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Needed: early revamping of Pakistan studies syllabus

Schools and colleges in Pakistan are required to teach Pakistan Studies as a compulsory subject to students. This is essential as well as understandable as all nations mandate inclusion of national studies in their syllabi. As a subject, Pakistan Studies should apprise the youth about a country’s history, ideology, freedom struggle, achievements of heroes, land, culture, geography, economy and ongoing events and issues.

However, it has been experienced that teaching of Pakistan Studies needs to be drastically revamped. It needs to transcend its narrow unimaginative and dull content, and go beyond narration of mere facts and events and repetitive ideology. This is especially so if the aim is to build socially conscious, progressive and robust-minded Pakistani youth who are abreast with regional/ global developments and needs. First, Pakistan Studies as a subject cannot be studied in complete isolation. For Pakistan’s recent and past history is inextricably linked with Britain, India, West Asia and Central Asia.

Every nation has its own version of history, narrative and own heroes to eulogize and romanticize. Pakistani perspectives and heroes may not be the same as perceived by others neighbours and vice versa. Yet all the same, it is necessary to understand the counter-narratives offered by others, which would make one more empathetic – if not sympathetic to their point of view.

Today, we need Pakistani youth who have a healthy Islamic, nationalistic – yet cosmopolitan and broadminded outlook on life. The aim should be to avoid incubating the youth with undue ideological fervor, narcissism, paranoia and distrust of others. Healthy and positive nationalism needs to be fostered for nation building; it is based on basic human values, progressive outlook and live-and-let-live attitude minus bigotry or chauvinism.

Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a progressive, broadminded, sagacious and visionary leader who had the supreme interest of the Muslims in the Subcontinent at heart; he legally strived for carving out a separate homeland for downtrodden Muslims against all forbidding odds. He wanted a progressive Islamic welfare system based on principles of justice, harmony and freedom. In the course of freedom struggle, he sought help and support of all Muslims belonging to different caste, creed or community and with different shades of opinions. Even non-Muslims became his supporters and formed part of his team for independence. Many notables who supported him were Christians, Parsis, Hindus, Ahmadis and others.

Many of these prominent people after independence have not been duly acknowledged for their services in textbooks, eg, eminent jurists like Justices Cornelius and Kiyani are barely mentioned; nor famous Nobel scientist Professor Abdus Salam and others; Malala, another Nobel laureate, one hopes, does not suffer the same fate. Likewise many non-Muslims in armed forces deserve mention who fought gallantly for the country but are unfortunately given short shrift. Many others who achieved laurels in sports (cricket, squash), music and literature are consigned to state of oblivion.

History for a nation is like an emotional memory; failure to remember it means loss of identity and pride. An overemphasis on vague mention of ideology, without signifying what it actually means, tends to make the syllabus repetitive, stodgy and confusing. To illustrate a telling point: this scribe visited Jamia Millia in New Delhi a few years ago while invited on a conference and was pleasantly surprised to see different sections of the university building named after Muslim men of letters; Bab-e-Mir Taqi Mir, Bab-e-Dagh and Bab-e-Ghalib. Pakistanis should be equally proud of this heritage as the names are icons of Urdu culture and literature.

Times are changing and the world is entering into a phase of geo-economics than geopolitics. Repetitive accounts of Hindu-Muslim enmity and tussles indoctrinate youth towards paradigms of conflicts that seem perennial and unresolvable; of mutual coexistence and co-operation, which is impossible and of major conflict that is inevitable.

The Pakistan Studies course, instead of being boring, stodgy and repetitive could be taught with better illustrations, well researched profiles of national heroes and places of historical and cultural sites in Pakistan. Good documentaries and plays on different regions and cultures would inspire the youth and instill national pride. Also, field trips to historical and archaeological sites would make the subject live and entertaining.

Pakistan has a rich past and is heir to Persian, Buddhist and old Indus Valley civilisations. New text books need to be written, which will encompass all these rich strands of legacy. Another sorely-missed aspect is civic education and civic engagement in society. Good citizens need to be educated about their rights and responsibilities. These include eg, possessing an identity card, registration, right to vote, respect for traffic and other laws, queuing up as a habit, protecting the environment, demonstrating corporate responsibility, displaying inter-sect and inter-faith harmony, public sanitation and hygiene, respect for ecology and public property, and not the least community participation through welfare and voluntary services.

Presently Pakistan faces immense problems of good governance, participation and accountability, which have cumulatively led to curse of militancy and terrorism. Pakistan Studies, therefore, must devote attention to this issue by including civic studies in the syllabus.

Lying on tri-junction of south, west and central Asia, Pakistan is a South Asian country. It is member of SAARC and is faced with issues of poverty, illiteracy, energy shortage, disaster management and environmental decay. It is facing a pressing need for regional connectivity and good neighbourliness in order to alleviate these problems. The ideology bequeathed by the forefathers was meant to nurture amicable relations with neighbours and the outside world. Nations have to live and interact with their neighbours and hence cannot replace them.

Instead of indulging in victimhood, conspiracy theories and self-flagellation with occasional outbursts of hyper-nationalism there is need for a mature and robust outlook. Benefits of co-operation and collaboration need to be highlighted as a ‘win-win’ strategy. This requires replacing the narrative from belligerence and conflict to mutual existence and building of ‘soft power.’

Pakistanis have immense potential that can be suitably tapped. War against militancy and terrorism demand an early overhauling of the Pakistan Studies syllabus. This has to go along with greater emphasis on the cause of education in general, the role of teachers and the importance accorded to social sciences. Most of the neighbouring South Asian countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka and India are spending more on education than Pakistan as percentage of GNP. Indonesia spends almost 8 percent and Cuba, a country of 11 million, devotes 10 percent on education.

This should evoke serious introspection. One is constrained to ask: what should be taught in Pakistan Studies, how best to teach it and in what way it could be more effective in nation- building. After all, it is the youth who make up almost 60 per cent of the population and are nation’s valuable asset.

Maqsood-ul-Hasan Nori, "Needed: early revamping of Pakistan studies syllabus," Business recorder. 2014-12-28.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Social History , Education-Pakistan , Education syllabus , Pakistan studies , Culture , Geography , Economy , Pakistan