In the modern nation-state system, the state and the public are two distinct entities amalgamated to form a united entity called the nation-state. Just as the public entity within the nation-state inherently has its own interests, needs, and wants, the state holds its own set of interests, needs, and wants. In any nation-state’s life, the clash between these two entities is imminent in every major national decision or event and when such a clash occurs, the state almost always trumps the entity of the public.
The state of Pakistan too is a nation-state and like all other major geopolitical players pragmatically practices this bifurcation of entities whenever it is shaping policies of great consequence. In this three-part series of which this one serves as an introductory article, we will attempt to examine the history of our curriculum development for schools since the country’s inception in 1947 and scrutinize the evolution of policies which address the zeitgeist of different eras of our school curriculum. We will also try to evaluate the content in the curriculum taught to students of 9th and 10th grades across the four provinces with content analysis of the subjects of Pakistan Studies, Urdu, English and Islamiat.
Our current curriculum dispensation in schools found its foundation in the era of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when he revised the University Grants Commission (UGC), precursor to Higher Education Commission (HEC), and gave it the task to shape the curriculum of Pakistan Studies on more nationalistic grounds and made compulsory the study of Islamiat and Pakistan Studies in the education system. This policy was zealously pursued against a backdrop of the dismemberment of East Pakistan, now an independent country named Bangladesh.
Subsequently, after overthrowing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a coup d’état in 1977, General Zia-Ul-Haq assumed presidency the following year and initiated a process of full-spectrum ideological indoctrination by infusing misinterpreted theology in subjects besides Islamic Studies. This full-spectrum ideological indoctrination was largely a response to the growing ideological threat of the left lead by the then USSR while some of it was due to the General’s own predilections. However, the consequences of this narrow policy of curriculum development outlived the General’s dictatorship and resonate in the attitudes and behaviours of our society and polity to this day.
In 2006 and 2007, in the reign of General Pervaiz Musharraf, attempts were made to reconcile this misinterpreted and myopic religiosity with imported light or enlightened moderation as General Musharraf called it, and seek reformation of the curriculum.
In 2006 and 2007, in the reign of General Pervaiz Musharraf, attempts were made to reconcile this misinterpreted and myopic religiosity with imported light or enlightened moderation as General Musharraf called it, and seek reformation of the curriculum. However, these reforms failed to address the essence of this protracted radicalism which was embedded into the DNA of the curriculum in the eras of Bhutto and Zia-Ul-Haq.
After the monstrosity of 16th December 2014, the entire civil-military leadership of the country came together and formulated the National Action Plan (NAP) to combat and defeat terrorism and extremism in all of its manifestations in the country. Amongst this action plan, there are certain points which offer a purging of radicalism from our curriculum and envision a curriculum and pedagogy more in accordance with evolving ideas, norms, and values which define a changing society in Pakistan. Up till now, no significant effort has been undertaken to purge our curriculum and formalise a renewed direction for our children.
This brief history of our curriculum development since the 1970s illustrates the fact that each of our education policies has been an effort to address the geopolitics of its time instead of balancing its internal dynamics within the society. Short-termism trumps the need to envision a long-term policy accommodating all variables which will come to define society and extremism as it evolves.
That said, some of the proposals for reformation of the curriculum from particular segments of society are as perilous as those efforts were. These segments seek to reform the curriculum in isolation from our geopolitical and domestic environments; and some even attempt to bury the essence of our society in the process, which is an unnatural way of reforming anything in any nation-state.
In the context of processing radicalism through curriculum, Pakistan is not an exclusive nation. Many nations, especially those who are geopolitically active, practice this pragmatism in their own nations. The United States, Russia, India, Japan, France, and Saudi Arabia are a few among many who effectively seek to make their curriculum more in accordance with how their nation perceives its history, civilization, and culture, and what foreign policy objectives they seek to secure by inculcating radicalized behaviour in their populace.
This is the dilemma of the nation-state concept: state interests must be pursued at the expense of their social repercussions within their societies. However, this is not to say that we shouldn’t attempt to reform our contemporary curriculum. The hour calls for an intense debate on this subject in our society where people from across different backgrounds could share their perspectives on curriculum development.
In its 2016-17 report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index put Pakistan at the 122nd position among 138 countries.
Our current curriculum is so unresponsive to domestic needs and so ineffective in projecting state interests that it not only does it merit a reform but it merits an overhaul of the entire education system. In its 2016-17 report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index put Pakistan at the 122nd position among 138 countries. Even though minor changes were noted in Pakistan as it improved from its 126th position in the previous year but it still has a long way to go to make a substantial impact.
There is an absolute necessity to inoculate our curriculum from the zeitgeist of the 1970s, 80s and 90s and to introduce a new way of thinking, a new approach to pedagogy, and a new curriculum which encourages critical thought and creativity in students rather than rote memorization. We need a system of education in which the analytical abilities of our students are given an opportunity to rise in academic and extracurricular activities rather than the students regurgitating what they have been taught.
Each society has a philosophical nucleus from which its behaviours, values, ideas, culture, norms, and aspirations are derived. Society, therefore, shares a responsibility to shape its political, economic, and social systems around this philosophical nucleus to project its own distinct identity in the world community and influence it with the soft power of its philosophy. We cannot adhere to a curriculum which does not accommodate our ancestral roots in this subcontinent aligning it with our religious roots from across the continent. This hybrid form of curriculum will ensure the upbringing of generations of people who are connected physically and spiritually to their past in the most literal sense and develop vibrancy in their thoughts and social behaviours.
Hassan Zaheer is a postgraduate in Sociology from the University of Karachi with specialization in Sociology of Religion and Politics. He is currently working as a Non-Resident Research Associate with the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), Islamabad, where he works on the intersection of ideas, strategy, religion, and politics, and their influence on state and society. His areas of interests are social contract, history of ideas, authoritarianism, political economy, international relations and strategic studies with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Eastern and Western Europe and Asia.