State of education

Our identity and educational policies are a product of our history of regional conflicts

Pakistan was carved in 1947 as a separate nation-state out of British India and the territorial separation has been interpreted as an effect as well as a cause of other separations. One of these separations is the identity of the Pakistani citizen as imagined and promoted by different educational policies of Pakistan. This usually comes under a chapter titled 'Aims and Objectives' in all the policies before the National Educational Policy 2009 (draft) and, because of its absence in the current draft policy, we are tracing the history of the Aims and Objectives in our federal educational dreams here. Our position is that this exercise will help us how the "ideal Pakistani subject" has been constructed at various stages of our history.

In the First Education Conference of 1947, the objective of education is the production of "Islamic conception of universal brotherhood of man, social democracy, social justice, and the cultivation of democratic virtues, i.e. tolerance, self-help, self-sacrifice, human kindliness etc. and the consciousness of common citizenship as opposed to Provincial exclusiveness." It is our argument that Islam, as interpreted by the ideologues and educationists in 1947, was different from the way it was interpreted two decades later, especially after the war of 1965 and, later, during the Afghan jihad years. For example, in 1947, the official interpretation of Islam and the values to be cultivated in a student included "social justice," "tolerance," "human kindliness" and "self-sacrifice." It was also recommended that these "universal values" be inculcated through a language common to all provinces. The justification for this was sought from the Russian education system because "it shows how diversity has been encouraged without endangering the fundamental unity of common culture which has been ensured by the making of Russian as the first compulsory foreign language in all non-Russian schools."

The Russian example was cited to justify the promotion of Urdu as a lingua franca but, at that time, it was not promoted as a national (or qaumi) language. At that time, a tri-lingual citizen was the ideal product: someone who received necessary education in the mother tongues of his or her provinces, learnt Urdu as the lingua franca and English as the state/official language.

In 1951, the Second Education Conference recommended the use of Urdu not as lingua franca but as "the national and official language of Pakistan." At the same time, the aim of the educational system is to promote "the principles of Islamic ideology" but even at this stage religion is linked with social justice rather than aggression and jihad. In 1959, the Sharif Commission Report declared "a sense of unity and nationhood" as the idea product of the educational machinery. The sense of unity was, according to the report, to be created by promoting fine arts, natural history, science and industry, zoological gardens and planetariums. To our post-1965 mindset, this emphasis on the promotion of scientific, rational and artistic institutions as a necessary extension of Pakistani identity reads as something unusual. This trend continues till the war of 1965 with India, which is the point where the official construction of Islam and Pakistani identity acquired jingoistic overtones.

To illustrate our argument we offer two different views of the foreign missionary schools operating in Pakistan. In 1966, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report declared missionary schools to be a beneficial presence in the country:

"So far as the Christian missionary schools are concerned we were assured by the representatives of the Catholic Board Schools at Karachi, which runs as many as 24 primary schools, 11 secondary schools and 4 colleges, that it was a misnomer to classify them as missionary schools, for no missionary work was done at these schools and that education was imparted in their schools and colleges on the basis of the pupils and the parents religion. This, they claimed, was a "pontifical duty" imposed upon them by their Board. In fact, they asserted that they even taught Islamiyat in their schools and colleges according to the syllabus prescribed by the Government and that they did it 'better than others', as admitted by the Inspector of Schools himself."

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report cited the Constitution of 1963:

"Our Constitution by the First Amendment Act of 1963 provides it as a fundamental right under paragraph 12 (2) of Right No. IV that "no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any educational institution maintained wholly by that community or denomination." Again, under paragraph 12 (5), it is guaranteed that "every religious community or denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain educational institutions of its own choice, and the State shall not deny recognition to any such institution on the ground only that the management of such institution vests in that community or denomination.""

In 1969, the Proposal for New Educational Policy, which was signed by the then Federal Education Minister Noor Khan, maligns the foreign educational institutions operating in Pakistan and declares them to be against the national and religious identity of the ideal Pakistani.

Foreign missionary educational institutions in Pakistan tend to spread directly and indirectly the doctrines of religion and culture which are alien national values and Islamic concepts of life/and most of them are linked and affiliated to foreign educational systems.

Their continued existence in a free and independent state which is an Islamic Republic must be regarded as highly anachronistic. Not only do they perpetuate the barriers of distinction, their very existence in the educational system causes "endless complications for public policy." The policy should, therefore, aim at nationalising these institutions.

By 1979, the process of the militant Islamisation of Pakistani subjectivity has acquired an aggressive outlook towards everything it imagines to be "anti-Pakistan ideology." The purpose of National Education is declared to be the creation of:

"(The) awareness in every student that he, as a member of Pakistani nation is also a part of the universal Muslim Ummah and that it is expected of him to make a contribution towards the welfare of fellow Muslims inhabiting the globe on the one hand and to help spread the message of Islam throughout the world on the other …so that Islamic ideology permeates the thinking of younger generation and help them with necessary conviction and ability to refashion society according to Islamic tenets."

This aggressive definition of Islamic identity, as opposed to the 1947 conceptions of the ideal Pakistani citizen as self-sacrificing and socially just, is the result of the two wars with India and the promotion of a rigid Islamic identity in South Asia as a defence strategy against the increasing Soviet influence and aggression in Afghanistan. Just as the Soviet Union had tried to infuse Communist ideology in every discipline of academic inquiry, Pakistan also began Islamising the physical and biological sciences. We must emphasise here that Zia ul Haq's era was not the beginning of aggressive entrenchment of militant Islamism but a culmination of a process of building rigid identities which began in 1965 on the both sides of the India-Pakistan border. As far as Pakistan is concerned, the culmination of this process was ultimately detrimental to the growth of scientific inquiry. The Education Policy launched in 1992 snubs the spirit of independent inquiry thus: "No other worldview, certainly not of science and technology, would stand up to the social organisation designed by the worldview of Islam." This is the result of constructing national identity on mutually exclusive Hindu-Muslim binary on one side of the territory and the Communist-Muslim binary on the other side. The ideal Pakistani subject, then, is not an independent product but rather a product of resentment and reactionary rigidity.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated March 08, 2009