Schoolbooks reinforce stereotypes of women: SDPI
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: Pakistani textbooks contain gender-biased stereotypes that portray women as subordinate to men, according to a report by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
According to a brief of the report – The Subtle Subversion – The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan – compiled by AH Nayyar and Ahmed Salim, apart from sustaining gender stereotypes, the school curriculum has a surprising lack of human rights and peace education.
The report says that despite state rhetoric regarding women’s rights and the need to provide them with equal educational and job opportunities, state sponsored textbooks reinforce gender-biased stereotypes. Women are not mentioned in language exercises dealing with sports, while others highlight their subordinate or referential position. According to the report, the curriculum contains “the consistent articulation of a single unified message that women have a subsidiary status in society, and that their only legitimate role or function is to do with household tasks associated with nurturing and caring for the family”.
The authors of the report say the way women are presented needs to be changed by portraying them in roles other than as housekeepers, as doctors, engineers or lawyers.
About human rights, the report says there is scope to teach these in Social Studies, Pakistan Studies, Islamiyat and Literature classes, but there seems to have been no conscious decision to do this.
“In the textbooks of various subjects, one hardly finds the development of the concept of human rights over different levels of education. The references to human rights are too brief to make an impact on the minds of the children. Since human rights are not taught in a structured manner, no special educational manuals on human rights education are prepared and published either by the government or the private publishers,” the report says.
It notes that Social Studies and Pakistan Studies books contain no references to actual facts of gender inequalities, bonded labour in Sindh and the Punjab, karo kari (honour killing) in Sindh, watta satta (exchange marriage) in the Punjab and other customs practiced in the tribal areas of Balochistan and the Frontier.
“The evils of child labour and discrimination against minorities, as found in the political system and social attitudes, are not addressed in the courses of studies ... textbooks at the school level do not even refer to the constitution of the country, or select from the constitution themes to be projected in the syllabi.”
The report says that successive governments over the last few years have taken initiatives to raise awareness about human rights, mainly because of international pressure.
The report says public school textbooks are “highly propagandist”, encouraging students to hate Hindus and be chauvinistic and militaristic. “They also contain material glorifying war, which tends to make the young value war and violent rather than peaceful solutions to problems. Islam too has been used to sanctify this policy of creating an anti-Hindu, anti-India, pro-war and chauvinistic mentality.”
It proposes a programme of peace studies in schools. “Resolving conflicts, be they between individuals, groups or nations, peacefully by interaction and dialogue, is something that does not come to humans naturally and requires training,” it says.
The authors say private school students studying for O and A Level exams, particularly in Social Studies, have an “exceedingly interesting and enlightening” curriculum, while public school students following the Social Studies curriculum and textbooks designed by the Ministry of Education and the Textbook Boards get material which contains strong religious and national prejudice, historical omissions, ill-reasoned analysis, and a narrow focus on Pakistan and the Muslim world.
Overview: In its final overview of Pakistan’s education system, the report says education in the last 53 years has remained “an arena of experiments and implementation of divergent and often contradictory policies. It has also been a history of high ideals and promises and a dismal record of poor achievement.”
It says most problems have their origin in the curriculum documents and the instructions to textbooks authors issued from the Curriculum Wing of the Ministry of Education. “As long as the same institutions continue to be asked to devise curricula, the problems will persist. Repeated interventions from the post-1988 civilian governments failed to overcome the institutional resilience.”
The report recommends major reforms in the Ministry of Education. It calls for the establishment of a National Education Board and the abolition of the Curriculum Wing and Textbook Boards.
The report, an outcome of the SDPI’s A Civil Society Initiative in Curricula and Textbooks Reform project, has been widely discussed in the Curriculum Wing, though what action will be taken remains unclear.
The study was started in May 2002 by a group of academics examining the curricula and textbooks presently being used in public schools. The SDPI researchers were: Prof Syed Qamar Abbas and Dr Anis Alam (Punjab University, Lahore); Hajra Ahmad (Principal, Khaldunia High School, Islamabad); Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed (University of Karachi); Dr Khalil Ahmed (Government College of Education, Lahore); Mohsin Babbar, Ayesha Inayat, Aamna Mattu, Dr AH Nayyar and Ahmed Salim (SDPI); Kalpana Devi (a lawyer from Larkana), Sibte Hasan (formerly with the Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore), Dr Tariq Rahman, Dr Khurshid Hasanain, Dr Seema Pervez and Dr M Pervez (Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad), Neelam Hussain (Simorgh, Lahore), Nadeem Omar Tarar (National College of Arts, Lahore), Dr Sarfraz Khan (University of Peshawar), Arfana Mallah (ASR, Hyderabad), Fatima Mujtaba and Tahira Naqvi (Beaconhouse School, Islamabad), Mahboob Sada and Haroon Nasir (Christian Study Centre, Rawalpindi), Prof Bahadur Khan Rodani (Balochistan University, Quetta); and Dr Zarina Salamat, Dr Rubina Saigol, Prem Shevani and Prof Sabir Afaqi.