Note: This report has been updated to include remarks made at the USCIRF announcement 12 April in Washington, D.C.
Textbooks in Pakistan’s public schools have become more antagonistic toward Christians and other religious minorities in the past five years, a new report says.
“The trend toward a more biased curriculum towards religious minorities is accelerating,” it says. “These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant.”
The report, scheduled to be released 12 April in Washington, D.C., is sponsored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory body to the U.S. Congress and state department. By law, the commission’s assessments of religious freedom in other countries are required to figure in American diplomatic relations around the globe. Click here to download the report.
Why it’s important
1. Textbooks are an expression of national policy. According to the report: “School textbooks represent the political perspectives and national ideologies of whole educational and government systems. As such, school textbooks are one of the most important indicators of official and popular perspectives of the cultural and political communities they depict both in words and images.”
2. The textbooks “continue to violate the constitutional rights of religious minorities by integrating Islamic ideology into most subjects and to promote a national Islamic identity at the expense of Hindu, Christian, and Sikh children.” Part II, Chapter 1 of Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
About the study
It was conducted for USCIRF by the Peace and Education Foundation, a Pakistan-based non-governmental organization. It claims to have “trained more than 11,000 religious actors in Pakistan, including madrasah teachers and faculty, mosque imams, and interfaith leaders.”
The researchers started by consulting a 2011 USCIRF review of textbook bias. From that review, the researchers took 25 examples of religious bias, and examined 78 current textbooks to see if they had changed. The books are used in grades 5-10 in four Pakistan provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Together, those four encompass 95 per cent of Pakistan’s population. Pakistan has more than 260,000 schools where more than 1.5 million teachers have contact with 41 million students.
What it found
- 16 of the biased elements had been removed
- 9 remained, either in their 2011 form or changed in ways that did not remove the bias
- 70 new examples of religious bias in 24 textbooks
Pockets of improvement were found in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Why? Researchers said they had been able to meet directly with the Punjab governor, and with education ministers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
More than eight of every 10 new examples of bias were found in Balochistan and Sindh.
Removed by 2016
“Anti-Islamic forces are always trying to finish the Islamic domination of the world. This can cause danger for the very existence of Islam. Today, the defense of Pakistan and Islam is very much needed.”
Grade 5, Punjab
A 2011 example that was changed but without removing bias
2011: “Christian Missionaries took full advantage of the British occupation of Asia and, under their patronage, started converting people of different religions to Christianity.”
2016: “The influence of Christian pastors had increased immensely and they were openly preaching their religion aided by their rule. They freely visited the cities and villages, organized gatherings to describe the qualities of Christianity and degraded other religions.”
Grade 8, Sindh
Added since 2011
“After getting rid of the proscribed and ignorant rule of the Church, Europeans progressed in the fields of knowledge/education, political acceptance and in arts and crafts.”
Grade 6, Punjab
Heavy emphasis on pre-partition period. A major thrust of Pakistan’s public-school curriculum is “the desire to teach a sense of patriotism and nationalism and instruct students about the rationale for creating Pakistan,” the report said. The result is a focus on the “alleged animosities Hindus have of Muslims and tensions between Muslims and the British (and Christian) colonial power in pre-partition India.”
Islam is key to Pakistani identity. “Students are taught a version of history that promotes a national Islamic identity of Pakistan and often describes conflicts with India in religious terms,” the report said.
Overemphasis of military war heroes, “educating Pakistanis in the most superficial way.”
Suspicious of Christians. “Christians also are portrayed as untrustworthy missionaries, and as aligned with British oppressors who were colonizers and continue to conspire against Muslims.”
In sum: Pakistan’s curriculum “places religious minority students in a precarious status of either inherently flawed Pakistani citizens at best, or foreigners and enemies of the state at worst. If the theme is carried further, religious minority students are not only outsiders, but also dangerous contaminants to the Islamic national identity by virtue of their non-Muslim faith.”
“The public school system is still fundamentally intolerant of religious minorities and Christian children are taught that ‘Christians learned tolerance and kind-heartedness from Muslims.’ This represents a public shaming of religious minority children that begins at a very young age, focusing on their religious and cultural identity and their communities’ past history.”
- “Constitutional guarantees provided to all Pakistanis of religious freedom should be reflected in textbooks’ contents.
- “Negative indoctrination must end and impartial content for better critical learning should be adopted.
- “The curriculum should inculcate a sense of constructive patriotism rather than a sense of fear.
- “Overemphasis on Islam as being the ‘only correct’ faith must be eliminated from the textbooks.
- “Historical omissions and misrepresentations of different events must be eliminated to avoid controversial historiography, and diverse viewpoints should be included.”
What the report’s authors hope to accomplish
USCIRF Commissioner Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett:
“It is our hope that the release of this study will hasten the day when Pakistan’s government will revise the textbooks.”
Azhar Hussain, president and founder of the Peace and Education Foundation:
“We would like the Pakistani government to work toward ensuring the rights of minorities. Textbooks really should be inclusive – there are many, many Christians and Hindus that participated in the making of Pakistan.”
Waqas Ahmed Sulehri, air attaché from the Embassy of Pakistan, who attended the press conference:
“The Pakistani government is working very hard. This report brings out facts and figures, and a few may not be exactly the way things are on the ground. So the textbooks need to be amended, and the government is working on it.”
Sulehri, who said he had not yet read the report, said he thought it would have had more impact if presented in Pakistan.