The importance of alternative textbooks for social and political harmony

Shah Jahan Baloch*

Educational issues and challenges are one of the core concerns of development discourse in Pakistan. During the last three decades national education plans and reforms, with heavy foreign financial and technical assistance, are claiming to improve the quality of education through various interventions.

But the actual results, particularly in the public sector are in fact not particularly encouraging. Over the period of time, the participation and retention rate even at a primary level is decreasing which is evident in the education reports generated by the state and civil society institutions.

In the rural areas of Pakistan, there are limited choices and the opportunities of education for children and parents is limited which is causing a high dropout rate at an early stage of education: in some provinces it is reported that there is a more than 50 percent dropout rate during the primary education period.

In order to improve the quality of education efforts by state and non-state actors are more concentrated on teacher training and education, improving physical infrastructure and access though fewer reforms in curriculum. If we review them in their historical context these were mainly guided by undemocratic regimes of the past in order to reinforce their own agendas thereby creating a basis of public legitimacy for their policies rather than to improve the quality of education and develop a prosperous future for future generations through educational development.

It is a fact that to improve the quality of education and translate it into policy, determining learning objectives and guidelines for developing learning material, the curriculum plays a significant and central role.

Therefore, the entire process of curriculum development and the production of textbooks should be a democratic process. This ensures the true representation and reflection of education and the learning processes of the country.

Unfortunately Pakistan is state oriented and federally centralized and such a regulated exercise within the narrow ideological boundaries and conceptions of a nation state becomes difficult to achieve.

In Pakistan mainly at the primary and secondary level, text-books are one of the main sources of imparting knowledge. These text books are rarely unbiased and often reflect and promote the confined, narrow state oriented ideologies and textual versions about different geographical regions, civilizations, religions, cultures, international relations, global affairs and various ethnic groups at a regional and global level. The students are therefore confined to a narrow and deflected world-view and they therefore need an alternative to offer them a holistic and balanced view.

The main focus of this paper is to highlight the importance and role of alternate textbooks. In the current context and crisis there is a need for promoting democratic values, creating a more pluralistic world view and giving a true and positive perspective of cultural resources such as literature and art for enhancing the aesthetic values of the students and to promote harmony, a peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between individuals and societies.

To contribute in this process an alternate curriculum can play a highly effective role. It is for this purposes that a discussion on this topic is useful and productive.

Shah Jahan Baloch* Shah Jahan Baloch is presently Director of Institute for Development Studies and Practices- IDSP-Pakistan based at Quetta Balochistan. He has been a faculty member at the Institute and former Coordinator of Commonwealth Education Fund Pakistan.