challenged on any point.
Dr Hamida Khuhro, former Sindh Education Minister, acknowledges the stark difference between how children of this nation are taught and how those in developed countries are educated. "Our textbooks are neither interactive nor relevant to the environment in which a child is brought up," she said, highlighting the issues with years old curriculum. "Most often the lessons are boring and badly written."
Attempts by successive governments to change the textbooks have been bogged down by the bureaucracy, who is resistant to any change. "These secretaries, additional secretaries and the section officers are the biggest obstacle to this development," Khuhro reminisced about her government's time. She said back in General Zia-ul-Haq's government, religion was made part of every subject like English and Urdu literature and Science. "We had cut that out from the new books, but they never made it to the classrooms."
Herself a student from Oxford with a doctorate in colonial history of Sindh, she knows the importance of educational institutions in developing mindsets of children. "I remember how difficult it was for me to think critically in my initial days in England," she recalled. "There, you don't just read books; you learn to extract information from the books."
Irrelevant textbooks which fail to unlock children's imagination are just one problem. But the poor quality of teachers also frustrates attempts to revise the curriculum. Teaching has now become a profession of last resort in this country. Even private schools which charge the highest tuition fee pay miniscule salaries to teaching staff. The corrupt process of inducting teachers to government schools raises question about their ability to teach.
The primary reason for the poor state of the educational system is the lack of government interest and initiative. Salman Asif Siddiqui, Director of Education Resource Development Center, has worked closely with governmental institutions in designing textbooks and training teachers. He claims there is no clear educational policy but only some ambiguous guidelines that shape the curriculum.
"Course designing is a technical subject but the ministry of education has always been managed by bureaucrats and retired army men," he said, adding that this has left much to be desired. As a consequence, he says, the books have conceptual flaws. "For example, there is an essay on visit to a beach. How can you expect a child living in Thar or Punjab to comprehend what it feels like being at the beach?"
He said that with the exception of Zubaida Jalal, there has been no precedent of someone having an educational background heading the Federal Education Ministry, which is a converging point for all the provincial textbook boards.
"A lot of research needs to be put in designing the right books. We need storywriters and proper instructors," he says, adding that, "The Government must realize that the war against backwardness and terrorism can only be won by books, ideas and pen."
--The News photos by Naqeeb-ur-Rehman
A narrative that needs revision
The events of the past are distorted in the educational curriculum with the intention to create patriotism among the students. However, it hardly serves that purpose and the textbooks still await a truer account of history
Right from school level, official history taught students details about how Pakistan came into existence, and highlights the heroic deeds of those who fought for the country. However, what you really get is a distorted version of the happenings of those times, stress many academics.
Pakistan Studies is taught as a compulsory subject from schools to degree classes, but its textbooks, like other subjects, have always been censured for old, subjective, and unrealistic description of events. It is usually done to promote patriotism even at the cost of incorrect history.
Renowned historian Prof. Mubarak Ali told Kolachi that reform in textbooks in the country began with the introduction of Pakistan Studies and Islamic Studies as compulsory subjects by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1971. They were later amended by the government of former dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq.
University of Karachi (KU) Pakistan Study Centre Director Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed told Kolachi that gender bias, material inciting hate, and the impractical portrayal of history have been some of the major problems in textbooks. "We cannot impart inaccurate information in the name of patriotism. This simply cannot work," Ahmed warned.
"Pakistan Studies is meant to be a multidisciplinary subject, that includes Pakistan's economy, its sociology, politics and geography, while Pakistan history is a part of this big canvas," he said. The professor said that hiding any sort of information would not serve our youth, as they will find out the truth one day and they develop a repulsive attitude towards the entire nation.
In 2003, after heated media debates, the government decided to improve the Pakistan studies curriculum on the recommendations of the former University Grants Commission in 2001, and then later by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC). Ahmed however found it shocking that until recently, there was no mention of the tragic events of 16 December, 1971 in our textbooks. "Why did it take that long for our successive governments to include the fall of Dhaka, which has remained fresh in the memories of Pakistanis as the most dreadful event in country's history, in our syllabi?" he questioned. He said that although the Sindh Textbook Board (STB) book for classes IX and X has included this historical episode, it discusses it very superficially and does not mention the sacrifices of the people of Bengal for Pakistan movement.
While the syllabi of Pakistan Studies are under the strict gaze of the State, the subject is categorised as a heritage one in O'-Level and IGCSE qualifications as governed by Cambridge International Examinations. The syllabus covers Pakistan's history, cultural heritage, national identity, geography, economy and environment.
According to the KU professor, the narrative in official textbooks of wars that Pakistan fought is one-sided, as it should have included both the strengths and weaknesses of the country so as to provide a realistic and balanced approach for students. "Today, you cannot hide anything. People have access to a plethora of information resources on a single click; same is the case with depicting the history of wars that Pakistan fought with its neighbouring country."
Ahmed felt that the focus should be on "social interpretation of history", wherein the dynamics of pre-partition Indian society and politics should be looked into, and to appreciate the social settings and conditions of the time. He said that the trouble starts when history and religion are mixed together in textbooks, and no distinction is made between them. "We only focus on a few political figures in our textbooks, which should be changed," he suggested.
Ali agreed with the notion that revisions were necessary. "Pakistan Studies is a multi- disciplinary subject that needs continuous revision of curriculum owing to the rapidly changing geo-political conditions of this region, especially in context of the war on terror," he said.
Tales of the untaught chapters
A number of historical figures of Sindh seem to have been marginalised in the official narrative of the State. The absence of momentous characters and moments in history and society from textbooks is perhaps the logical outcome of this policy of ostracizing, but why does status quo remain even after sixty years of being a 'nation'. Kolachi explores the matter
By Jan Khaskheli
Some time ago, Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq had acknowledged before a packed audience of educationists, writers and journalists in Karachi that the Sindh Education Board (SEB) curricula were rife with out-dated texts. He also solemnly pledged to reintroduce several important themes in textbooks. Officials involved in the process of designing new textbooks, however, believe that the minister's promises will be to no avail.
Those associated with the education sector in Sindh believe that the parameters set by the federal government are rigid, and there to stay. "The federal government does not allow any provincial authority to challenge its fixed guidelines," said an official involved in the process of designing new textbooks, on conditions of anonymity. "The federal government's tight noose over education makes it necessary for all provincial authorities to take approval from the Center before proceeding to make any changes. The federal government does not allow any of the provinces to include things which may highlight some historical roles or for that matter, a different view of culture and society."
Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that such apprehensions are due to historical precedents. "Take for instance the case of former Sindh education minister, Hameeda Khuhro. She had gotten a new social studies book designed in 2007. In the book, they included a piece on the life and role of late G.M. Syed, which actually highlighted his role in the Pakistan Movement. Along with Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi and Rais Ghulam Mohammed Bhurgari, Syed was among the few legislators who took initiative in arguing for a separate Muslim state, and even got a resolution passed in favour of Pakistan.
"The school bench received those books all over the province, but when the federal government took notice, it banned further dissemination of the books and issued a strict warning to remove the chapter. This was a message given to the provincial authorities to understand their limits," he said.
Optimistic STB gears for launch of new syllabus
Sindh Textbook Board (STB) Chairman Abdul Salam Khuwaja, however, negated such an impression. "There is no unnecessary interference from the Centre, and we are authorised to update textbooks according to demand and need."
Khuwaja told Kolachi that following the efforts of the Sindh education minister, STB have managed to rework the entire syllabus, with the finalised textbooks ready to be used from the next academic year starting in 2010. He acknowledged that there were problems with the 'system' in the past, which they have now improved. The new syllabi, he promised, would highlight heroes of the soil who contributed much to education, culture, literature, peace and religious harmony, as well as those who played a commendable role in national politics.
"Apart from mentioning the forgotten heroes of the province, we have also included individual chapters on Benazir Bhutto and her mother, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, which deal with their lives, struggle and their backgrounds from Larkana and Nawabshah districts respectively," he said.
A particular source of pride for Khuwaja was their revisions to primary books on Social Studies and Sindhi. "We have changed all 35 chapters in Social Studies, so as to bring about a change. Now the subject has been designed separately for each district, with particular mention of local heroes and persons of historical note. This would provide children sufficient and relevant matter to learn and understand their own districts."
He claimed that chapters on the lives and roles of a majority of Sindhi heroes are included in the Social Studies textbooks, while there are also a significant number of historical characters discussed in the syllabus for Sindhi.
Untold chapters of the soil
While the aspirations of STB are noble, the syllabi being implemented at present were designed in year 2000 - 2002, while the syllabi designed in 2006 will only be implemented next academic year. Sources told Kolachi that the upcoming syllabus contains little substantive material about the province.
A matter of considerable concern is that the authorities concerned have not even given due emphasis to the life and poetry of some of the greatest poets of the land, including Sachal Sarmast, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and Bhaichand Roi Sami.
The text books also largely exclude the role of women in Sindhi society, politics, education, social reforms and development. Jethi Sipahmlani, a brave woman who was elected Sindh Assembly member and who denied saluting any British authority, has not even been given an honourable mention. The tale of Mai Bakhtawar, a Hari woman who fought against feudal system long before Partition and inspired the entire 'Hari Movement' also does not come into light. Stories of many such brave and inspiration women exist, but have never been discussed in textbooks.
Sources said that government authorities involved in designing textbooks either avoid including content about heroes not considered mainstream, or simply manipulate their placement in the textbooks. For instance, a lesson about Haider Bux Jatoi in the Class III-level Sindhi has been removed. The reasons behind this exclusion remain unclear, as many officials are reluctant to discuss or explain such matters due to fear of being axed from their jobs.
Similar is the case with Peer Sibghatullah Shah, Rooplo Kolhi, Hemo Kalani, Hoshoo Sheedi, Bachu Badshah and several others who sacrificed their lives while fighting the British. Mir Ghulam Mohammed Talpur of Tandobago, popularly known as Father of Laar, Maulvi Shafi Mohammed Nizamani (activist of Khaksar Tehrik), Makhdoom Ghulam Haider Siddiqui, and Mian Noor Mohammed were among those who established schools with free hostels for poor students, but rarely are their social contributions brought to the limelight. The tales of Dayaram Gidumal, Sadhu TS Waswani, Jethi Sipahmlani and other philanthropists and social reformists of the time have not been included in textbooks either. Religious scholars, such as Taj Mohammed Amroti, have not been given their due recognition either.
Like Khuwaja, some officials of the relevant bodies denied any interference in their affairs by the Center, but were reluctant to reply over queries regarding overlooking the history and heroes of the province.
Empowerment, with strings attached
In the process of designing new textbooks hold the view that till such time that provincial authorities are not empowered and authorised to make amendments, the issue surrounding representation of various subjects cannot be resolved. According to them, the present textbooks policy is not clear, and the provincial authorities always seem under some sort of "invisible fear."
"They (provincial authorities) cannot decide on their own changes to the text as per the demands of the region. This makes the officials involved at the provincial level more conscious of taking risks and making changes, as nobody wants to lose their job and other benefits," said an official.
Minorities in small print
Minorities in Pakistan face discrimination at various levels, but when the phenomenon seeps in to academic texts, the battle for rights becomes fiercer
School can become an avenue for all sorts of religious discrimination, said 16-year-old Avinash Sharma in a tone that belies his age. Sharma's memories of school do not evoke joyful sentiments; instead, the taunts of being a 'Kafir', the despising looks and the discriminatory remarks continue to reverberate through his young head.
For much of his younger years, Sharma's was forced to spend many precious hours loitering around in school as there was simply no teacher who could enlighten him about his own religion. While he would waste his time, his classmates would attend their 'Islamiat' classes, regularly.
"I really looked forward to ninth grade, as I knew that I would be able to study 'ethics' instead of Islamiat. However, the whole experience was no less than a nightmare, as I had to face immense difficulty in finding the Sindh Education Textbook for Ethics."
When Sharma did eventually succeed in procuring the textbook, he was stunned to see that the book cover had no mention of "ethics", but instead, had "mathematics" written on it. The ethics title was relegated to the back cover.
Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of Sharma's miseries.
For many months, he relied on self-study due to the absence of a teacher, proper notes or any guidelines. Although he had put his heart and soul into studying ethics, Sharma was utterly disappointed to attain only 39 marks out of 75. "Examiners purposely give lesser marks to non-Muslims," he lamented. Learning his lesson, Sharma then chose Islamiat at Intermediate level, and surprised his peers by securing 80 marks in the final exam.The problems confronting students such as Sharma are not merely restricted to the ethics book. "The textbooks which are taught in schools are simply outrageous, especially the Pakistan Studies book. They aim at demoralising our children by defaming us and using offensive words to refer to us. There is no mention of Hindu heroes, those who fought against the English in the 1857 war," said an angry Mangla Sharma, mother of two, and the Chairperson of the Pak-Hindu Welfare Association while talking to Kolachi.
Concurring with Mangla Sharma, Ajay Kumar, a student studying at a private school, pointed out that the Urdu book is no less than an Islamiat book, as it wholly designed for Muslim children. "Take for example, the chapter 'Somnath ki Fatha' in the Urdu textbook for Class X. Wouldn't our religious sentiments be upset when the book proudly declares that the victor demolished a number of idols?"
Mangla Sharma and some of her community tried to reach the Federal Education Board give proposals for the revival of the curriculum for the minorities, but unfortunately, their efforts went up in smoke as they weren't able to meet the responsible educational board.
On the other hand, Michael Javaid, the Principal of St Michaels Convent Grammar Secondary School, and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance expressed his grievance against the absence of a chapter in the ethics book. "There is no chapter on Christianity or on the teachings of Jesus Christ, despite the fact there are hundreds of Christian students studying in the school. Though we have pinpointed this issue several times, nothing has been done thus far."
Javaid told Kolachi that when students opt for ethics, they don't get good grades. He said that the highest mark a student manages to obtain in ethics is 50, but this leads to a drop in the overall percentage and prevents students from getting admissions to good colleges.
However, Javaid believes there is a solution to this issue. "Comparative studies of all religions should be taught in schools and colleges to increase inter-faith harmony among people. The level of tolerance among people is already quite low, and the biased attitudes of teachers, and derogatory comments by some students to the minority's ones have made matters worse. Therefore emphasis should be laid on harmony and unity among all the students, regardless of the religion they may belong to."