Fairytale texts 'breed hatred'

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Minister promises reforms as a new study criticising school textbooks prompts heated debate

PAKISTAN

Biased school textbooks sanctioned by the Pakistani government have bred hatred and increased the isolation of religious minorities, according to a new study.

The research - which is due to be launched later this month but has already been widely circulated - has sparked a series of television debates and substantial press coverage.

It has been condemned by education minister Zubeida Jalal (see interview right) who told The TES that measures have already been taken to improve the textbooks and teaching guidelines criticised in the report.

The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Text Books in Pakistan, published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, describes history teaching as "a collection of falsehoods, fairy tales and plain lies" aimed at glorifying Pakistan's past and vilifying India.

But Ms Jalal said: "They were looking at the old books, the old curriculum that was put in place 16 to 18 years earlier. New textbooks are coming out now.

"You will find that there's much more reality in them, more respect for each other."

However, according to the report's co-author, Abdul Hameed Nayyar, one government curriculum guide for primary-level history published as recently as 2002 said that children should be taught about "the Hindus' evil designs against Pakistan" in the three wars fought with India.

The report also claims that the government isolates non-Muslims by allowing Islam to dominate the curriculum.

Pupils may be exempted from Islamic study classes on religious grounds, although all children are still required to recite Quranic verses in their Urdu, English and social studies lessons.

"This is a violation of the religious right of the people living in this society," said Mr Nayyar.

"They feel alienated by the education material, slighted."

Muslims make up 97.2 per cent of the 151 million population. Christians and Hindus are the largest minority groups with approximately 1 per cent of Pakistanis each. The remainder are small communities of Sikhs, Bhuddists and Parsis.

Many textbooks highlighted in the report teach children that Pakistan is a country for Muslims and that good citizens must practise Islam.

Neglecting to acknowledge the place of minorities, Nayyar said, devalues other children from a young age.

"There is a loss of belonging that the students could otherwise have in this society. That is what I think hurts them."

Ms Jalal said revised teaching materials - currently being written - will include a "book of ethics" to give non-Muslims an alternative religious education.

But she acknowledges that there is a long way to go before the conservative Islamic state is ready for a more multicultural approach to learning for non-Muslims.

"We are taking a first step now and I think there will come a time when we are teaching them all (religions) in school."

She said the welcome given to the Indian test cricket team and their fans since travel restrictions were eased in January was proof that the texts had not engendered hatred towards Indians.

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