OVER A COFFEE : ‘Taleem ko vote do’ but what kind of ‘Taleem’? — Dr Haider Shah
Stoking fires of hatred to gain transient glory is not something that any responsible journalist would aspire to indulge in
“Taleem ko vote do” (Vote for education) was a popular public service pre-election campaign by a TV channel in Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai has also become an international icon for promotion of education in Pakistan. But can literacy alone cure all the ills Pakistan is facing today?
Education finds prominence in the discourse of almost all streams of thought. Plato’s ideal state in The Republic is built around his education system. In Islamic traditions iqra (read) is one of the most revered words. All advanced nations owe their progress to their strong educational systems. However, education and literacy are not synonymous. We not only need education, but more importantly, we need the right kind of education.
The strategists of al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombers were all highly educated individuals. One of the London 7/7 bombers was a primary schoolteacher. So raising the banner of increasing the literacy rate is not enough. We should also investigate what we teach and what we don’t. In the education sector the most crucial stage is the primary level. It is at this stage when a child begins developing the paradigm through which he or she later makes sense of the world. If a pregnant mother is not careful, serious birth-related disorders can happen to the infant. And if we are not careful in the content of the education given to the inquisitive but tender minds of 5-10-year-olds, we can cause permanent damage to their faculty of understanding the world rationally. Brain injuries in childhood are much harder to reverse at later stages of life.
I normally avoid naming media personalities unless it is impossible to raise an issue without referring to the one who had generated it. Mr Mubashir Luqman, a TV presenter, professes to speak the naked truth in his programme. Recently a programme was aired that demonstrated how economical with truth this self-appointed messiah is. As a part of the advertisement campaign the anchor tweeted: “Tonight one segment in show is about LGS (Lahore Grammar School). Watch a horrendous thing they are doing to our children.” I never waste my time on such TV shows. However, those who dislike extremism found the programme itself horrendous. Wearing the robes of a spiteful cleric, the presenter, very proudly and very loudly, declared himself ‘the new defender of the faith’. The former ally of Pervez Musharraf found the teaching of ‘Comparative Religions’, a subject in LGS, a great conspiracy against Pakistan. In Jinnah’s Pakistan of the 21st century it beggars belief that teaching the history of various religions can be a discussion point, let alone becoming a national uproar. One can understand, and to some extent feel sympathetic to Mr Luqman’s frantic efforts to resurrect himself after his debacle in Malik Riaz’s show. But provoking inflammable religious sentiments to gain cheap popularity is the last thing that one can ever appreciate. It is this mindset that has resulted in the burning of Christian colonies by charged crowds of lunatics on the one hand and militant extremism on the other. An opinion maker performs a very sensitive job. Stoking fires of hatred to gain transient glory is not something that any responsible journalist would aspire to indulge in.
We have seen in cases like Rimsha Masih how easy it is to stir trouble by striking the religion chord. I have many times pleaded in this space that the widespread violence we are experiencing today is the direct consequence of overindulgence in faith matters at communal level. If we turn the knob to a lower level, we can stop the boiling water of the faith pot from spilling all over. In this regard the syllabus in early stages of education can play a very crucial role. In an earlier piece on deradicalisation, I had suggested that we should introduce a ‘Religion and Society’ subject, replacing ‘Islamiat’ in primary and secondary classes. In that subject children should be taught how to become good human beings and good citizens. How various religions teach this lesson should then be taught to our children. As we are a predominantly Muslim country, therefore 60-70 percent of that subject can be about Islamic teachings on being a good human being and citizen. In the remaining 30-40 percent they can be taught about the basic teachings of other major religions and also about fundamental rights in the Constitution and other basic rights and duties of a good citizen. Such a subject will improve the chances of young students becoming good human beings and consequently, as Mr Javed Ghamdi argues, the chances of such students becoming good Muslims will also be much brighter.
According to media reports, the Punjab Education Board banned the teaching of Comparative Religions subject in the school. If this is not Talibanism what else is? To be responsive to public sentiment is a necessary element of democracy. But buckling under to the blackmailing pressure of gutter journalism and destroying a laudable initiative introduced by some progressive and enlightened educationist is not something that we can celebrate. If the education policy of Punjab is to be dictated by Ansar Abbasi and Mubashir Luqman, then I sincerely wish that Shahidullah Shahid should become the education and culture minister after negotiations with the stakeholders sitting in Waziristan prove successful. The government has made many declarations about building motorways and transportation schemes. One hopes that it gives some importance to investments in intellectual infrastructure as well.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org