The KPK government has made a bold move of deciding to re-introduce Quranic verses on Jihad in the textbooks for elementary and secondary levels, undoing the efforts of moderation undertaken by Awami National Party, who after facing much ordeal, removed them in their last tenure. ANP bought about these changes after consultation with scholars and in reaction to the wave of terrorism and militarism plaguing the region.
I wonder why it still surprises people that in a country which has had a long-drawn history of exploitation of religion; topics like Jihad are deliberately kept out as a part of the de-radicalization strategy.
The rationale is pretty simple to grasp: children should not be taught a textbook version of controversial or sensitive topics at the early stages of their academic careers.
In fact in my humble opinion, inclusion or non-inclusion of religious topics like Jihad in the curriculum bears little importance since what really matters is the religious knowledge and scholarly aptitude of the teachers who initially mold and ultimately define the opinion of the students. Although there is in no harm in teaching students a topic like Jihad but only if it is assisted by a proper contextual analysis.
And we all know very well how often that happens. Religion is a very sensitive and volatile topic here in Pakistan and any issue mixed with it immediately becomes political and can never completely cast off its shadows. General Zia-ul-haq as a part of the Islamization strategy did the same in his tenure and made quite a few changes in the way things run in the country.
Modification of academic curriculum was a part of his wider strategy which along with other initiatives ended up altering the delicate balance of the social fabric of Pakistan. Many of the problems that the country faces can be traced back to the time period of Zia.
Given our history, the question which naturally surfaces is that if PTI really aims to bring about an educational revolution in the country, why would it start off with such a controversial issue? Why would it neglect the other zillion problems stifling the education sector and focus on this particular issue which creates a rift between the right and left wings in Pakistan.
At the risk of being called a skeptic, I hold that this move by the KPK government is nothing but a hoax. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in education paving the way for success for Pakistan but, I also believe that this is not how a genuine effort to improve the education system in the country looks like. If PTI actually wants to champion the education reforms in Pakistan instead of isolating one factor, it should adopt a comprehensive strategy to revamp the entire sector.
It can modify the curriculum of textbooks as a first step but it should rather focus on something more neutral like, correcting the dates of historical events in the Pakistan Studies books perhaps? Or it can pick any other matter like developing an accountability system to check how allocated education budget is being spent or how curriculum can be used as a tool of the wider de-radicalization strategy or how it can deal with the issue of ghost schools and teachers.
The pool of issues to choose from is very deep, there is an entire range from minor to major issues plaguing the education sector of Pakistan which given their gravity either require immediate or long-term solutions.
If political parties are only enticed by controversy and juicy news then I dare suggest this, do something about the thousands of fatherless children of sex workers who can’t get higher education because of the absence of a B form and the stigma attached.
If not, then publicly support Malala’s cause of advocating for girls education and denounce efforts of extremists targeting and killing our young ones in cold blood for their love of books and learning. By God, that’s too high a price to pay!
This madness and radicalization runs very deep in our country. We continue to persecute minorities, degrade our women, and maintain a false sense of honor, all in the name of religion.
And if the debate about improvement of education in Pakistan is restricted to inclusion or non-inclusion of Jihad in the textbooks then I think our downfall in the near future is inevitable. The only way forward is to stop hiding behind the cover of religion to hide our inadequacies and failures and take concrete steps with the assistance of professionals to improve our deploring state of affairs.