The debate over school textbooks and rampage of Hefajat E Islam

Pamelia Khaled:

A recent demonstration by Hefazat(Image collected from the internet)

The use of language in Bangladesh school textbooks is spurring battles across the country. The nation is divided on school textbooks that were distributed recently to school students all over the country. Teachers, educators, parents, social groups, and lawmakers are protesting every day in the media. People view the texts as an explicit portrayal of certain religious views and teachings.

People are concerned why the Bangladesh curriculum committee added this year some of those seventeen stories and poems that were not accepted last year, as those allegedly reflect communal sentiments. And why 12 stories and poems rejected earlier by Hefajat E Islam — a political party were not included. This Islamic political party accused that those pieces reflect the idea of atheism and Hinduism, so those must not be included as texts. The texts of Humayun Azad, Kusumkumari, were also rejected by this party. It is indeed strange to see that to satisfy this party, gendered and religious ideas were included while introducing alphabets in the grade 1 textbook. It seems a secular multicultural country lost its essence due to the political trickery of racial and political agenda.

The development of a society is hugely reliant on how it invests in human capital from the early stage of learning. The human capital theory rests on the assumption that formal education is instrumental and necessary for improving the productive capacity of a population. It focuses on productivity and efficiency among the labor force and supports investment in formal education to enhance individuals’ capabilities by increasing their levels of cognitive development. The idea was to invest in the establishment of education systems, create employment, and develop strong cores of workers and managers.

This idea of human capital theory was critiqued as “technocratic-meritocratic” because of its over-emphasis on producing skills and knowledge for learners to become successful workers. It has also been criticized for its failure to adequately address inequality in society. However, since the 1970s, Bangladesh like the other developing countries concentrated on this human capital agenda and the belief that teachers’ time and effort can enhance learners’ skills and abilities, leading to job market rewards. But currently, Bangladesh is prone to developing racial texts.

Scholars view racial theory as central to the understanding curriculum. The issue of multiculturalism has created a debate about whether curriculum reform is necessary. Bangladeshi intellectuals and educators insist that the curriculum must be reformed to reflect the history of the nation and its cultures, including those of the ethnic groups.

Reading the current conflicts about the issue of the text, I am pessimistic about the role of current formal education, as I consider ’school and the racial and political text’ is the source of social inequalities, increasing unequal power relationships in Bangladesh. I argue that current racial texts will fuel up social inequality and favor a social structure that is biased towards certain religious groups.

This will challenge the significance of education and skills for economic and social development, and the unequal power relationships will undermine the marginalized. Education and employment opportunities are closely inter-related, but school structures and curricula help maintain society’s social and economic structures. The concept of ideology is central to the understanding curriculum as a political text. As the current curriculum appears to have hidden dimensions, its ideological values would negatively affect learners’ self-development.

Racial text is the consequence of the ’tricks and trickery of politics of the ruling elites. We hope the government acknowledged how they are losing their political grip to racist, fundamentalist political views. As we all know, how allowing a vulnerable, religious fundamentalist stream into politics and making a coalition with them jeopardized Bangladesh’s secular environment.

The current sociopolitical scene describes Bangladesh politics as polarized into two parties: one is conservative, and another is ultra-conservative, an underdog party, which has extremely traditional political or religious beliefs. Why did the Bangladesh government fail to uphold the country’s image during the Independence day celebration? The issue below raises another critical question: Why the Qawmi madrasa-based organization enforced a dawn-to-dusk hartal across the country, protesting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh and police action in Dhaka, Chattogram, and Brahmanbaria, etc.?

 Diplomatic and International relationship policies seem totally jeopardized by the so-called opposition, which has no role in the country’s growth, safety, security, or image-building policy instead of making chaos and rampage about the statute and neighboring country leader’s arrival. The secular thoughts and values are disappeared, allowing this growing ultra-conservative party. Isn’t it that the current government is largely responsible for promoting such an ultra-conservative party. This party opposes the values of Secular Islamic ideals and values. Yes, the Islamic Republic was established just after the assassination of Bangabandhu by Mushtaq and two Military regimes. But during the past decade, Secularism could be reified in the constitution, isn’t it?  

Negotiation is essential for a peaceful coexistence policy. But was it necessary to allocate power with an underdog party and bring them into the political scene to dominate the opposition, such as BNP? Isn’t it that the current government is largely responsible for promoting such an ultra-conservative party. This party opposes Secular Islamic ideals and coexisting values, which is harmful to a pluralistic society like Bangladesh.

The list on the country’s rampage by Hefajot is too extensive, so PM needs to rethink how the Bangladesh Government administration will proceed. How the government planned to face all these challenges: Earlier, they also burned Sheikh Mujib’s photo, broke the statue, protest to set up the Lady justice statue in the supreme court premises, etc. As alluded to earlier, This party opposes Secular Islamic ideals and coexisting values, which is harmful to a pluralistic society like Bangladesh. As there is a sign of an uprise of ISIS fundamentalism in South Asia (Indo/Pak subcontinent including Afghanistan), the PM should not have promoted an ultra-conservative group to dominate the opposition. This is why the current government failed to utilize one decade to establish a secular country. Secularism word, and multiculturalism, and multireligious phrases could be inserted amending the constitution, making a continuous dialogue with the county’s secular intellectuals.

Past regime’s idea of declaring Islam as a state religion was a hard blow for the multicultural people of Bangladesh. Zia and Ershad regimes are (equally) responsible for dividing the nation in the name of religion. Later on, the current government is alleged to have adopted this divisive notion for its own political advantage. Getting votes with the attitude of ’go with the flow is not beneficial in restoring the country’s peace, safety, security, and crafting a stable social and political environment.

The writer is an anthropologist, sociologist, and environmentalist. She is pursuing her Ph.D. research on peace and conflict resolution through science at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, Canada


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