Sacrificing reason on the altar of ideology

Censored textbook

Imran Khan says education is key to the success of the country. At first glance, this sounds like an intelligent (if obvious) statement. Let’s look at the PTI chief’s comment in more detail, though. Here is what he said:

He said that the country was suffering from two parallel education systems, adding that if he comes into power, the PTI government would introduce a uniform education system across the country. He said that education was the backbone of any developed society, but in Pakistan, the government never gave importance to the most important issue.

To understand what this means in a practical sense, we can look at what education system the PTI has introduced in KPK where it is already in power.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led (PTI) government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has agreed to revisions in the curriculum for government schools here – including the removal of pictures of schoolgirls with their heads uncovered – for the new academic session commencing April 1, 2015.

The PTI’s coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) raised objections over the curriculum which was approved in 2006. The JI said Islamic chapters had been removed in 2006 syllabus; the party also wanted secular chapters removed from the textbooks. The religious party asked for the removal of “objectionable” materials and the addition of 18 Quranic verses to grade 9 Chemistry book…verses on jihad were removed from the ninth-grade Islamiat textbook and added to the grade 11 course.

According to Directorate of Curricula and Teacher Education (DCTE) Director Bashir Hussain Shah, the provincial government has accepted all of JI’s demands.

This is a glimpse of the education system that Imran Khan promises to make uniform across whole of Pakistan – one that is founded not in facts and reason, but in ideology.

Actually, this system is becoming uniform already – the PTI just wants to speed up the process. Even without the guiding hand of PTI, Karachi University recently banned Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, from attending a conference because of his views on 1971. Dr Imtiaz Ahmed got off easy. Dead of Islamic Studies at University of Karachi Mohammad Shakil Auj was murdered in the street for promoting a liberal interpretation of Islam.

LUMS administrators were cowardly in a different way when they allowed Pervez Hoodbhoy’s contract to expire with no explanation given. They may have felt that this would allow them to do the deed while denying the reason, but the message was heard loud and clear by anyone paying the least bit of attention.

In Islamabad, a dean and students advisor were sacked after it was discovered that a Model UN programme included information about Israel. It should be noted that Israel is a member state of the UN. Or was IIUI modeling the UN of its dreams instead of the UN of the real world? Either way, how can students be expected to succeed in the real world when their education is based on a fantasy one?

Most reports on education crisis in Pakistan focus on abysmal enrollment numbers. However even full enrollment of every child in the country will not provide an educated population if our education system is one that sacrifices reason on the altar of ideology.

Ideology and Education: A Deadly Combination

Ahmed al-Ghamdi

Ahmed al-Ghamdi is no unbeliever. He is not even a liberal. The conservative Muslim lead the mutaween in Mecca. One day, he was devotedly studying Qur’an and Sunnah when he discovered something that surprised him:

“I wanted to go to their underpinnings, so I began collecting all the texts relating to [gender mixing] from the Quran and the Sunna. My conclusion was that not a single text or verse in the Quran and Sunna specifically says that mixing is haram. The word ‘mixing’ is not even in the Quran.”

When Al-Ghamdi reported his discovery, he was fired from his position with the religious police. He was fired not due to his being wrong, but because his discovery had challenged the ruling power structure. In this instance, education and critical thinking were seen as a threat to the status quo and were therefore punished. In Pakistan, we are experiencing a similar backlash against critical thinking and education, but the stakes are much higher than merely losing ones’s job.

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Women and the Economy

A worrisome report was issued by the Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) on Wednesday. Chamber president Dr Zakia Hashmi noted that women’s share in poverty is increasing in Pakistan. Such facts are tragic and worthy of addressing on their own merits, but this situation in particular warrants attention because of its effects on the entire nation.

It has been well established that women’s empowerment is required for economic growth. This economic reality has been noted at the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. By failing to provide opportunities for girls and women, we are failing ourselves.

The Global Campaign for Education has reported that “over 5.1 million primary school-aged children are out of school in Pakistan – the third highest number of out-of-school children in the world – and 63% of them are girls.”

We cannot succeed if we leave behind half of our population. Lack of education and increasing poverty for girls and women is nothing less than a national security issue. We need to treat it with the same level of urgency.

Zarb-e-Azb: A Lesson From America’s War on Terrorism

Kaptaan’s XI may be down to their last wicket in Islamabad, but Army has been racking up the runs in North Waziristan. In a new statement, ISPR says over 900 militants have been killed and key terrorist strongholds have been cleared. Army’s offensive against Taliban is welcome news, but celebrations are still premature. If we want to rid the nation of terrorism for good, we need to take a lesson from America’s war on terrorism.

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Mainstreaming Extremism In KP Primary Schools

Madrassa

Yesterday, Government KP announced that 2000 madrassahs will be given Primary School status:

What this means is not exactly clear. It could mean that 2000 madrassahs will be brought under state curriculum in effort to eliminate radicalising forces and improve the education of all students. However the reality is probably different.

In the best case scenario, this is a scheme to cook the books on education in the province by making it appear that the provincial government has increased number of primary schools. This is more of an accounting trick than anything else, moving schools from the madrassah column to the primary school column to boost numbers. Supporters of the move will argue that this will have a positive effect by bringing them under official curriculum and increasing lessons on maths and science for madrassah students.

More likely is that the result will be mainstreaming of extremism in KP primary schools. It should be remembered that one year ago KP government changed the official school curriculum to include lessons on jihad.

“Jihad is a part of our faith and every child should have knowledge about it and its true spirit,” said Farman, who was flanked by Elementary and Secondary Education Additional Secretary Qaiser Alam. “In the curriculum we will include whatever we consider correct. We are not going to appease anyone,” he stressed.

Such statements suggest that the influence is more likely to come from the madrassahs than the other way around.

Pakistan faces an education crisis, and KP is in many ways suffering the worst as hundreds of state schools have been destroyed by militant extremists. The solution however is not to turn education over to them.