A Dangerous Education

June 13, 2019

American educational philosopher Robert M. Hutchins once warned that “Education can be dangerous. It is very difficult to make it not dangerous. In fact, it is almost impossible. The only way you can prevent education from being dangerous is to try and develop an educational system in which the pupil is exposed to no ideas whatsoever”.[1] Education is one of the key factors that determines the making or breaking of a society. Education helps shape the collective thinking and worldview of a population. The educational content is, therefore, of critical importance for a country’s educational system. An education riddled with omissions and distortions of facts serves no purpose, apart from acting as an intellectual plague for a country. Distorted educational contents tend to create paranoia where everyone and everything is a suspect.

Pakistan’s public education is a case of what devastation a bad education can inflict on the mental health and capabilities of a society. Pakistan is one of the few countries that continue to suffer from a disturbing scale of religious extremism and high impact terrorism[2]. This grim state of affairs has a critical relationship with the textbooks taught at public schools in the country. 

Millions of children in Pakistan do not even go to schools, and end up as child laborers. A 2018 estimate puts the number of out-of-school children at 22.84 million. But the issue of access to education pales when compared with the problem of contents taught at the educational institutions, public as well as private.

Corrupting the Contents

The textbooks taught in public and private schools across Pakistan are riddled with distortions of historical accounts, omissions, and bits of truth mixed up with untruths. Many Pakistanis demonstrate a strong interest in their general history. The region forming Pakistan has an ancient past, stretching thousands of years back. The land was home to some of the earliest human civilizations such as Indus Valley and Gandhara. Some believe people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.[3] But, what if the history is corrupted with omissions and, sometimes, with falsities? People who are deprived of a true reading of their history tend to repeat the history of their predecessors.

In Pakistan, education has always been a rundown sector, where public investment is made more out of compulsion rather than preference. The nobility who control political power and national resources generally tend to educate their children in the West who often return to succeed their elders in power and politics. And the majority of the population is mostly left at the mercy of a largely wrecked education system that indoctrinates pupils with a chronic paranoia about the world around them. Millions of children in Pakistan do not even go to schools, and end up as child laborers. A 2018 estimate puts the number of out-of-school children at 22.84 million[4]. But the issue of access to education pales when compared with the problem of contents taught at the educational institutions, public as well as private[5].

The radicalization of the textbooks and the propagation of Muslim faith as the sole national identity by the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq during the 1980s have had a devastating impact on the collective thinking and behavior of the society in Pakistan.[6] Zia, however, was not the first ruler to distort textbook contents. President Ayub Khan abolished history as a subject and replaced it with social studies for classes 1-8 and Pakistan Studies for classes 1-12. These subjects are a cocktail of history, geography, and economics etc.[7] The content fed into the raw minds of students has a direct bearing on the views and perceptions they develop later in life.[8]

Over years, three types of school systems have emerged in Pakistan; elite private schools, public schools and non-elite private schools, and the religious seminaries which provide different types of environments, teaching styles, exposures, and textbooks to their pupils.[9] President Zia went farthest in restructuring the education and rewriting the textbooks with Islamist overtones.[10] Pakistani historian K. K. Aziz has discussed how history subjects are taught to students in a distorted way.[11] His book ‘Murder of History’ details shocking accounts of the deliberate distortions put into the educational literature in the country.

A ghost school in Sindh
school 2
A private school in the capital
school 3
A seminary in Islamabad
schools 4
Seminary students burning DVDs in Islamabad

Click here for the source of these images

A study of the textbooks by SDPI in 2003 concluded that the “contents of the textbooks do not fulfill the values and objectives for the pursuance of a progressive nation.[12] Likewise, Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist and critique of religious radicalism, sees the Pakistani education as part of problem rather than solution. He believes the textbooks taught to millions of young students across the country are a major driver of religious extremism.[13] Hoodbhoy laments what he sees as serious distortions of facts in the textbooks.[14] He believes there is a critical link between the pervasive extremist mindset in Pakistani society and the school curriculums taught to children.[15]


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The Structure of Education

There are textbook boards at provincial levels that are responsible for curriculum till the 12th grade. Next, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and universities manage the contents of the textbooks taught to the graduates. This is overseen by the federal education ministry. The basic educational structure is 7-layered:

  1. Nursery
  2. Primary (grades 1-5)
  3. Middle (grades 6-8)
  4. High school (grades 9-10)
  5. Intermediate (grades 11-12)
  6. College (grades 13-14 in most cases, except for 4-year programs)
  7. Universities (15-upwards)[16]

Investing in Education

Source: The Global Economy

Education Spending 2006-2018:

Source: Trading Economics

Reforming the Curricula

Pakistan adopted its first public policy on education in 1959. Called the “National Education Policy”, it transferred the responsibility for primary education to the provinces. During the second 5-year plan (1960-65), primary and secondary curricula were revised, and “much emphasis was laid on Islamic studies and religious education. Later, the 1969 education policy sought to bridge the gap between general education and seminary education.[17] Islamic religious teachings were made integral parts of the new textbooks, and Islam was to be taught as the state religion.

However, most of the radicalization of the textbooks occurred under President Zia (1977-88) who embarked on an ambitious project to Islamize Pakistan as a state and society. He declared ‘Islamiat’ compulsory at all levels of education till college, and made seminary certificates equivalent to university degrees.[18] Many scholars believe Zia formally strengthened the foundation of religious extremism and Muslim exclusiveness in Pakistan. Several governments in Pakistan have attempted to undo Zia’s educational reforms, but in vain largely due to fear of backlash by religious extremists, says Prof. Hoodbhoy.[19]

Demonizing the Hindus

The post-Zia textbooks are filled with radical contents that promote paranoid views about the Hindus. They are portrayed as untrustworthy, despite the fact that Pakistan is home to millions of Hindus. Sometimes, the Hindus are equated with India. No wonder Pakistan’s Hindu community has been suffering persecution for years. Over the past decade, the news of forced conversions of Hindus by Muslims has frequently hit headlines in the country. A large number of Pakistani Hindu families have left the country to escape religious persecution. The textbooks project Islam as the exclusive faith of the Pakistani society at the disadvantage of other non-Muslim faiths. The Hindus and their faith are demonized through distortions in historical accounts. The textbooks blame Hindu conspiracy for the miserable condition of the Muslim community under the British Raj, and claim that British-Hindu conspiracy prevented the Muslims from progressing politically, economically, and socially in the undivided India.[20]

Image: Express Tribune

A study of Pakistani textbooks titled “The Subtle Subversion” by the SDPI has identified the following major themes in the contents of public sector textbooks:

  1. Pakistan is for Muslims alone;
  2. Compulsory Islamic teachings including memorization of the Quran are included in all subjects, and taught to all the students, whatever their faith;
  3. The Pakistani ideology is to be internalized as faith,
  4. Hatred against Hindus and India;
  5. Encouragement for jihad and martyrdom; [21]

The ideology of Pakistan has been a subject of debate among scholars since nobody has been able to produce evidence showing Pakistan’s founder Mohmmad Ali Jinnah ever used the term. The term was coined much later when political parties began using it for political motives.[22] In contrast, while addressing the first constituent assembly in Aug 1947, Jinnah said:

We are starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state … Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the sense as citizens of the state. … You may belong to any caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.[23]

Many believe the anti-Hindu biases were largely absent from the textbooks before the Zia period.[24] In the initial few years, the contents of the textbooks were drastically different from what is taught today. For example:

  1. The early history books contained chapters on not only on the ancient civilizations such as Moenjo Daro, Harappa, and Gandhara, etc, but also on the Hindu mythologies of Ramayana and Mahabharata and extensively covered, often with admiration, the great Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of the Mauryas and the Guptas.
  2. The textbooks did reflect biases while discussing the politics of Indian independence, but still they had chapters on Mr. M. K. Gandhi, using words of respect for him and admiring his qualities.
  3. The creation of Pakistan was attributed to the intransigence of the All India Congress and its leadership rather than on ‘Hindu machinations’.
  4. Some textbooks also clearly mentioned that many prominent Muslim religious leaders were bitterly opposed to the creation of Pakistan.[25]

However, criticality and balance in textbook contents were done away with after General Zia came to power in 1977. The Zia regime redesigned the books to inculcate religious biases and intolerance in the minds of the young generations. The primary purpose of the textbooks was to make students understand the differences between the Muslims and Hindus. The post-Zia textbooks attribute Pakistan’s creation to these religious differences.[26] They portray the Hindus in the following manner:

  1. The Hindus have always been an enemy of Islam (Class-5 Urdu book of Punjab textbook board, March 2002, Page 108).[27]
  2. The Hindus made the British Raj believe that the Muslims were solely responsible for the war of independence of 1857 (Class-8 book of Punjab text book board, March 2002, Page 90).[28]
  3. The British snatched all lands from Muslims and gave them to Hindus. (Class-8 book of Punjab text book board, March 2002, Page 91)[29]
  4. In the introduction of political reforms Muslims were not allowed to cast vote. (Class-8 book of Punjab text book board, March 2002, Page 94-95)[30]
  5. The Hindus always wanted to eliminate the Muslims as a nation. (An Introduction to Pakistan, The Caravan Book House Lahore, 1995, page 12)[31]
  6. All India Congress was against Muslims and the British gave the leverage to Hindus over Muslims.[32]
  7. Hindu pundits were jealous of Muslim scholars like Al-Beruni because they could not compete nor had such talent.[33]
  8. Child marriages were common among Hindus; they used to live in dark and small houses and their women were held lower positions.[34]
  9. Hindu culture was imposed on Muslims. In the war of 1965, India conspired with the Hindus of Bengal and succeeded in spreading hate among the Bengalis about West Pakistan.[35]
  10. The Hindus do not respect women, and Hinduism is not capable of teaching good things. (Urdu Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 108)[36]
  11. The Quaid saw through the machinations of the Hindus. (Social Studies Class-VII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p 51)[37]
  12. The wars with India are also branded as jihad, and sometimes historical facts are distorted. For example, recounting the 1965 war, one textbook reads, “The Armed Forces of Pakistan, filled with the spirit of jihad, forced an enemy many times bigger than them to face a humiliating defeat”.[38]
  13. Another textbook says “After the 1965 war, India, with the help of the Hindus living in East Pakistan, instigated the people living there against the people of West Pakistan, and at last in December 1971 India invaded East Pakistan. The conspiracy resulted in the separation of East Pakistan from us. All of us should receive military training and be prepared to fight the enemy”.(Muashrati Ulum [social studies], Class V, NWFP, Textbook Board, Peshawar, p.93)[39]
  14. Another book states that “There were a large number of Hindus in East Pakistan. They had never really accepted Pakistan. A large number of them were teachers in schools and colleges. They continued creating a negative impression among the students. No importance was attached to explaining the ideology of Pakistan to the younger generation. The Hindus sent a substantial part of their earnings to Bharat, thus adversely affecting the economy of the province. Some political leaders encouraged provincialism for the selfish purpose of gaining power. They went around depicting the central Government and (the then) West Pakistan as hostile and exploiters. Political aims were thus achieved at the cost of national unity”. (Pakistan Studies for secondary classes, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, May 1993, p. 39) [40]
  15. In the same way, textbooks blame India for initiating the Kargil War in 1999.[41]

The History: Twisted and Deformed

The educational institutions teach unauthentic history, with accounts of many major historical events twisted. Some have called it the “hiding of history” because it not only omits many facts but also excludes the rich and diverse South Asian cultures and traditions. The Muslim culture is portrayed as good and the Hindu culture as bad.[42] The Bhutto government brought the non-Muslim religious schools under state’s watch, but left the Muslim seminaries unchecked which later produced jihadists for anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.[43]

Since the late 1970s, the mission of authorities responsible for national curriculum has been the Islamization of the society. For example, social studies textbooks published under the national curriculum guidelines stress Islamic ideology and contain material that can be characterized as insensitive toward non-Muslims. Such teachings pose a serious threat to interfaith harmony and tolerance in the society. These books project Muslim citizens above all other citizens.[44]

A seventh class textbook advocates for Pan-Islamism, with most of its chapters dedicated to Muslim countries. The first chapter discusses Pakistan and the Muslim world and begins with the statement that ‘Pakistan is a sovereign Islamic nation’. Islam is presented not only as a belief system but also as the sole political ideology of Pakistan. The region’s history, culture, and traditions are largely overlooked.[45] The history of Punjab also suffers from omissions of facts because the wars of the Sikhs against the British are squarely excluded from the accounts. Instead, only the British conquest of Punjab is mentioned. As a result of appalling distortions of history, the students develop biases and hatred against the Hindus.[46]

The textbooks till the early 1970s included balanced contents on the culture and history of the Subcontinent. In her paper ‘Hegemony and Historiography: the Politics of Pedagogy’, American scholar Yvette C. Rosser highlights that till 1972 the textbooks included much more elaborate sections on the history of the subcontinent. The books described the Hindu Period, The Muslim Period and the British Period. History textbooks such as Indo Pak History Part-1 published in 1951 included chapters called Ramayana and Mahabharata Era, Aryans’ Religion and Educational Literature, the Caste System, Jainism and Buddhism, Invasions of Iranians and Greeks, Chandra Gupta Maurya, Maharaja Ashok, Maharaja Kaniska, The Gupta Family, Maharaja Harish, New Era of Hinduism, and The Era of Rajputs.[47] Till 1972, the textbooks used to have general and non-Muslim contents along with chapters on Muslim religion. For example, a textbook published in 1971 for military academy included material about ‘Mahatma Gandhi: the Man of Peace’.[48]

The Islamization of textbooks was initiated by secularist Z. A. Bhutto, and taken further by Islamist Zia-ul-Haq. The textbooks began intensively propagating the Two-Nation Theory and the supremacy of Islamic principles over principles of Hinuism.[49] Mehmood of Ghazna was elevated to the status of a national hero of Pakistan. His invasions of India that resulted in the deaths of thousands of indigenous people and destruction of many temples were painted as holy jihad against the infidels. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir is glorified as a pious Muslim ruler, but his ruthless killing of his own brothers and the imprisoning of his father Shah Jehan for the throne are not mentioned.[50] On the other hand, Jalaluddin Akbar gets a slight mention. The rein of Akbar the Great is largely overlooked in the history of the Great Mughals. [51]

A portrait of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (1618-1707)

The books promote exclusiveness of the Muslim community. M. K. Rabbani in his book which is prescribed for English medium schools writes that “As the Muslims of India found it extremely difficult to live according to the Islamic principles of life in the United India they were forced to demand a separate homeland to safeguard their national and religious identity”.[52] The history of Muslims is presented as the exclusive history of the Subcontinent. Such history typically begins with the invasion of Sindh by Mohammad bin Qasim. Though some textbooks in Sindh do mention the history of Moenjo Daro and the Indus Valley Civilizations but that too is very brief. Significant eras of the subcontinent are omitted such as the Aryan civilization, and the 1000 years of Buddhism etc.[53]

Distorting history can prove disastrous for a country and its people. Generations of Pakistanis grow up reading and learning chunks of truths mixed up with untruths. They mostly miss on the richness of their region’s true history and diverse cultures.[54] Instead of promoting genuine scholarship, the books propagate narrow mindedness to the pupils. They glorify the destruction of temples and forced conversions, and ignore the legacies of other historical figures such as Guru Nanak, Akbar, and Dara Shikoh etc.[55] A nation oblivious of its true past tends to live in a state of delusion. Unless the people know their true past, they continue to repeat the blunders and mistakes committed by their predecessors. History is considered the best teacher for nations. The Pakistanis deserve better than doses of selective truths and paranoia in the name of history. The textbooks need to be cleansed of distortions and falsities so that the future generations of Pakistanis learn from their past and do not repeat the wrongs committed by their predecessors.



[2] http://globalterrorismindex.org/



[4] https://www.dawn.com/news/1418208





















































[52] M. Ikram Rabbani, An Introduction to Pakistan Studies, The Caravan Book House, Lahore, 1987, p. 10



[55] https://www.dawn.com/news/1125484