What our students get by way of history and social studies

By Zubeida Mustafa

Lubna was not even .four when Bangladesh was born in the midst of blood and tears. She was obviously too young to understand what was happening. Today Lubna is nearly fourteen and is appearing for her class nine examination this year. She still does not understand what happened in 1971. And you cannot really blame her for her lack of knowledge and understanding. Lubna is an intelligent and widely-travelled child who is definitely brighter than the average student of her age. All that her Pakistan Studies textbook tells her is that in December 1971 “half the country had been separated”. Fortunately she does not remember that in Class Five she had read in her Social Studies textbook, ‘Tne defeat of 1965 war did” not bring any change in the attitude of Bharat. It went on trying to harm Pakistan. This time it tried its luck on the eastern front. East Pakistan was surrounded by Bharat . . . A great number of Hindus lived there. Through its agents and other self seekers Bharat at first caused great troubles in East Pakistan and then attacked it from three sides .  The war continued for three weeks and ended in the creation of a separate state called Bangladesh.”

The truth

26-03-1982-2Why are we afraid to tell our children the truth about a tragedy which shook the very foundations of the. country? This is only one instance of how the textbooks being taught in our schools try to conceal plain and simple facts about events which have taken place in the not too distant past. Take another example.The Pakistan Studies textbook duly in- . forms the student that on “20 December 1971 the new Government came into power. This was the first Government consisting of the elected representatives of the people”. But nowhere is it even mentioned in passing whose Government this was, although quite a few pages are devoted to the constitutional, economic and social reforms introduced by this not to be named Government.Surprisingly, there is not the slightest hint about the change in leadership in 1977. These seem rather odd omissions in a book whose autors’ obsession with personalities is rather pronounced. One has only to open a page of the textbooks being taught in our schools to see how the child’s natural curiosity, interest and even idealism are being destroyed through a slow but sure process.

The schools have been directed to teach only from the textbooks prepared by the Textbook Board. And since it is not exposed to any competition, it is hardly surprising that the Board does not feel obliged to do any better.

So appalling are the textbooks in their poverty of content and style that at times one seriously wonders if it is worth putting the child through the rigours of schooling. And when the poverty of style and content is combined with lack of moral integrity and intellect, as is the case with the social studies textbooks, the results can be devastating.

Important subject .

“Social studies” is a very important subject if for no other reason than that it shapes the outlook of the student towards society and state. If the assessment of the principal of a local school, who should know her job is correct, these books are doing more harm than good. They are not enthusiasm-creating”.

She observes. When lack of enthusiasm is to mark the attitude of youngsters towards their own country, then we are in for some serious trouble. And this is what we seem to be heading for.Not a single student I talked to found the textbooks interesting enough to stimulate his or her imaglnation.

The Pakistan Studies textbook was described as “boring” by the students without exception.

The courses have been so structured that a child first learns about his immediate surroundings and then gradually moves on to a wider field.

This scheme is conceptually sound but it has been implemented with utter lack of imagination. What would a child of seven or eight in class three make out about the District of Karachi, its administration, boundaries, etc?

Finally, when after receiving six years of what is supposed to be a thorough grounding in Social Studies, the student has to read the Pakistan Studies textbook, how does he respond? With the correct- approach, these books should have- made him alive to his environment.

On the contrary, they leave him quite disinterested in his own country.

Musarrat, aged 15, another bright youngster from a local school, is quite frank when she admits, “I read the book (Pakistan Studies) because it is. compulsory and I have to pass my exams. It doesn’t interest me at all”.

Why is it that most youngsters are “put off by the Social Studies textbooks? It is not surprising that they da,jiiot enjoy the dull, insipid and sermonising style adopted by the writers- if these books?

Moreover, the tendency to paint everyone and everything in black and white leaves the books with very little credibility.

Either one is a hero or a villain. In their effort to instil a sense of patriotism and loyalty in the youngsters, the authors have abandoned all attempts at objectivity and exaggeration has been carried at bit too far.

Even the youngest of the readers would find it difficult to believe that the occupation of our people is “growing crops, working in factories and acquiring knowledge”. What would the better informed of the students have to say about the exaggerated statements which are found sprinkled all over these books such as China is a Superpower; from 1949 onwards Pakistan made persistent efforts to get China admitied into the United Nations, the British were on the verge of surrender when Gandhi decided to call off the non-cooperation movement or that it was the Khilafat movement which instilled courage in the Hindus.

How do the young readers react? It would be educative for the publisher, the Textbook Board, to conduct a readers’ survey to find out. Thus young Musarrat observes very cynically, ‘The Hindus were awful. The British were oppressive. How come we didn’t have any weakness at all?”

When Musarrat reads other books, she finds that they give quite a different version from what her textbooks have to say. And then she doesn’t know which one to believe.

If the students are bored with Social Studies, the teachers are downright unhappy. Mrs. N, who teaches the subject in a local school and does not want her name to be disclosed, points out that the books have a “muddled up approach” There is no logical and proper sequence. Even within each chapter there is mass confusion, she points out.

Under the subheading “Trade with Muslim Countries” you will suddenly come across some paragraphs describing the geography of Pakistan. But the major source of worry lor Mrs. N and Mrs. E (another Social Studies teacher) is the isolated approach the textbooks have in respect of Pakistan.

‘These books have so little to say about the rest of the world that if we were not to tell them more, the children would not really know much about the world outside Pakistan”, the teachers complain.

Even towards Pakistan the approach lacks balance . There is too much emphasis on some issues while other equally important matters have been dealt with quite superficially, points out Mrs. N.

There are too many names and dates which do not mean anything to the students and yet they are expected to remember them. And there is no attempt to make them understand the concept, which is more important.

Mrs. S (yet another teacher) is worried about the prejudices the Social Studies textbooks try to pass on to the students. One of the goals of Social Studies should be to instil an understanding and acceptance of other people’s cultures and beliefs in the young student.

But we are doing just the opposite, observes this teacher of Social Studies. Our books speak so disrespectfully of people who are not our heroes. “At times I am ashamed of the language used,” she says.

Factual errors

What comes as a cause of serious concern to me are the factual errors which are allowed to go unchecked although every book, even the one for the seven-year-old in Class Three, bears the name of at least three persons who are supposed to have written or edited the book. It took nine people to translate the Pakistan Studies book into English, which was written by two people and supervised by one expert.

Yet you come across statements such as, the Super Highway between Karachi and Hyderabad is a part of the grand RCD project, IPECC (Indonesia- Pakistan Economic and Cultural Organization is a very active body, the United Nations set up the International Labour Organisation, the president of the World Bank is called the Executive Director, President Sadat crossed the Suez Canal in 1973, defeated the Israelis and took back quite a large part of Sinai, which included the oil wells.

The maps

Most appalling are the maps. Obviously the services of trained cartographer have not been enlisted. The maps show the USSR having a common boundary with Pakistan, the Black Sea as cut off from the Mediterranean Sea and Saudi Arabia with a substantial border with Israel should be enough to shake us out of our complacency. This also indicates the lack of emphasis on geography in our textbooks.

The grammatical errors, printing mistakes, and poor and unattractive get-up of the textbooks appears to be minor. flaws before the inaccuracies in the text and maps. The problem is that the authorities responsible for this state of affairs do not appear to be at all disturbed by what they are doing to our children’s education. Since they are exposed to other sources of information, too, the youngsters end up totally confused and as Musarrat says, they do not know where they stand.

Rather than dishing out half truths and distorted version of events or suppressing facts altogether, the authors of the Social Studies textbooks would certainly be rendering a great service to the younger generation if they would employ more objectivity in their approach.

It would also help if parents and teachers made their views on the subject known. All the teachers I met are dissatisfied but nobody speaks out. Instead they try to overcome the shortcomings of the textbooks by referring to other books and relying on notes.


But as Mrs. N says they cannot bypass the textbooks altogether because the Board examination paper are based entirely on the textbooks and the students are expected to base their answers on the prescribed books. There is no escape from them.    


From Dawn Archive Library

Published in Dawn on 26 March 1982