Three things can encompass the state of education in Pakistan and the respect it gets: Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam’s persecution; the bullet that was fired at child education activist, Malala’s head and consequent attempts to discredit her, and lastly the Army Public School attack followed by security provisions that were no better than band aids stuck on schools to stop future attacks.
You can also tell so much about the reverence we give education and independent scholarship by some of the people we glorify: A known nuclear proliferator and now runs a school system; lead Urdu columnists who regularly incite violence against minorities and free thinkers and the televangelists who profess to know all religious scholarship but have been caught on camera being foul mouthed and even called for the killing of Ahmedis.
It is terribly sad and gut-wrenching but it is now also bizarre with one self-proclaimed author who reviewed his own book in a national newspaper and called his own research a milestone.
With all this in the background, is it then a surprise when leading educationalist Dr. Bernnadette L. Dean is forced to flee the country. A malicious hate campaign was launched against her by a political party. On the committee for curriculum and text book reform of the government, she has served Pakistan for years unselfishly and made countless contributions to education here. The accusations against her are the same accusations that are levelled against anyone who tries to stop Pakistan from becoming a putrid infestation of backwardness and ignorance: that of being secular and against Islam. When all else fails these two are the lightning rods to forever mute anyone who has progressive aspirations.
One worries to a great extent for a country that is more concerned with saving the glory of its religion but employs the most pre-Islamic tactics to counter it. They ensure that they use might, manipulation, barbarity, lies and fear to corner their opposition. As educationalists, people like Dr. Dean have not spent their lives sharpening those sinister fangs. With the absence of an educated debate and the loss will be only our nations. Perhaps for generations to come.
Dr. Dean has been a former principle of two colleges and a professor at Aga Khan University and as part of her duties on the curriculum committee she reviewed textbooks and suggested changes that had to go through rounds of approvals before being printed. To single her out and accuse her of the senseless suspicion reeks of profiling and discrimination. Yet, there was no action taken against those threatening her. Silence, callousness and spectatorship are becoming a regular time spend on the government’s duty logs.
The reason our schools are blown up is because many have been kept out of the empowering powers of an education to begin with. Moreover, the education we finally get is highly lethal. According to K.K Aziz’s book, Murder of History, the revisionism in our textbooks is largely responsible for our populous having a xenophobic and self-righteous notion of what we have achieved and what we are entitled to and by extension what other’s don’t deserve to have in our country. Also, tragically what was the final nail in the coffin, PTI’s KP province has pushed evolution out of text books in what is one of the greatest victories of unreason.
Our country has among the highest out of school children in the world. Day after day, there are stories that pour in about general incompetence of teachers, of corporeal punishment awarded to young students and of blatant abuse. Our education system is in shambles.
With the exit of Dr. Dean we may as well say goodbye to all well-meaning people in this country working in one of the most thankless professions of teaching. Those on the highest echelons of power need to stuff several coffee beans up their nose.
Apologies need to start pouring in from them for their failures and they ought to start with the blatant disregard of the scholarship of Abdus Salam. For both Dr. Salam and Dr. Dean, the people of this country and its hardened leaders have not been able to get past these scholar’s personal religion. Shame is not heavy enough a word.