Published in Central Asia Online
PESHAWAR – “Soft words” are replacing “strong words” as schools and colleges in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa discard old textbooks that critics say promoted radicalism and violence.
An effort is under way nationwide to modify school texts, but Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the most radicalised province of all and arguably most in need of such a campaign. Insurgent strength grew until the government ordered a military offensive to clean out the Swat Valley in 2009.
“We are slowly but surely moving away from textbooks full of hatred and violence,” Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat, chairman of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board, said. “We are coming up with textbooks that teach love and peace”.
Critics of Pakistani education as it was largely blame late military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq for allegedly trying to “Islamicise” Pakistani society. They point to textbooks full of verses and stories that urged impressionable youth to wage jihad in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir.
With jihadis on the march nationwide, the government of Gen (ret) Pervez Musharraf installed the “National Textbook and Learning Material Policy and Plan of Action” to detoxify textbooks.
Rahim said 70% of the country’s textbook content has changed since Musharraf ordered revisions, enabling schools to “produce good human beings who are good to Pakistan and also to the world. Hate literature, ethnic biases and gender discrimination have been done away with the textbooks”.
The texts from the Zia era incorporated Koranic verses mainly speaking about war, Rahim recalled. “There are other Koranic verses that promote brotherhood and peace and tranquillity. … Why can’t we use these verses rather than those that promote war”, he asked.
Islamic scholar Muhammad Farooq Khan did not hesitate to label “present jihadi literature” an impermissible “misinterpretation” of Islam when he talked to Central Asia Online.
The government should modify textbooks to reflect “real Islam”, he added, calling the Taliban “anarchists”.
Educator Khadim Hussain agreed on the need for beneficial Koranic citations in textbooks. The misuse of textbooks for ideological discourse “must change” for Pakistan to stay peaceful, he told Central Asia Online.
He demanded introduction of critical education to emphasise analytical skills, aesthetic senses and skill development rather than rote memorisation.
“We need to put together liberal curriculum experts to devise liberal content”, he added.
Rahim showed some books whose authors seek to promote local, regional and global perspectives. “(Politician and poet) Ajmal Khattak is not a big name for Pashtuns”, he said. “Why hasn’t he been discussed in history textbooks? What about Bacha Khan‘s doctrine of non-violence?”
A look inside textbooks shows the new push for peace. The message “We want peace” appears in one seventh-grade textbook in English, Pashtu and Urdu.
But many educators say changing children’s minds requires more than new textbooks. Reprogramming teachers who have absorbed the message of the Zia years is just as important, they add.
“I agree that the mindset of teachers belonging to the rightwing Islamic party needs to be changed,” said Hussain, who also heads the Bacha Khan Education Foundation. His organisation has devised a plan for revising textbooks and retraining jihad-minded teachers.
The pace of textbook modification strikes some critics, including Rahim, as slow. However, a recently enacted constitutional amendment has given him a potent weapon: the 18th Amendment authorises every province to regulate its schools’ textbooks. Rahim, as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s textbook chief, intends to use that power to the fullest.