Can a small group of reformers modernize Pakistan’s schools?

Kamila Shamsie in Guernica:

ScreenHunter_09 Jan. 25 12.322011, Karachi. I find myself looking at an illustration of an airplane colliding with the World Trade Center. Fire and smoke plume from the buildings. Below the illustration are the words, in Urdu: “Tay—Takrao.” Translated, they are along the lines of “C is for Collide.” The image is in a textbook for first-grade students who are learning the Urdu alphabet. “Jeem—Jihad” and “Hei—Hijab” follow (the accompanying illustration shows a woman in top-to-toe niqab rather than hijab).

Madrassas,” I say, shaking my head. But the friend showing me the illustrations says such books can also be found in schools that aren’t within the madrassa system. She suggests that I look at some government-issued textbooks before coming to any conclusions about the wide gap between education in madrassas, which are largely unregulated, and education that follows the National Curricula.

So the next day I went out in search of government-issued textbooks. I came upon one for social sciences published by the Punjab government (each of Pakistan’s four provinces has its own textbook board). Flipping it open, I saw a chapter on the livestock of Pakistan. The section on “The Cattle” started: “It is a ‘Sunnah’ [custom; recommended practice] of our Holy Prophet to rear the cattle. By doing so, we fulfill our needs and at the same time obey the Sunnah-e-Nabi [custom-of-the-Prophet].” Further on in the book was a section on health, which began: “It is said that health is wealth.” But clichés weren’t the worst of the section's problems. It ended with: “We need to make great efforts to solve the problems of our province so that all of us can live in peace and prosperity. We need to work selflessly and devotedly because to do what is just and virtuous in the eyes of Allah is a great Jihad.” That wasn’t the only mention of the J-word. Later, it merited its own chapter, which laid out the different kinds of Jihad, including Jihad bin Nafs: “A Jihad by sacrificing one’s own life and self. It means that every kind of physical effort may be put in for the service of Islam, so much so that one may sacrifice even one’s life for the propagation and cause of Islam.” Not so far from “Tay—Takrao” and “Jeem—Jihad” after all.

More here.