Halting another generation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Spearhead Analysis – 30.10.2014

By Shayan Malik
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

KP School Children

It came as a surprise to some while as an appraisal of their pre-conceived convictions to others. On the 26th of October 2015, the Elementary and Secondary Education Department in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had notified all public educational institutions to revert to the 2002 syllabus for the new academic year starting in 2015. The causes and implications of this change ought to make the severity of it and the challenge it poses apparent to all prospective readers. The PTI and JI entered into an electoral alliance a few tense months before the seminal 2013 elections. This synthesis evolved into a coalition after the PTI won the largest number of seats in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The public premise for this union was to apparently stem the further entrenchment of ‘status-quo’ parties within the province. However, the implications of this partnership were to have far-reaching consequences for the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It has now been made public by JI’s provincial head that his party had entered into an agreement done with the PTI at this initial stage to abandon the curriculum reforms of the previous decade. This was done in order to placate the JI for the sake of a stable coalition, although, some sources also claim that the PTI itself was not ideologically satiated with the curriculum reforms from the past.

Tales of Curriculum Reform from the Past

In 2006, emboldened with Pakistan’s geo-strategic and important role in the ‘War on Terror’ and in tandem with the regime’s stated policy of ‘Enlightened Moderation’, the Musharraf Regime brought in some reforms under the structure of its Education Sector Reform (ESR) plan. After the passing of the 18th Amendment, the provinces were made responsible for the education sector, which involved curriculum development, planning and reforms. This constitutional provision empowered progressive political forces such as the ANP and to a lesser extent the PPP, that weren’t as colored with regressive ideological tendencies as some far-right and centre-right political parties.

Reforms brought in by the provincial ANP government included removing material on ‘Jihad’ from grade 9 and putting it in grade 11 instead. Much of the reforms were aimed at celebrating ethnic and religious plurality in the form of regional heroes as part of the wider national framework. This entailed an emphasis upon a progressive pashtun identity by inserting material on peace activists and politicians such as Bacha Khan as well as upon non-Muslims rooted in the history and soil of present-day Pakistan such as Raja Dahir and Maharaja Ranjit Singh in order to make the curriculum inclusive for citizens of all religions.

Much of these reforms were commendable in aiming to stem the internationally-scrutinized obscurantist material in Pakistan’s public curriculum. Nevertheless, the rollback of these reforms, with the exception of the inclusion of pashtun personalities, raises questions about the commitment of the PTI to an educated citizenry with the capacity to herald the state into the 21st century.

An Ideological Curriculum and the fate of a State

Various different studies have alluded to the fact that an ideologically motivated curriculum can be very successful in indoctrinating children and making them amenable to a firm and fixated belief in a particular social, economic or political ideology, that may be prevalent as the ‘status-quo’ within their countries. This skews their outlook on alternative policies, opinions and arguments in the same sphere.

At the national level, the problem with choosing educational content to promote ideology rather than to increase the student’s capacity to think is the tradeoff between effective human resource utilization for the future and an abstract ideology that may be of little utility.  The official curriculum is meant to be a planned course of study that a state uses as a standard to meet the learning needs of its young pupils. If retrograde arguments are taught as facts within the curriculum then it is pertinent to note that students cannot acquire any meaningful experience from their schools, colleges and universities. A backpedaling of the earlier reforms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will precisely have these personal growth-impeding repercussions.

Ideally, goals of curriculum planning in successful, democratic and pluralistic states ought to be aimed at developing the critical thinking, writing, career, field-oriented, personal development and knowledge based skills of students. Ideological content aimed at producing children with a narrow worldview has the inverse effect of actually hindering the acquisition of any of the above mentioned skills.

In lieu of these recent developments, it seems apparent that the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hasn’t set forward the above-mentioned skills as an end in itself and does not seek to inculcate these skills in the children of the province. The other three provinces also only fare marginally better in this regard. This signifies an inability and unwillingness to not only meet the professional, economic and developmental demands of the 21st century but also to develop even a minor semblance of empathy for the children of this country. The KPK government’s decision does nothing but to set the clock back and to ruin another generation from reaching its untapped potential.