Thursday, November 10, 2011

Religious discrimination fueled by Pakistan's education system

by Salman Hameed

There is a new report out yesterday titled, Connecting the Dots:  Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan. It is an extensive look at textbooks used in both public schools and in the madrassas in Pakistan, along with pedagogical methods used by instructors. The picture is not very pretty. Some of it is not much of a surprise for me as I went through the same system in the 80's. You can download the full report here (pdf). I haven't gone through it in detail as yet, but it looks thorough and has a nice literature overview as well. You can find a summary of the report here.

Here is what International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) did:
ICRD and its partner, the independent Pakistani think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute, reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1 through 10 from Pakistan’s four provinces. Students and teachers from public schools and madrassas were also interviewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province), Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab. Thirty-seven middle and high schools were visited, with 277 students and teachers interviewed individually or in group settings.  Researchers interviewed 226 madrassa students and teachers from 19 madrassas.
And here are key findings:
The study involved the examination of social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks and pedagogical methods in Pakistan’s public school system and its madrassa system, and the interviewing of teachers and students about their views on religious minorities. The goal of the year-long study was to explore linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities in public schools and madrassas, biases that exist against these minorities, and subsequent acts of discrimination or extremist violence.

The study found that –
  • Public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation, and Pakistan’s religious minorities were referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether;
  • Hindus were depicted in especially negative terms, and references to Christians were often inaccurate and offensive;
  • Public school and madrassa teachers had limited awareness or understanding of religious minorities and their beliefs, and were divided on whether religious minorities were citizens;
  • Teachers often expressed very negative views about Ahmadis, Christians, and Jews, and successfully transmitted these biases to their students;
  • Interviewees’ expressions of tolerance often were intermixed with neutral and intolerant comments, leaving some room for improvement
This is an important report. The findings in the report are not exactly shocking. I've had conversations with highly educated Pakistanis about Ahmadis, Christians, Shias, etc. where the level of vitriol or simple disrespect has been astonishing. That said, I also want to point out (and have done so many times before) that there are also a number of fantastic Pakistanis who are constantly fighting this tide of intolerance. But it makes it harder to fight this battle when such discrimination is embedded in the education system (as is pointed out in this report) or in the constitution (as is the shameful act of explicitly declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims and making an affirmation of this a part of passport requirement!). 

Intolerance begets intolerance. 

There has been an effort to reform the education system, but the effort has so far been anemic. Since this report on religious intolerance is going to get a lot of play in the US, lets also not forget America's role in promoting violence in shaping madrassas textbooks. Oh - not now. But in the 1980s. Here is a recent piece from Tribune Express:
Imagine that you learnt the alphabet and numbers with images of Kalashnikovs and tanks instead of apples and oranges. 
During the mid to late 1980s, a USAID funded project printed millions of textbooks in Peshawar. The funds came from Saudi Arabia and the books were distributed amongst school children in Afghanistan and in new madrassas across Pakistan. 
These textbooks were prepared to indoctrinate. Specialists from the Afghanistan Centre at the University of Nebraska Omaha received nearly $60 million to develop a curriculum, which glorified jihad, celebrated martyrdom and dehumanised invaders. 
By the mid-1980s, the Afghan mujahedeen were bleeding the Soviet Union, hastening her economic collapse and nearing the eventual end of the Cold War. 
The schools that survived across Afghanistan along with various madrassas continued using these same textbooks throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. 
Only in 2002 did the process of replacing textbooks begin, however, by then the template had been improved and widely distributed across both Afghanistan and Pakistan. A generation had been born to celebrate death rather than life. They accepted violence as a natural part of everyday life.
Pervez Hoodbhoy has documented some of the questions that were included in these textbooks. Here are two examples from textbooks published by University of Nebraska around 1985:
One group of mujahidin attack 50 Russians soldiers. In that attack 20 Russians are killed. How many Russians fled? [Grade 3] 
The speed of a Kalashnikov bullet is 800 meters per second. If a communist is at a distance of 3200 meters from a mujahid, and that mujahid aims at the communist’s head, calculate how many seconds it will take for the bullet to strike the communist in the forehead. [Grade 4]
This is stunningly insane! You can read more about the US sponsored textbooks in this Washington Post article from 2003: From US. the ABCs of Jihad. Now again, we have to be careful to not use this to deflect criticism of the education system in today's Pakistan. The anti-Hindu, anti-Christians, and anti-Ahmadi elements in public textbooks have nothing to do with the Soviets or the jihad. Those come from local politics and existing prejudices. Ultimately, the promotion of tolerance - and I would rather use the word 'respect' - of minorities is in the very interest of a 21st century Pakistan.

Also see:
How do students at elite Pakistani universities view the world?
Students expelled because of their religion


Anonymous said...

Mr author, if I take a microscope and examine your skin, I will find more bacteria on your skin than the entire number of cells in your body. But that does not make you any more or any less contaminated or infested than me and everyone else on this planet having exactly the same proportion. If education system is to be blamed, where do you think xenophobia in US or Europe or India or any other country is stemming from?

Anonymous said...

"Public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation"
- so what should be the orientation of education in a country whose 97% people follow islam? should it be shamanistic, atheistic or zoroastrian?

"Hindus were depicted in especially negative terms, and references to Christians were often inaccurate and offensive"
- i don't remember any such derogatory reference to mainstream hindu or christians in the text. if you have any example, bring it on.

"Public school and madrassa teachers had limited awareness or understanding of religious minorities and their beliefs, and were divided on whether religious minorities were citizens"
- and mr author, exactly how much awareness you yourself have of islam and pakistan, except for some hateful jargons you have at your disposal.

And then you wrote:
"(as is the shameful act of explicitly declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims and making an affirmation of this a part of passport requirement.)"
- didn't the founder of ahmadiyya movt. didn't himself define muslims, as only those who believe him as a prophet or reformer, essentially segregating his cult from the mainstream muslims many decades before the Pakistani constitution segregated them in 70's? So what is your point here?

The religous intolerance is there in pakistan I agree, but then it is more or less everywhere else in the world. are you not just trying to magnify and overrate something here? your article is itself stemming from inherent hatred and derogation of islam, pakistan, and its people, and then you are preaching 'tolerance'...what a contrast.

Yakoub said...

I agree with the drive of this article, but let's not pretend education systems in the West are not just as adept at perpetuating social prejudice, but such texts are rarely the subject of reports or mentioned in the mainstream press. In the UK, for example, there are still too many inaccurate and derisory books in circulation in schools about Islam. This is an international problem, not just a Pakistani one.

Salman Hameed said...

"but let's not pretend education systems in the West are not just as adept at perpetuating social prejudice, but such texts are rarely the subject of reports or mentioned in the mainstream press. "


Oh - there are problems absolutely everywhere. In fact, I pointed out US complicity even in the Pakistan case. So who should we think about it?

a) First of all, we have to become better irrespective of anyone else. If there is religious discrimination, we have to figure out a way to end it. It is no exaggeration to say that there are a number of places where things can be improved in Pakistan (for example, in the case of Ahmadis, and in specific instances in textbooks as pointed out in this report and couple of earlier reports). Standing up for this improvement is not being anti-Pakistan (as Akbar in the anonymous comments asserts above - as he has done many times before - often making personal attacks), instead it is about realizing a better and progressive Pakistan.

b) Is religious discrimination in other countries as bad as Pakistan? Yes - in some cases it is - and in many cases their own citizens speak up against it as well. Lets take US for an example. Heck - African Americans couldn't vote and in the south couldn't even be in the bus with the whites. But the civil rights movement was a movement within the US and that worked to eliminate this shameful discrimination. So has racism been eliminated? No - but the government (and the constitution) has taken steps to ensure that there is a severe penalty for such discrimination. This can only happen when people keep the pressure for the just cause.
In Pakistan also there are groups that have been fighting such causes. But we are at a beginning of this battle.

Similarly, problems in US have not been eliminated. There are constant battles about the right for gays and lesbians to marry. This is a fundamental issue, and they should have equal rights regarding this, but they don't have this in most of the states.

c) Now Pakistan does have quite a bit of turmoil on ethnic and religious lines. If even some of it is due to the education system, it should be in all of our interest to pay attention to this issue. Instead, if we just walk away from it saying, "well other countries have this too", then we will be hurting ourselves with this.

So yes, there are many issues associated with it. But this is a very extensive report. We may not like what it is finding, but we should take at least some of the points seriously if we want to improve Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

so mr author, who is contending here that we don't want an improved pakistan? my viewpoint is that you are dragging an element, i.e. education which has nothing much to do (if at all) in the said picture. why is that? if you have ANY reference from ANY text book taught in pakistan that contains derogatory references for other religions and their spiritual figures, like jesus, moses, krishna, or buddha etc, please bring it on. i am still looking forward for it.
the thing is dear, no one is free from xenophobia or hatred for the contending ideas, not even you, and me, or anyone else. if you start looking for clues, it is not difficult to find. if you take it as a personal attack, it is up to you. why do you think i could go on for years in pakistan with a back-satchel with US army logo and flag on it and no one bothered, and where would you find yourself if you have a similar back pack with kalima written on it and you are walking downtown new york. shouldn't that tell you anything?
i don't find any particular reason why you should drag pakistani education system to prove that pakistan's educated lot also qualifies for being loathed and hated by the world. or may be i do.
and then you may associate me with any of your acquaintances be it some akber or fatima or ali or johnny, who cares? (still waiting for pure references from pakistani educational text and not subjective analyses)

Anonymous said...

i forgot to mention pakistan and islam are things anyone can smear and defame openly and publicly in any possible way at will without reason without evidence without supporting facts. this is called a attempt to improve things back home. this is neither hatred nor intolerance but enlightment. yet if something similar happens back in pakistan, this is just the end of the world that needs to corrected by intellectuals sitting abroad who don't have much to do to contribute for pakistan otherwise. criticism is easy, contribution is difficult. sky has always been falling over pakistan throughout its 64 years history in shape of political turmoils, corrupt democracies and dictatorships, natural disasters of biblical proportions, and what not. yet the nation lives on. how? it is the same educated lot that you and others across oceans openly loathe and criticize, that hasn't let the nation fall onto its knees. if we, being abroad, cannot help in their contribution to make this happen, let us salute them, not degrade them. this is the least we can do on our part.

Anonymous said...

btw author any threesome marriage rights under consideration? I stand for their equal rights too. What do you say ;-)

Atif Khan said...

Excellent report! Thanks for sharing Salman.

Its worrisome to see people (afraid of posting their name) are justifying wrong just because they believe others are doing it too. Absolute state of denial... I must say it is.

You mentioned an excellent example of African American rights. Had this been Pakistan, very same people would be saying ' Oh let us oppress these black people just because other bad people in the world are doing the same' but fortunately American people realized their shortcoming and stood up.

Please keep sharing such stuff without caring for lame comments.

M A Hussain said...

Why was my name dragged into this discussion? :-O

Akbar said...

Dear Salman
As my name is dragged into all this, I had to take a brief look at the report here:
(The link in the article didn't open with me, but I searched for it.)

Akbar said...

It contains excerpts and references and makes a comprehensive report. The references are worrying indeed and need reviewing, however one cannot undermine the facts and events that led to the creation of Pakistan. The same things could be explained in less offensive terms. I studied the Pakistani education curriculum throughout my school life and never noticed any drive to derogate other religions or groups, or may be I didn't pay much attention to the lessons :-). Apparently the report only picks negativity in the text (which certainly needs reviewing and scrutiny) but obviously ignores the positive aspects of the same books. Anyone with a neutral outlook who has gone through the education system of Pakistan would agree to that.
However, I do not know anything about the text taught in Madaressahs.

Akbar said...

What people think of Pakistan and Islam in your own country, you know better. Who would you blame then?
Should I negate this report because it is coming from the US? Or alternatively should I agree to the inference this reports forwards because it is coming from US? Or am I saying Pakistani education system and text is free of faults? Certainly not.
On a lighter note, I have a new name for your ;-) (Don't take it personal hey!)

Salman Hameed said...

"Please keep sharing such stuff without caring for lame comments"

Thanks Atif. By the way, I don't respond to any of Akbar's rants anyways. Amongst other things, on multiple occasions he has accused be of spouting hatred for Pakistan and Islam. In fact, he has suggested before that the sole purpose of this blog is to incite hatred against Pakistan and Islam. This is when I said goodbye to him. I have very little to say to this pretentious and self-righteous guy who has no clue about me or this blog. I have no problem with disagreement, but these kind of rants leave me with no fundamental respect for him - and so I find no point in responding to him in a positive or negative way.

All these things aside, I'm a little worried as someone might have used his IP address from Tasmania to post the anonymous comments. I hope things are okay.

Now back to the comments:
Mr. Anonymous, you can go and check out pages 43-45 of this report for specific instances with references of the particular textbooks [And you can also look at other studies (reported in the literature review) that have found similar instances.]

For example, this is from the 8th grade Social Studies textbook from Baluchistan:
“The foundation of [the] Hindu set up was based on
injustice and cruelty. The system of Islam, which was based on justice, equality and brotherhood as described earlier, impressed a lot to the Hindu culture and set up.”

Akbar said...

Dear Salman, you may choose not to respond it is up to you. I respond negatively to posts which are related to Pakistan and Islam only. I had enough of such criticism already and have fought a lot already. Just tired now. I deeply apologize if I hurt your feelings or respect being a teacher. I feel the same too when Pakistan's reputation and respect is put to question.
Criticism is good and constructive when based on facts and figures and not half truths. I may be wrong here but I felt this way about a few of your posts. As an example, I endeared Dr Hoodbhoy more than any figure in Pakistan and kept all his recorded programs, and even wrote to him a few times in my school, only till when he wrote a very vicious article about Pakistani youth in the wake of 9-11 based on half truths. I was shattered.
I know the exact guy who is anonymous here. At least here you are slightly wrong.
So what should I do? Fly all the way to US to make an apology? I can do that :-)

Akbar said...

Anyways thank you for the compliments. No one is stopping you from demoralizing and demonizing Pakistan on your blog when you have nothing else to give to this country.

Akbar said...

And good bye for now. Got a lot of real stuff to do in astronomy for 'filthy and lousy' intolerant Pakistanis than trying to change things on blogs. Will catch up with you later.

Atif Khan said...


Let me say that you are doing fabulous job taking out time for sharing beautiful Sagan videos and other brilliant stuff. I attended only one of your events at T2f few years ago and I was impressed with your calmness and willingness to counter any argument. There was this girl at that event who seemed to be Zakir naik fan and asked you if you are God less skeptic. :)

Dilemma with people who are self righteous is they can never come to terms with facts and reality. Damn evolution is such a sluggish process.

Keep up the good work and yes PLEASE KEEP IGNORING THE IGNORANT.

Anonymous said...

any way INDIAN education system ROXX........... Proud 2 be an INDIAN....!!!!

Naveed said...

Salman, am catching up on your blog after some time. Thanks for this post though. I read a few editorials on this on Dawn as well which were worth reading too.

Btw I'm with Atif on this one. I hope you're not taking these looney comments seriously.

People are welcome to their views and prejudice. But before they do so, perhaps they should read the tireless works by Mubarak Ali, Hamza Alvi and Eqbal Ahmed, specifically the latter and his views on the Pakistani educational system.

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