Abandonment of space on the right
The Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) is back in the news. This time it is because the Muttahida Ulema Board (MUB), to which he has given a role in reviewing and approving textbooks, is demanding that clothing be added to anatomical diagrams in biology textbooks representing internal organs. and the bowels of the human body, so as not to aggravate societal immorality. I can’t even imagine what a diagram of a dissected human torso with clothes on would look like.
The comedy doesn’t stop there. The same scholars also found fault with mathematics textbooks. They demand the removal of the words “interest” and “marking” from them. It doesn’t matter whether every local bank uses these terms (or oblique variations like “rate”) to describe the interest it pays or collects on its investments, deposits, credit cards, and loan products. The government reminds us almost daily that it pays interest on foreign loans. Contrary to the wishful thinking of MUB members, this is the world we live in.
It seems that MUB members have a kind of compulsion that pushes them to find faults, even when there aren’t any, just to remind everyone of their existence and establish their nuisance value. Why do scholars revise science and math textbooks in the first place? To understand how we got here, it is necessary to understand the slow slide over the years by which politicians and bureaucracy gradually gave way to the religious far right.
I have reviewed the legislation governing the functioning of the Board, starting with the Punjab Textbook Board Ordinance 1962, until the establishment of the Punjab Curriculum Authority in 2012, until to the introduction of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (Amendment) Board Ordinance in 2014, an amendment in 2015. and a subsequent amendment by the Punjab Curriculum and TextBook Board (Amendment) Bill 2020, which the Punjab Assembly passed unanimously in June of last year.
The MUB made its first appearance in the 2020 amendment under the prohibition section in paragraph 2 (a): “Any textbook or program on religion with content or subject matter related to Islam, including ‘islamiyat, history, Pakistani studies, Urdu, literature or any other subject related to religion will not be published until it has obtained the prior approval of the Muttahida Ulema Board, Punjab, and the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board will be required to obtain such approval from the Muttahida Ulema Board, Punjab. ‘
It should be noted that the PCTB Amendment Bill of 2020 was introduced as a private member’s bill by MP Khadija Umar (PML-Q). Historically, private members’ bills have been vehicles for promotion by individual MPAs. They make the headlines and put the sponsoring member’s name in the newspapers for a few days, let them garner votes in their constituency but usually end up going nowhere. On other occasions, parties have used private members’ bills to pass laws they plan to become an albatross around their necks and wish to disavow later.
For example, an MP’s desire to polish his credentials with Conservative voters put the brakes on the PCTB textbook review process. Not only was this amendment adopted but, after the departure of the members of the PPP, it was adopted unanimously. No party has a monopoly on the use of private members’ bills as scoring instruments. For example, take the recent bill presented to the Sindh Assembly by an MMA MPA requiring marriage before the age of 18. Earlier this year, the Senate passed the “Compulsory Arabic Language Education Bill 2020,” which was introduced as a private member’s bill. by Senator Javed Abbasi of the PML-N in August of last year.
How is it acceptable that MPAs without qualifications or knowledge of curriculum development, pedagogy or education in general push forward a bill that so radically changes the landscape of school education? We wouldn’t allow someone with a bachelor’s degree and an interior design degree to perform surgery on someone, right?
As ill-thought out and ill-advised as it is, once a bill that pushes society further to the far right is approved and becomes law, it is almost impossible to ring the bell. We remember the 2012 ban on YouTube by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). Instead of doing what so many other countries in the Islamic world have done – let people register their protest and ignore the provocation by the attention seeker – the rash reaction of our government of the day was to cut off its nose. to annoy his face. Once enacted, pressure from the far right made it difficult to overturn the ban, which remained in effect until December 6, 2015.
In Punjab, in particular, the province which saw its governor assassinated for speaking out against the abuse of blasphemy laws only a few years ago, few are ready to speak out against the slide to the far right. Yet the story of how the PCTB made headlines for all the wrong reasons begins with the development of the One National Program (SNC) by the National Programs Council (NCC) in Islamabad. For a government that had made social development and education an important pillar of its manifesto in the 2013 and 2018 elections, the SNC was an opportunity to press the reset button for (public) education.
When I talk to decision makers in the education sector in government about the types of citizens the public school system strives to produce, I can never get a response that shows everyone is working from the same playbook. Although the key considerations for the CNS include such elements as international trends in teaching, learning and assessment, results-based learning, emphasis on values, life skills and the inclusion, respect and appreciation of different cultures and religions in a local and global context, the main considerations remain religion, the vision of Quaid and Iqbal, and the constitutional framework.
These are the priorities and considerations that guided the work of these “400 experts” who developed the primary school CNS. Judging by the product of their work, at no time has anyone advised them to adhere to Article 22 (1), which protects the citizens’ right that “no person attending an educational institution is required to receive religious instruction, or participate in a religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.
As a result, as in past years, a significant amount of religious content has been included in textbooks for subjects other than Islam. Neither of these issues were identified during the review of the textbooks. The PCTB adopted the Central CNS and its model manuals without any changes and affixed its seal of approval. Private textbooks are jumping through the hoops which are the PCTB’s three-phase review process in which the PCTB amendment law of 2020 gives the MUB a role, thus giving the far right a foot in the door of all schools.
In response to a public service appeal launched in December 2020 (Altamash Saeed against the government of Punjab), the PCTB chairman and secretary (School Education, Punjab) ordered that all public and private textbooks and additional materials be revised and approved, to avoid the inclusion of any indecent material from the next academic year (2021-2022 and beyond). It was an easy fix for the bureaucracy without thinking about the consequences. So, where the 2020 amending law gave the MUB a role in revising Islamic textbooks, the department’s response to this court appeal made matters worse and expanded its role to revise all educational material for all. the subjects.
This is how the Punjab’s politicians and bureaucracy ceded space to the MUB – space that, once surrendered, will be difficult to overthrow and reclaim. Instead of ministries and officials doing their jobs and stopping this shift to the far right early in the process, the dangerous and politically costly legal battles to right these wrongs are left to the most vulnerable communities and societal activists. civil.
The author is an independent researcher and educational consultant. She holds a doctorate in education from Michigan State University.