Is UK aid funding fundamentalism?
Buried in a recent Reuter’s report that a province in Pakistan is turning back the educational clock by systematically Islamicising and censoring school books is the startling revelation that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa “is getting $29 million (£18.42 million) from the British Government this year” to … help educate children.
Muhammad Atif Khan, above left, the provincial Education Minister, sought to play down the regressive changes, saying they are merely reverting to an earlier curriculum. He explained:
The previous government in 2006-7 had made some changes in the curriculum and removed some sections from syllabus. Those changes didn’t suit our Islamic society.
So, to put things wrong, the current administration is rewriting school books to make them more Islamic, inserting verses on jihad, removing pictures of unveiled women and changing material on recent history.
Education official Bashir Hussain Shah told Reuters that the changes include reintroducing religious verses on jihad, a word that means holy struggle but is also often used by insurgents. That had been removed from the curriculum for 13 and 14 year olds, he said, but was being restored.
Inayatullah Khan, the leader of religious political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, said the verses on jihad were not intended to promote violence but to inform students when jihad was lawful.
It doesn’t allow Muslims to fight against those non-Muslims with whom you have diplomatic ties or an agreement.
Changes were also made to history books and science books, Khan said. They would reverse changes that had replaced content about Muslims with material about non-Muslims, including American Helen Keller and Hindu ruler Raja Dahir.
Shah said all pictures of girls without a head scarf would be removed and replaced with pictures where they were wearing a head scarf.
Another official said a physics book for teenagers would include Koranic verses regarding the creation of universe and ecosystem.
The previous provincial government was headed by the more secular Awami National Party. When they came to power in 2008, they rewrote textbooks to remove some religious references.
The current government, which took power after May 2013 elections, is a coalition led by the party of former famed cricketer Imran Khan. It includes religiously conservative parties like Khan’s.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor campaigning for education reforms, said that textbooks were an important cultural battleground for religious conservatives.
These changes will result in a further hardening of attitudes. Their whole strategy is to influence the younger generation.
We have no idea where Reuters got the figure of $29,000, but we did discover here that the Department for International Development had given the province over £8-million in 2010/11 to:
Improve access to, retention and the quality of educaton (sic) for all children in primary and secondary schools of Phyber (sic) Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan.
Here, a July 2013 Department for International Development report said:
Education is one of the most important factors which can transform Pakistan’s future. It boosts the economy, broadens outlooks, and offers a brighter future for poor children who may otherwise be on the streets.
That’s why education is the UK’s top priority for Pakistan.
Over the last few years the UK has helped millions of poor children go to school in Pakistan, provided them with textbooks, and built political and social pressure for change.
By the end of 2015, UK development investment will benefit some four million children in school; recruit and train an additional 45,000 teachers in Punjab province alone; improve test results in core subjects including maths and English; and work with the Government and civil society to sustain commitment to reform the education system in Pakistan.
The UK will work with the Government of Pakistan at provincial level to deliver better quality and more widely available schools, and to improve management and accountability in the education sector. Existing support in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces is being expanded, and innovative new approaches are being developed in partnership with the private sector to get more children in to school in Sindh.