SWM 2014: Countering hate content in Pakistan's school textbooks

Case study by Nicole Girard

‘The education system in Pakistan is dominated by people having a particular religious ideology and extremist mindset. These people desire this extremist ideology to be inculcated into the curriculum and thus manipulate the education system.’ Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace

Education has a central role to play in countering violence and discrimination against minorities. Promoting diversity and inclusion at schools and universities is one of the most effective ways to address prejudice and deliver lasting social change. Unfortunately, however, educational platforms can also be misused to entrench negative attitudes towards minorities. In Pakistan, where tensions between different religious and ethnic communities run high, curriculums and textbooks are actively contributing to these problems by perpetuating derogatory language and stereotypes.

There has been some official recognition of the problem, beginning in 2006 with a review of the country’s National Education Policy. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a Pakistani rights group, used the opportunity to examine hate content in school textbooks and advocate for the removal of biased or hostile material. In 2009, Pakistan had adopted a new education policy that included a provision to remove ‘controversial material against any sect or religious/ethnic minorities’ from teaching materials.

However, evidence suggests that in practice the problem persists. In March 2013, the NCJP published a review of textbooks used since the new policy was implemented. Its findings were disheartening: hate content in textbooks had actually increased during this period. In Punjab province, in particular, the number of instances of hate speech in textbooks specifically had risen from 45 in 2009 to 122 for the 2012/13 school year. The content included derogatory language, such as the description of non-Muslims as kafirs or ‘infidels’, as well as the presentation of other religions as false and antagonistic. Furthermore, some materials also included the distortion or exclusion of historical facts relating to minorities, including the role of Hindus in the partition of Pakistan.

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of Pakistan’s NCJP, sees rising religious intolerance and attacks on minorities as a clear impact of hate content in Pakistan’s textbooks: ‘It has given a boost to extremism, activities of violence against minorities and other marginalized sectors of society,’ he says. ‘When young minds are instructed with hate content in school, they start to consider students from other religions and sects as their enemy and thus start hating them.’ The NCJP’s research has formed the cornerstone of their advocacy campaign to remove hate content. They have held seminars and conferences to discuss their findings, with support from human rights NGOs and some political parties. While change has been slow to come, there is hope that tackling hate speech in the classroom could be an important milestone for minorities in the country.

This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.

Photo: Students of 4th grade undertake reading and spelling exercises with their teacher at Bagga Sheikhan school near Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Credit: Stars Foundation/Kristian Buus

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Date: 13/06/2014




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014
Activist interviews
Racism/Discrimination/Hate speech
Religion/Religious minorities

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