Merry Christmas to all! Today is celebrated as the day Jesus was born. It was Jesus Christ, the prophet of God, who was crucified by the powers that be in his times for what he stood for. In terms of Abrahamic religions, he is the founder of Christianity, son of Virgin Mary and the second last prophet of God for Muslims.
For people who simply believe in what he stood for – siding with and speaking up for the poor and the oppressed, the downtrodden and the weak, the sick and the old – Jesus Christ is our lord. For us, December 25 has both a spiritual and a universal significance due to the birth of Jesus and a political and local significance because the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, has the honour of sharing his birthday with the great prophet.
I have my own views about the factors that brought about the Partition of India. The machinations of a particular powerful segment within the Indian National Congress, the British game plan for the region, the vested interests of the Indian Muslim aristocracy – all these played their part in full. The compulsions for Quaid-e-Azam after the Cabinet Mission Plan was rubbished by the Congress in 1946 are neither properly understood by his friends or his foes. However, the way he was betrayed by those he led and freed from the yoke of colonial slavery is unbelievable.
The circumstance of history had brought the Partition of India in a manner that we got a moth-eaten, truncated Pakistan, in the words of the Quaid himself. Not only that – Pakistanis further dismembered the country. We did everything possible to disregard what the founder of the nation had envisioned for the new state he founded.
A few minutes before I started writing these lines, I received an invitation to attend a national teachers’ conference being organised by Alif Ailaan, an education campaign actively promoting access to quality education across Pakistan. That once again reminded me of a message Quaid-e-Azam sent to the first All Pakistan Education Conference that was held in November 1947 in Karachi.
He had said, “You know that the importance of education and the right type of education cannot be overemphasised. Under foreign rule, for over a century, in the very nature of things, I regret sufficient attention was not given to the education of our people, and if we are to make any real, speedy and substantial progress we must earnestly tackle this question and bring our educational policy and programme suited to the genius of our people, consonant with our history and culture, and having regard to the modern conditions and vast developments that have taken place all over the world.”
Since 1948, we have seen commissions formed, task forces set into play, steering committees convened, but the fundamental issues remain unaddressed. If one looks at the aims and objectives set forth in the educational policies of 1960, 1992, 1998 and 2009, the points about social justice, provision of equal opportunities and welfare initiatives, seeing education as public investment in the country’s economy, are all present. There are, nevertheless, contradictory points and a host of procedural issues in the aims and objectives laid out in these documents.
But if you look at the real reasons for the contradictions found in these documents, I would still humbly submit that the larger and more significant issues in policy formulation have to do with the very genesis and growth of the state of Pakistan, the constitutional history including the introduction of the objectives resolution as the preamble of the constitution and the availability of resources for education.
The Sharif Commission (1960), set up by the then Gen Ayub-led government of Pakistan, establishes the creation of a sense of unity and nationhood among the people of Pakistan as one of the primary objectives. Interestingly, this objective follows from reasserting the importance of preserving the ideals that led to the creation of Pakistan and recalls the desire for a homeland for Muslims where they could lead an Islamic way of life.
How contradictory! On the one hand, the Muslims of British India had themselves wanted to create a state of their own – now they had to be coerced into living together, meaning thereby that the Pakistani nation-state would not function as a community that was diverse in languages and cultural practices but must become a unitary entity.
This is reflected in curriculum development throughout our history. The 1992 policy objectives, which were introduced four years after General Zia, begin with “restructuring the existing educational system on modern lines in accordance with the principles of Islam…” Then it mentions the term ‘Islamic Social Sciences’ and wants to enable students to understand the ‘Islamic worldview’ and foster their cultural moorings as members of the ummah.
The 1998 policy objectives relate the desire to educate and train the future generation of Pakistan as true, practising Muslims after making Quranic principles and Islamic practices an integral part of the curricula. Now while Quranic principles can be ascertained in theory, who determines what an Islamic practice is? Who is to qualify as a practising Muslim, one who observes all rituals or one who leads a straightforward and honest professional and public life? These policies talk about transforming the Pakistani nation into an integrated, cohesive entity.
We see that even after so many disasters in the ideological realm, successive policy designers continue to use religion as the only binding force. There is no recognition of the rich diversity found in Pakistan and even if there is some reference, it is merely tolerated and not seen as an opportunity. Even in 2009, the expedient PPP-led policymakers could not touch certain provisions of previous policies.
I see it all as a problem with the ‘legitimising identity’ of the state of Pakistan that we have created out of insecurity for some and economic interest for others. All we need is a different basis for the Pakistani identity – closer to what Quaid-e-Azam envisioned and farthest from what those who came after him propounded. This we can do without dismissing our history, rather taking stock of it and formulating a new social contract among the citizens of the state through democratic means.
While Article 25 has been further embellished and emphasised recently by introducing an amendment clause ‘A’ through the 18th Amendment, Article 37 of the 1973 Constitution refers to the promotion of social justice and eradication of social evils through removing illiteracy, free and compulsory secondary education and merit-based higher education for all. It speaks about the inclusion of backward classes and underdeveloped areas.
This is all fine but when a state obligates itself to create one nation based on faith and devoid of any dissimilarities, ideology will inadvertently reflect in all policies derived out of the constitution. So the challenge we face now is to see how policies are formulated that are enlightened, inclusive and progressive in nature. Scientific thinking is much more important than merely producing technicians.
However, what has been held time and again in all constitutions since 1956 is the responsibility of the state to ensure access to education for all its citizens. If this does not happen, it can be seen as a violation of the constitution. If you look at the details of expenditures made by the governments over the past 67 years in education, I do not see it as ignorance or a dearth of seriousness on the government’s part.
Again, I believe this has to do with the priorities and the nature of the state which is more about securing territorial integrity and less about human security. Issues of efficient management of schooling and education that are child-centred or student-focused, better working conditions and fulfilling the training needs of teachers, provision of quality textbooks, etc all hinge on the availability of resources.
Unless more resources are committed, no real change can ever be seen. There is a difference between achieving universal literacy and imparting progressive education. Even literacy and numeracy targets will remain lost.
The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad. Email: email@example.com