On January 17, 2010, the Washington Post, one of the top US Newspaper, published an article by Griff Witte entitled “Poor schooling slows anti-terrorism effort in Pakistan.” The article contained some serious misinformation, and misrepresentation whether intended to be or it just happened to be there by accident. Below are what I think important ones to be discussed.
The Problem and US Aid:
The problem of the Pakistani Education System is known by Pakistanis, and it is a recognized problem. For decades the United States has funnelled US Tax Payer’s Dollars to mainly Pakistani Army in “aid” and either to the corrupt “democratic” government or to the US sponsored Dictatorship in Pakistan!
For the first time in the history of this Pak-US alliance, US President Obama will be sending US $ in “aid” not for the Pakistani Military but instead for the Educational System of Pakistan!
So Washington Post in regards to this very seroius problem in Pakistan- which is ignored by the corrupt elite, the so called Democratic governments, and also ignored by US sponsored Dictatorships- has just further increased the misconception of the Americans.
American Public is very ill-informed about Pakistan and has many misconceptions about Islam. Thanks goes to the American Media, that is designed or has happened to evolve is such a way that the usual reportings on these topics are just based on bunch of lies, phobias, assumptions and generalizations. Washington Post, NY Times, Chicago Tribune and many more mainstream newspaper mediums share some what the same amount of “problem” relating to reporting the issues in the Muslim World, in particular of Pakistan in this case.
Examining the Article & the Real Issue:
The article starts with a fear smacker for the reader.
“With a curriculum that glorifies violence in the name of Islam and ignores basic history, science and math, Pakistan’s public education system has become a major barrier to U.S. efforts to defeat extremist groups here, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.”
First of all– Pakistani Public Education system doesn’t glorify violence in the name of Islam, infact it doesn’t really teach Islam at all. If this teaching means that just telling who Prophet Muhammad was, or the Quran Kareem is, then ok yea. But as far as the word Teaching in the sense of TEACHING is concerned, NO it doesn’t teach Islam. Infact the system doesn’t even teach how to read The Muslim Holy Book Al Quran!!
Second– The curriculum is incomplete and incompetent in the Public system. It fails to provide latest information to the students, and fails to train them for the ruthless job hunting world of Pakistan.
Third– the description in the quote (the first paragraph of Washington Post’s article) can only be used for some Madrasas (Islamic Seminaries) that are private- meaning not connected to the recognized Madrasa or it is not registered with the Pakistani Government.
Religious Establishment & The Educational Reform
So in the third Paragraph, Mr Witte writes:
But according to education reform advocates here, any effort to improve the system faces the reality of intense institutional pressure to keep the schools exactly the way they are. They say that for different reasons, the most powerful forces in Pakistan, including the army, the religious establishment and the feudal landlords who dominate civilian politics, have worked against improving an education system that for decades has been in marked decline.
This is mostly true but not quite. The litracy and education would threaten the establishement and this feeling has been expressed by many Pakistanis. The level of illteracy among the Pakistanis maintained by the Pakistani governments, and the opposition to any reform to the Public Educational System by the governments is well known and need not to be mentioned in detail here. What, however, needs to addressed is the role of “religious establishement” in the struggle for educational reformation.
Seems like Mr. Witte didn’t spend sometime in actual researching on this subject and bothered to only interview people of certain political mindset! The series of Government efforts to “reform” the madaris (Islamic seminaries-plural) is also well known to Pakistanis. These so called reforms always came due to the pressure of the US government. Not only that, US even gave Pakistani governments “aid” to reform Madrasa, a futile effort. Former Military President Gen. Musharraf received it, and many has before him. After 60 yrs of Pakistan’s independence, now has US shifted from Madrasa to Public Education!
Having said that- Ulema (Islamic Scholars) have always suggested to the government and tried to improve it. The problem is that the Pakistani government always focused on the Madrasa (because of receiving “aid” from US). Non-Government Ulema (here I would refer to them as Independent Ulema) always have rejected these government’s interferance in their Independent Madaris (Islamic Seminaries). The Ulema have always asked the governemnt to update and change the K-10 curriculm by making more Islamic subjects available to the students in order to give them basic foundation of Islam by the time they graduate the High Schools after finishing the 10th Grade. In the college they may have options for more in dept Islamic Studies and then they could decide which field of studies they would like to choose.
You may read the most “liberal” suggestion given by the most reformist Islamic Scholar in Pakistan here by Javed Ghamidi. The efforts have been taken by many traditional Ulema in respect to the governement and few have taken steps by themselves to provide a little mixture of Islamic and Secular sciences. For example, Darululoom Karachi, where one can get a degree in Islamic Finance at a University level.
The productive Ulema have been ignored and sidelined by the Pakistani media and the Government. There are private non-registered madaris, which are completely out of touch of the present world and are the breeding ground of extremism and even militancy. Instead of differenciating the two, the Pakistani government has tried to bring all the Madaris under state control, only facing failure of the entire project!
So this “Religious Establishment” as Mr. Witte put it is not against the Educational Reform but instead they are also the strong advocate of it. They are against the attitude of the Pakistani Government that ignores the dysfunctional Public Sector and ever enlarging Private Secular educational sector (2 Prime reasons for having a Religious Educational sector). What this “establishment” is also against is that the government gets “paid” by the US in “aid” to reform them when its the job of the government to reform its educational system. US “aid” in this regard is another factor of opposition because they view that aid must have some demands and that would be secularism, and thus they would resist any attempt of infiltration of secularism in their only non-Secular Educational sector out of 4 (as mentioned in the footnote ).
They Don’t Understand What Evidence Is:
Mr. Witte, while describing the sympathy for Taliban or other groups among students and believing that the Terrorist attacks are not from these groups but instead “choosing to believe that India, Israel or the United States is behind the violence” he fails to depict that these sentiments are first of all because of the shared sentiments of threat of invasion and occupation but not from the Public Education System.
These sentiments have increased because of many logical reasons, for example, invading Iraq when Iraq was neither a threat to US nor in alliance with Al Qaida; Nuclear deal with India (not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ) when US has always opposed Pakistan’s Nuclear Program (a member of NNPT); US Declaring Iran as in Axis of Evil and proposing to invade Iran; supporting the then Dictatorship of Musharraf (who made some secular changes that made the public anti Musharraf and Anti-US, not ignoring the support of dictatorship by US); and for 8 years former US President Bush using words like Jihadist, Islamic Terrorist, Islamo-fascism, which Muslims felt as a direct attack to their faith; Israel starving Gaza, increasing illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank; occupation of the Holy Land by Jewish Zealots (as percieved by the Pakistani Public); and India’s constant threat of war; some serious contradictions in Indian media’s reportings on Mumbai Terrorist Attacks; the India’s blockade of Water to Pakistan and not following the Water treaty; and many more reasons.
Just having an assumption these students hold such a political opinion because they are being taught all this in the schools is absurd. Everyone has an access to Newspapers, Radios and majority have access to TV and so 24/7 the news is not positive. Imran Khan describes the absurdity of this analogy for me.
Pakistan’s public education system includes thousands of “ghost schools,” which exist on paper and receive state funding. But in reality, the schools do not function: A local landlord gets the money, and either pockets it or dispenses it to individuals who are on the books as teachers, but in fact are associates or relatives who do nothing to earn their salaries. School buildings are often used for housing farmworkers or livestock, not for education.
So US $ 200 Million that Pakistani government will receive through the Kerry-Lugar Bill, who exactly will deal with this real issue is something to be seen. So far these landlords have control of the local police and thus how exacly the government would spend this aid money is to be seen. I just don’t see how Pakistani government would do it, they won’t do it because they don’t have the willingness to do it. They might spend money in the Urban areas but the rural areas would still suffer. The Ghost Schools would still be a reality for many towns and villages of Pakistan.
What about the Curriculum?
Will the government change the curriculum. The present curriculum that is being taught in elementary school and middle school is mostly the same as what I was taught back a decade ago. Same Curriculum that my elder siblings studied!!!
This is not going to change and if this won’t change then spending $200 Million for reopening buildings, renovating and providing electricity won’t make a difference. The poor will still won’t afford the education, the mass production of confused graudates from Public, Private and Religious sectors will be the reality of the day.
For change, there needs to be willingness among the Top Brass and the bottom masses. The masses want to see their society change but they don’t trust the present government because of Zardari (also viewed as a puppet of US by significant element of the Pakistani population). The willingness to improve the society can’t be produced by the monetary value of $ 200 Million!
It just means US has dumped another $200 Million in trash!
I end with the same ending of the article,
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a noted nuclear physicist at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University and a longtime proponent of education reform, said Pakistan needs something more fundamental.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of money. The more you throw at the system, the faster it leaks out,” he said. “There has to be a desire to improve. The U.S. can’t create that desire. When Pakistanis feel they need a different kind of education system, that’s when it will improve.”
- The Education system of Pakistan is something like this: There is K-10. Intermidiate College, & University.
There are Public (gov), Private, Religious (madarasa), & Cambridge Schools. Each 4 Province of Pakistan has its own Educational Board with its own carriculum that the first 3 sectors have to follow. Cambridge’s curriculum comes from Britain and that is followed in the Cambridge schools. The Public sector is free but dysfunctional across Pakistan so only poor people who can afford to pay for uniform and the expensive books and supplies attend it. In the Private sector there are Islamic oriented Schools (not Madaris though) and Secular Schools. The good ones are very expensive but provide good education.
The Religious Schools (Madaris) are alternative to any of the other 3 systems. They their K-10 and then their own levels. Religious Schools have their own equivalent High School Diploma, College and University Diploma.