Pakistan Education System

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This program approaches and analyses Pakistan educational system, including its curricula and textbooks, as a potential context for extending extremism and terrorism in the country.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: The Pakistani Taliban attack on a school, which resulted in the massacre of 141 students and teachers, is the most violent terrorist attack in Pakistan’s history.

In the spring of 2014, in a poll by Pew Research Center on the main security threat to Pakistan, 51% of respondents blamed India, 25% blamed the Taliban, and 2% blamed al-Qaeda.

Despite numerous attacks by terrorist groups in Pakistan on the country over the past few decades, Pakistani society on the whole has not developed a negative attitude towards terrorists, and the attitude of violence and extremism is actually justified by some sections of the society.

In the analysis of this phenomenon, experts consider some factors such as inefficient economy, high rate of unemployment, class conflict, political instability and bureaucratic corruption as the main reasons for the turning of Pakistan into one of the main bases for activities of extremist groups.

In fact, one of the most influential factors contributing to the continuation and growth of this social context for the development of extremist thought and support for terrorist groups is the Pakistani educational system.

More than half of the 195 million population of Pakistan is under the age of 25. Lack of financial resources for the establishment of a proper educational infrastructure is a major and constant setback of the government. According to statistics provided by the World Bank, the proportion of the cost of education to GDP is just 2% in Pakistan, a statistic that ranks the country 172nd in the world. This low GDP investment has deprived 25 million children between the ages of 5 to 16 of education.

The education levels are divided into primary school; middle secondary school; and high school and the average number of students per class is forty, but sometimes depending on the region, this number may reach up to 80 students in the public schools.

Education in Pakistan is delivered mainly in the Urdu language, with some courses taught in English. The teaching method utilized in the classroom is based on the presentation of a large amount of textbook material in each lesson and then expecting the students to retain the information they read. There is no encouragement for the students to ask questions of the teacher, or to express criticism of the content and so rarely does an atmosphere of dialogue occur in the classroom.

Apart from the imperfection of the educational system in the schools and the monologue-centered approach, the class population, be it public or private, and the school geography also influences thoughts on extremism.

While in some private schools, teachers follow more modern methods and encourage the students to search the Internet or Wikipedia to complement textbook content, in Pakistan mostly, the course content is presented with an absolute emphasis on the textbooks; and the teachers generally do not provide any educational sources independent of the textbook, and so the students are not encouraged to verify information.

The lack of dialogue and debate on campus; schools producing students who are not accustomed to conducting research; and the low-quality of educational materials and equipment in schools have all contributed to an output that damages the student’s ability to be competitive in the hierarchical society of Pakistan and succeed in the business world.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: It is not surprising that only 5.1% of students go to university in Pakistan. This is while 41% of the students in Malaysia and 17% of students in India go to universities. This, in turn, results in a low proportion of educated and skilled labor force in Pakistan. Millions of unskilled Pakistani youth will then become the main source of unskilled labor for neighboring countries, and worse, some will develop a strong propensity to join terrorist groups offering greater material provision.

Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab’s chief Minister, said in an interview in 2013: “Education will comprehensively defeat terrorism and militancy.” So it seems that the first step to improve education and to change the existing situation is the modification of the educational system.

The most important modification of the educational system and the curriculum in Pakistan to date was under General Zia ul-Haq’s period in the late 1980s. The subject “Pakistan studies” was included in the curriculum at all educational levels. Since then, experts such as A. K. Aziz in the book entitled, “The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan”; and A.H Nayar in the book, “The Subtle Subversion”: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan have raised criticism of the many apparent errors existing in the textbooks used. They consider the content of the curriculum overall as the justification of aggression and the motivation of prejudice.

In the textbooks, the majority of problems and imperfections of Pakistan, as well as the root of many aggressive measures in the country, is all attributed to India; and the topic concerning the history of the creation of Pakistan and the location of the country in the subcontinent is not consistent with historical facts.

In 2004, President General Pervez Musharraf, in response to the criticism of the school curriculum, ordered a reform, and since the year 2006, students have been trained according to a new syllabus. The word terrorism for instance has now been included in textbooks since the 2006 reforms. The changes disappointed most critics, with A.H. Nayar calling it a missed opportunity.

In a research paper about Pakistan’s school curriculum released by the United States Institute of Peace in 2015, it is noted that in the textbook of Punjab’s tenth grade, Understanding Pakistan, words like hatred, destruction and poor are used to characterize Hindu, and in the chapters about Pakistan after the independence, the name of the India's Congress Party is generally associated with evil.

The explanations of the relations between Pakistan and the West are also vague in the textbooks and contradictory with historical facts. In the book Understanding Pakistan, the main reason for the relations between Pakistan and the West is said to be economical, while for many years according to Pakistani politicians and media the reason for the expansion of terrorist groups in the country has been, in fact, Pakistan’s military and security cooperation with America in the war on Afghanistan.

According to the research published by the United States Institute for Peace, issues related to the rights of religious minorities are not addressed in Pakistan’s educational system. A vast majority of students and teachers believe that religious minorities are treated ‘properly’ in the country and thus little concentration is given to any terrorist attacks on people of Shia or Christian faiths.

In a country where just 57% of the population are literate and which ranks 146th in the Human Development Index, millions of the population who are excluded from equal employment opportunities and social welfare, consider the violent operations of the terrorist groups as something akin to a rebellion against social injustice. And so they sympathize with them and try to justify terrorism.

A large number of experts; however, regard the massacre in Peshawar in December 2014 as a turning point in terms of the sympathetic attitudes of many Pakistanis towards terrorist groups. However, a fundamental change in the attitude of the society towards extremism and the rejection of terrorism requires more. It requires the re-education of the young generations of Pakistanis and redefining the phenomenon in the school curriculum. It is only in this way that the voices of people like Syed Zaid Hamid, the famous conspiracy theorist who blames India for the massacres, will have no ear in Pakistan in the future.


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