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The critical art of setting critical questions

In moments of real despondency, friends often advise you to look at the brighter side. But in so many instances, there just is no brighter side. There often is, however – a humorous side.

Learning outcomes, critical thinking, analytical skills, activity-based teaching, spirit of inquiry, thinking individual, peaceful citizen – these words are freely bandied about in policy discussions about educational reform. But is all this talk really translating into the presentation of alternative, or even balanced, perspectives about the current situation and past events? More importantly, is the preparation of potentially more nuanced content being followed up by the development of questioning techniques that support the objective of critical thinking?

Our Pakistan Studies textbooks continue to be a case in point.

Here are some gems.

From the inevitable introductory chapter found in all such works of insight and discernment.

1. Islam is very close to human nature. (True/False)

2. All prophets were innocent and did never commit a sin deliberately. (True/False)

3. Islamic principles are different for all citizens from the head of state to the common man. (True/False)

4. According to Islamic belief, there are two nations in the world i.e. the Muslims and the non-Muslims. (True/False)

 Because ‘nation’ is one of the most easily definable terms in the English language…

Mr. Jinnah remains a favourite victim.

5. The Quaid-e-Azam (RA) was of the opinion that the Muslims should not indulge in politics. (True/False)

 Well, naturally, they shouldn’t ‘indulge’…

6. The Quaid-e-Azam (RA) originated of the idea of separate Muslim nationhood in India. (True/False)

 I’m sure he didn’t…

7. The Quaid-e-Azam (RA) said: “we demand Pakistan only because we want to have a piece of land”. (True/False)

                                                                    Well, who is to say we wouldn’t have been justified in that as well?

When John Company is redeemed through a typing error…

8.The British came to India in the guise of worriers. (True/False)

Communal memory

9. No state can be run without a Constitution even for a single day. (True/False)

Certain questions would tax the genius of the ablest.

10. Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean are situated in the North of Pakistan. (True/False)

Now how may we force the Prophet of Islam to participate in contemporary debates on foreign policy…?

11. Hudaibia Peace Pact is an outstanding example of establishing peace by the unilateral sacrifice of rights by one party. (True/False)

12. Pakistan believes in solving international disputes through use of force. (True/False)

 And this is a fact…

After all, a blind man could see it coming.

13. East and West Pakistan both wings had the same ethnic background. (True/False)

 Pandora who?

14. To promote national integration, the provinces should be redefined as administrative units and not on the basis of cultural identity. (True/False)

 Chapter closed.

15. Problems of provincial autonomy have been amicably solved under the 1973 constitution.

Well then, congratulations!

A pleasant surprise.

16. An Islamic republic can be established merely by proclaiming Islamic law. (True/False)

 ‘Merely’ in case the obvious response escapes you, which would be quite understandable…

Now to geography.

17. Sibbi and Jacobabad are some of the finest health resorts in the world. (True/False)

 Well, it is all relative…

18. The area which now forms our country has remained a distinct cultural unit from times immemorial. (True/False)

 Lest you be tempted to overlook certain Gospel truths.

 

So, in any given situation, is an incorrect response to any of the above questions likely to be interpreted as more than ‘simply’ incorrect? When education becomes catechism…

Let us end with –

A ready acknowledgement…

19. Most of our students depend upon rote learning and selective study. (True/False)

And a touching display of belief.

20. Education is a dynamic process which permeates through human life and encompasses it in totality. (True/False)

The above twenty statements about Pakistan’s history and geography have been culled from textbooks used for the secondary and intermediate classes. Published by the National Book Foundation, the books were written according to the most recent education policy and reviewed by a committee appointed by the Federal Ministry of Education. They have sold thousands of copies and undergone several reprints.

21. The writer found this entire exercise to be comic, but not a relief. (True/False)

The writer is a part of Herald’s editorial team.

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