Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s curriculum conundrum

The new provincial government has undone syllabus reforms without a public debate

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s curriculum conundrum
A well-known fact in the educational discourse of Pakistan has been devising a curriculum for public schools that constructed an isolationist mindset over the years. A mindset that glorified war, considered everything different as ‘the other’ and hence an enemy, reinforced patriarchy, and distorted history to make it compatible with the needs of hyper nationalism.

An Education Sector Reforms Committee was set up in 2006 to look at the matter academically. The Education Sector Reforms Committee had suggested some reforms, though not what needed to be done, still a first step in the right direction. The federal government had to carry out the reforms but it took more time than required due perhaps to resistance offered by powerful religious and hyper nationalist bureaucratic circles entrenched in state institutions.

When educational planning, curriculum and governance devolved to the provinces after the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, the provinces had to plan a timeline for bringing about the reforms in their respective curricula. The then government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa devised a three year plan for gradually replacing the previous textbooks with the textbooks that would be printed on the basis of recommendations by the Education Sector Reforms Committee.
A lesson on deafblind activist and academic Helen Keller has been removed

The provincial government had publically formed a committee for ratifying and streamlining the curricular changes. The committee had asked for public suggestions through mainstream print and electronic media for meaningful changes. The changes by the then government had been thoroughly debated in the cabinet as well as standing committee of the provincial assembly.

The changes thus brought by the then provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contained inclusion of indigenous legends that were known for social and literary contributions. The committee tried to minimize the number of war heroes and made an attempt to bring about gender balance. It suggested and printed a separate textbook of Ethics for non-Muslim students instead of compulsory Islamiyat textbook in line with the constitutional requirement of Article 22 (1). The committee also made an attempt to do away with duplication of contents in the textbooks for the same grades. Idioms and phrases that communicated hatred against other religions and nations were replaced with neutral idioms and phrases in history books. The titles of the textbooks for elementary and secondary grades were inscribed with peace slogans.

This process of curricular reforms was disrupted by the inception of a Jamati-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013. Right after the inception of the government, the JI lobby remained active to influence curricular formation in the province. As a first step, the JI elected and non-elected circles started exerting political pressure on its coalition partner to reverse the changes that were brought about by the previous government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The JI succeeded to convince its provincial coalition partner last year to reverse the previous changes in curriculum and introduce new changes of their choice in the textbooks. The method they adopted to bring about the changes was shrouded in mystery for a long time. Instead of publically forming a committee of experts to debate the changes academically and then put them for public debate either inside or outside the assembly, the coalition government chose to print textbooks after political agreement between the two political coalition partners. The changes thus brought about annulled the previous changes and introducednew changes of their choice.

The changes brought about in the textbooks clearly indicate intent to reconstruct a mindset of the 1980s. The elementary and secondary textbooks that have been distributed among the public schools this year have no subject of Ethics for non-Muslim students. This means that all non-Muslim students have to study compulsory subject of Islamiyat which is violation of the Article 22 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan.

The slogans of peace that were previously inscribed on the titles of the books have been removed. Additional chapters with verses of the Holy Quran have been incorporated as introductory chapters of compulsory science subjects for secondary grades. Again, it means that the non-Muslim students are forced to readthem. A chapter of the Holy Quran that specifically deals with Qital (war), Sura Al Anfaal, has been kept in the grade 9 textbook of Islamiyat. Duplication of content seems to be in abundance in all the elementary and secondary textbooks. A particular version of Islamic history has been perpetuated in almost all subjects including language and Social Studies textbooks.

A lesson on an American deafblind activist and academic, Helen Keller, has been removed from the secondary English textbook. ‘Good Morning’ in English elementary subject has been replaced with ‘Assalam-u-Alaikum’. These are just a few examples of the nature of the changes.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Twitter: khadimhussain4

The writer is author of ‘The Militant Discourse’ and ‘Re-thinking Education’. He tweets at @khadimhussain4