New policy lacks credibility

By Zubeida Musta

ONE has to be either a diehard optimist or incredibly simplistic to believe that the education policy announced on March 27 will bring about a moral and social transformation in Pakistan through educational reforms. The major problem in the policy is that of credibility. The government has so far done nothing to establish its bonafides in the promotion of education. There has been a lot of loud talk about the need to enhance the literacy rate and universalize primary education. But is there anything new about that? All the six education policies which have been announced since 1947 have listed these as their basic goals. Yet we have the dubious distinction of being the last but one most illiterate country in South Asia with the lowest primary school enrolment ration in the region. How can one be certain that the present government’s performance will be any different?

The new policy does not even inspire confidence in the aims the government has set before it. It has been accompanied with a lot of fanfare since December when the first draft was presented before the cabinet and rejected. It was supposed to have been redrawn and enriched with the thousands of proposals which were sent in by the public and the experts. But when we now have is in some respects even worse than the rejected first draft.

The key factor in any policy is the objectives it spells out for itself. To achieve them it defines its strategy. The effectiveness of the strategy and its relevance to the socio-economic and political circumstances determine its success in achieving the goals laid down. If the objectives are, however, not sound the policy will prove to be a failure.

The new policy is quite comprehensive in spelling out its aims and objectives which take up an entire chapter (more than three pages of the document). But the chapter contains more rhetoric than real substance. The objectives formulated are not new and have been reaffirmed  time and again by our leaders and in various documents such as the constitution. In fact, quite a few articles of the Basic Law have been incorporated as the aims of the education policy. There is Article 31 of the Constitution which seeks to make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory and is quoted in the policy. Article 33 also finds mention to “discourage parochial, racial, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens”. There is the promise to reduce disparity in every field of life. All these are noble intentions so comprehensively spelt out. But then one wonders why the policy makers did not consider it important to have as one of their priorities to help the growth and development of the young mind. It is not vital to inculcate the spirit of enquiry in the students and teach them to ask questions, to analyze, think and investigate. Why is there no mention of rational thinking. Is it right to put the minds of our youth into the strait jacket of conformation as is done at present? Should not they be encouraged to exercise their own reason and reach their own conclusions about issues? Since this is not what our education system does at the moment, it is important that the new policy should have addressed this pedagogic issue in a less perfunctory manner. It  is important enough to have merited inclusion in the policy as one of its primary goal.

Could this omission be deliberate? A student community which refuses to confirm and asks questions which are not too comfortable is generally not welcomed in a society which is not liberal and progressive in its outlook. Such students tend to question the validity of the obscurantist beliefs which could never stand the scrutiny of modern thought and scientific principles. We in Pakistan have never been famous for our liberalism and plu-ralism. Unsurprisingly, we have lagged behind in the field of science and technology.

It is a pity that a policy document which could devote pages to the so-called noble aims of education in Pakistan could not squeeze out a little space to mention the dismal status of women in Pakistan and the urgent need to remove gender prejudices. Admittedly one of the goals is said to be the reducing of gender disparities at all levels ( of education. Article 34 of the constitution promising steps to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life has also been quoted. But how will this help to improve the status of women? If the textbooks continue to preach hatred and social prejudices against women, will the gender scene in Pakistan ever change?

Another disturbing factor is the pronounced ideological thrust of the new policy. There is a whole chapter of seven pages on Islamic Education. This section speaks of the urgency of integrating the secular and the religious strands at present operating in Pakistan. The policy aims at bridging the existing gulf between the formal education system and the Deeni Madaris system and facilitate horizontal mobility between their students.

Two distinct approaches are prescribed. One will seek to upgrade the courses of the Deeni Madaris by including subjects like English, Mathematics, General Science and Economics in their curricula. Their degree/asnad will be equated with the degrees of the formal system. This will be accomplished by setting up a Deeni Madaris Board and model Darul Uloom. What is to become of the Deeni Madaris which have mushroomed in the country in the last one decade? The brutality and intolerance they nurture within their four walls have been quite extensively exposed. It is  strange that the education policy has chosen to be silent on this issue. If they refuse to get affiliated to the Board, what then? The silence on this score is sinister.

The second approach is to bring the so-called secular schools closer to the deeni madaris model. They will teach the nazira Quran with translation to their students from Class VI onwards. Islamiat will be taught up to the BA level and morning assemblies will be used to emphasise character building and high moral values, and create an environment for patriotism and “discipline based on the injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah”. Compulsory salat’ in school premises will be introduced. Under the policy arrangements will be made for the revision of the curricula and textbooks in use in the secular school to expunge any material repugnant to Islamic teachings and values and ensure inclusion of sufficient material on the Quran and Islamic teaching.

How this extra dose of Islamisation will help is not clear. Even at present, students have to study Islamiat up to the bachelor’s level. The emphasis will be probably be increased. This attempt at conscious indoctrination has either spawned a cynical reaction or given birth to hypocrites who preach one thing, and practice the opposite.

One really did not expect the education policy to give us more of the same but analyse the failure of the old methodology in inculcating the virtues of a good Muslim in the students. What the education policy gives is familiar rhetoric. One can be certain that nothing will improve, if the conditions will improve, if the conditions will not deteriorate further. Our interpretation of Islam has been too narrow and dogmatic to allow it to emerge as a liberating, humanising and mobilising force.

It has not taught us tolerance and respect for others’ beliefs nor love and compassion for human beings. The authors of the education policy did a major disservice to the nation by not admitting this failure. Therefore there no attempt to analyze the factors leading to this failure.

In the absence of a clear understanding of why Pakistan’s education system has failed to produce human beings who make good citizens, the policy makers have presented a re-hash of what we already have. The end product of this system will be no different from what the Islamised education system of the past decade has produced. The fact is that we have tried to overdo the morality stuff.

The misconception prevails that if the student is exposed to a barrage of moralistic preaching, the dos and don’ts of religion are drilled into him and he is forced to memorize theological doctrines he will automatically imbibe these and practice what is preached to him. It is erroneously believed that if he is forced to perform the various rituals prescribed by religion, he will accept them and become a good practicing Muslim.

But the human mind and psyche does not work that way. It is important to make the products of our educational institutions rational human beings who uphold moral values and inculcate in themselves the quality of tolerance so that they can live in a pluralistic society. This can be done by exposing them to ideas and opinions from all sides of the spectrum and teaching them to reason and discriminate between good and evil. It is best to motivate the young mind to decide for itself what is best for the individual as well as society. A coercive approach as has been suggested in the education policy will only create a backlash and divide society even further.

WHAT THE REPORT SAYS

These and many other references in the Qur’an refer to those who seek knowledge, who conduct research, investigate, explore, interpret, inspect and reason out. That shows that Islamic vision of human conduct is based on a conscious rational and meaningful volitional behavior. In short, it leaves no room for a dogmatic way of life.

  • To evolve an integrated system of national education by bringing Deeni Madaris and modern schools closer to each stream in curriculum and the contents of education.
  • To educate and train the future generation of Pakistan as a true practicing Muslim who would be able to enter into 21st century will courage, confidence, wisdom and tolerance.
  • Teaching the holy Qur’an with translation shall be introduced from class VI and will be completed by class XII.
  • The basic teachings of the Holy Qur’an shall be included in all the courses of studies.
  • Pre-service and in-service training programmes for Islamiat and Arabic teachers will be ensured. They shall be given due respect and status among the teaching community.
  • To bridge the existing gulf between the formal education system and Deeni Madaris system and to eradicate sectarianism, the curricula of Deeni Madaris shall be upgraded and improved to enhance prospects of employment.
  • Degrees/asnad awarded by Deeni madaris shall be equated with the formal degrees/ certificates at all levels.
  • Islamiat shall be continued as a compulsory subject from class I to BA/Bsc levels including professional institutions.
  • Nazira Qur’an shall form an integral part of Islamiyat compulsory for classes I to VIII.
  • Islamiyat, Arabic and the Holy Qur’an with translation shall be integrated in a single compulaory subject from class IX onwards.
  • Code of ethics for teachers shall be developed and enforced. Teachers shall be required to act as a role model failing which there shall be strict accountability. Teachers who will present themselves as a role model shall be awarded.

Source: Dawn 11 April 1998