As a student of the Matric system, I can vouch that Pakistani textbooks are horrendous!

Published: May 21, 2016

Punjab Textbook Board publishes six provinces map of Pakistan in Class 8 Geography. PHOTO: PHOTONEWS.COM.PK

According to the World Bank data, in the years falling between 2011-2015, only 2.5 per cent of Pakistan’s total revenue was spent on education. This miserliness and misappropriation of the country’s priorities towards education is apparent in the sad state of its textbooks. The education sector is barely using its funds to invest in publishing new versions of textbooks, and spares it only to republish the out-dated versions every year.

Having been a tuition teacher, I have noticed that the Pakistan Studies textbook by Professor Abdul Qadir Khan has been republishing its very first edition of the book since 2005. To date, there has been no addition of new knowledge, nor any elimination of out-dated facts. The textbook continues to use obsolete statistics that dates from the year 2003, without bothering to update the irregularities. This is a country where 70 per cent of students are educated under regional and federal boards.

For decades now, these boards have been assigned curriculums where most of the textbooks are published under Punjab Textbook Board and National Book Foundation. Both these publishers are notorious for using substandard publishing techniques, employing incompetent authors who make factual errors and frequently adhere to poor grammar.

Though Punjab Textbook Board prides itself for printing affordable, cost-effective books, it cannot account for the fact that the publishers constantly use low quality paper where the text on the pages is smudged and illegible. Occasionally, there are pages where you notice the writing tilt diagonally. There are also instances where the text on one page superimposes into the other, and the last word of every sentence is hidden behind the other page as a result of improper binding.

Poor quality books start falling apart because of it’s improper binding.

And so it becomes apparent that instead of designing the books in a way to make them appear more student-friendly – i.e. nicer pages, better fonts, and a layout that has congenial, vibrant colours – the dull outlook of the textbook does nothing but alienate the student.

I owe a lot of who I am today to the textbooks I studied when I was young. I honestly believe the school’s curriculum promoting high quality books created this strong impact. I studied from textbooks that were published by Oxford. There was something very welcoming about my old textbooks from the crisp, neat pages to the warm pleasant aroma that emanated from them. The fonts were fancy and the illustrations were beautiful enough to entice a child. Each chapter in the book had fancy illustrations and the titles and fonts used were a blend of vibrant, friendly colours. I owe it to the general friendliness of the books for making studying such an exciting activity for me and not at all a painful labour, which it would one day become.

Fast forward a few years later and here I was in grade eight, holding the English book in my hands. Since I had opted for Matric, I was in for a complete shift in curriculum (nasty surprise). From Oxford, I had regressed towards Punjab Textbook Board. And I still remember, holding that book in hand which was even slimmer than the girth of my pinky finger. I let my fingers gently brush against the cover of the book which felt noticeably cheap in quality.

I gulped, and with my heart beating against my chest, I opened the book and turned towards page one. And there I saw, in all its glory, the title of the first chapter of my new English book staring back at me with grandiosity, titled “Clever Mirchu”.

Yes, this was indeed the name of the first chapter of my new book.

As it turned out, Mirchu was a clever little boy who was as tiny as a bottle of pepper (yes, they used that reference) and the chapter chronicled his adventures.

What’s sad was the fact that the illustrations were absolutely horrible. They were of a dull, black and white hue, and I could barely make out whatever was being portrayed. The font on the pages were smudged and sometimes as I read each line from left to right, I saw that the writing would go diagonally or would superimpose into the next page with the last word not being visible.

The book was an atrocious mess of poor grammar, and the chapters that followed were even worse. As a result, the complete metamorphosis from Oxford to Punjab Textbook Board was hard for me as a student because I struggled to enjoy my new books with the same rigor as I had my old ones. In the end, it resulted in my loss of interest towards my studies and it wasn’t long before my own performance as a student began to decline as well.

Back when I was in FSC, I absolutely despised the subject of Physics. I found it far too complex and academic for someone like me who harboured a seemingly average intellect. And yet, to my own surprise, when I entered university, I developed a passionate understanding and fascination towards Physics after being exposed to interesting documentaries and books written on the subject. And it made me wish that I had developed a similar interest for it back when it had mattered.

Funnily enough, I touched upon my past in a recent encounter where I was tutoring a grade 12 student. I flipped through the pages of her Physics textbook (the same one that I had studied) and I was suddenly reminded of how much I had once loathed the subject. And I finally realised, it had never been my fault; I re-read the textbook, and even though my intellect had evolved much more over the years, I felt just as stupid as I did as a second year student. It felt like I was reading the work of an excruciatingly dull professor, droning endlessly about extremely boring topics, spewing jargon of fancy scientific words, and intentionally making things sound much more complicated than they actually are.

In short, simple terms: the textbook was a self-indulgent disaster.

However, this conflict with my curriculum did teach me a thing or two. For one, I became aware of this cringe-inducing radicalisation that plagues the material of these textbooks. We live in a conservative country where a majority of the society is comprised of people who believe that nationalistic and religious values deserve unconditional subservience. Whenever values are merged with passion, it births fundamentalism. And the nature of these textbooks reflected that same fundamentalism.

Recently, a picture was surfacing on social media about a Physics book (authored by Professor Imran Khalid) in which a chapter began by stating that Almighty Allah created the world by uttering the Arabic word kun (be) and the world came into existence.

First chapter of a Physics book that discusses how Almighty Allah created the world.

The chapter went on to state that God created universal laws of Physics which all objects in the world now follow without interference.

Another example is of a grade nine Science textbook where the author, after explaining the concept of evolution, immediately concluded by saying that on his death-bed, Charles Darwin doubted the validity of his own theory of evolution and renounced his atheism.

However, the Social Studies and Pakistan Studies textbooks, take the gavel for the uncondensed manipulation and misrepresentation of historic facts. The Pakistan Studies book for grade 12 (National Book Foundation) constantly vilifies Hindus and recounts a villainous perspective of the British in their role in India post-1857. The Muslims are shown in sympathetic light where they are always unfairly wronged by the Hindus and their British allies. The emancipation of East Pakistan is shown as nothing more than a cunning Hindu propaganda and the role of Pakistan’s own fallacies are undermined.

The military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq is celebrated where his step towards Islamisation is portrayed as a necessary realignment of values to bring Pakistan back on to the right path. The works of authors Dr Miss Ferozah Yasmeen,  Mian Muhammad Javed Akhtar, Nasir-ur-Din Ghaznavi,  Muhammad Zubair Hashmi, Bashir-ud-Din Malik, Prof. Mian Muhammed Aslam, Prof. Muhammed Farooq Malik and Qazi Ajjad Ahmed are particularly infamous for their highly extremist and nationalistic undertones. Their Social Studies textbooks for primary-grade students consistently dehumanise the minorities, and promote anti-Hindu, anti-European sentiments, while on the other hand providing a one-dimensional portrayal of the socio-religious culture of Pakistan as an unshakeable, morally upright system; where Islam is the saving grace for everything and secularism is seen as a major threat to its identity.

This severe compromise of our priorities towards education, and the fundamentalism of the authors have indisposed our textbooks with highly radicalised and prejudiced viewpoints. And for a country plagued with extremism, we cannot afford to teach our children how to hate things anymore. For as long as we don’t start focusing on the state of our textbooks, we may as well be handing out weapons to students instead of enlightening them with books.

If our education system tried any better, they could actually make academics a far more exciting prospect for students. But for a country that barely prioritises its education, I am not sure if it is interested in taking that step yet.

All photos: Hamza Zia Khan

Hamza Zia Khan

Hamza Zia Khan

The author is an engineering student, musician and a writer.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Indian Guy

    This explains everything.Recommend

  • Indian Guy
  • Diya Rameen

    over all…nice and detailed analysis
    i know i was offended a little bit in the start but then i realized i noticed the same things, first we used to have oxford published books with engaging and interactive learning process and no ratta system,,,even though the book set was expensive for lower class families to afford but our school always organised an oxford book bank every year to share our books.BUT THE BOOKS WERE REALLY WORTH THEIR PRICE ,…Eventually as I opted for matric system under federal board i was so shocked to see 100 percent quality difference in those books…i still keep my oxford english books because pakistani english books have just degraded my english even more as i entered senior classes.
    and also the pakistan study book has also made my doubt on my own ideology because it was a very biased and mis-leading book..
    thankfully…in HSSC i find the books a little better. more challenging and english content is also well SELECTED…or May be its that i have got USED TO thisRecommend

  • Sami

    You stated “only 2.5 per cent of Pakistan’s total revenue was spent on education”. It is utterly false. GDP is not stated as revenue of the government. Government’s Revenue and GDP of the total country are two different things.
    Also after the 18th amendment the Federal education budget and Provincial budgets are different. In KP and Punjab’s budget the education budget exceeds 15 percent of the total budget. It is apart from the Federal budget.

    How can you miss these simple facts?. You are questioning the credentials of others, but you showed lack of understanding as well.Recommend

  • Hameed

    > Punjab Textbook Board publishes six provinces map of Pakistan in Class 8 Geograph

    That’s probably how it should be.Recommend

  • Feroz

    Now we know that people do not get radicalized by raindrop falling from the sky. However the Textbook writers live in a world of their own with eyes closed, unable to even see the fruits of their labor. All I can say is Good Luck !Recommend

  • Jor El

    Is evolution taught in Pakistan ?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Thanks to the GHQ’s national identity politics.Recommend

  • Rohan

    No we know why Pakistan won’t want peace with India.Generations in Pakistan have been indoctrinated with hate against Hindus and India which has promoted radicalism in the society.This has given a solid ideological base to the terrorists that run awash in Pakistan which has ultimately backfired.

  • Proud Bharatiya Australian

    And thank you almighty to have made me born and brought up in Bharat where we everyday not only praised and celebrated all Religions and were taught using text books about history based on balanced factual information relying on aspects of a person based on his/her Deeds & Actions instead of a person’s religious following…And today I feel we Indians get respected at our work place and by varied communities outside India as we Indians are seen non threatening and respected for our tolerance and celebrating mentality of diversity of religion, language and our ability to assimilate with so much ease with the local foreign communities and be successfull.Recommend

  • Jilani Chaudhari

    This article is not without grammatical errors.Recommend

  • Mirza Aasauf Baig

    So basically your Problem is ” ALLAH Created Universe”
    Man this is a Universal Truth and you want to hide it?Recommend

  • Don’t let religion blind us

    @ Mirza Aasauf Baig…My intention is not to hurt your religious belief & if you want to continue living that Allah created world, that is your choice…But if the universe was in existence well before the Islam’s creator and if there have been so many religions already in existence even before the religion of Islam, on what basis can you think Allah created world??? We all understand Pakistan’s textbook has problems but this only requires common sense. God bless.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Then why religion like True Furqan and Universal Sufism, rationalism is banned? Why so many books are banned in India?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Prove it from Physics point of view.Recommend

  • Axphey Khan

    The author is an engineering student, musician and a writer.Recommend

  • Axphey Khan

    The trends of blogs have become so easy nowadays, that even you know ten super cool vocab you can easily produce absolutely amazing content.Recommend

  • Axphey Khan

    At some point it has valid and good banter punches. As a whole it’s an average blog because most of the things are known.Recommend

  • Alann

    Only solution is more nukes and bigger defense budget. Because who knows, your Ahmedi neighbour or the Shia living opposite you might be an Indian RAW Hindu agent in disguise.Recommend

  • LS

    ok, so he created the universe but did not know what happened 8000 miles away? Had no clue about Americas.. some how this God did not know how come there were so many religions around and could not offer a tell tale sign for all to follow the same religion? How come God and his visions only appeared once human settlements started talking place? How come if man was his best creation it faced multiple bottleneck events that almost wiped out humanity from the face of the earth? Why are there so many languages.. wouldn’t it be easier if there was just one language?

    Or we just believe in Darwin’s theory on evolution which makes more sense and also understand that the religion is a human construct, because if god existed why did it let all other creations die like dinosaurs and all other extinct animals and why is there so much misery..?How come god first said earth was flat and a hadith later says it was like an egg? (After greeks discovered that earth was a spherical)…. Also it seems that God believes that all the plants and animals were created for human consumption/use… I don’t know what to say to that… Did not place any value on life of either animals or plants… So neither it knew what is on earth but also only knew about visible part of space, barely knew about some constellations and no clue about forces at play in universe and knew nothing about invisible part of universe.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Curious that in “Allah created universe”, Muslim nations are among the least developed!Recommend

  • Anwaar

    if you look at the heading it says “What is Physics?”

    and the answer starts by “Allah created the universe… ” … this is is irrelevant to the subject matter … that is the point …

    write what is physics on google search this is what you get
    “the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy” …not Jesus or etc created universe ..Recommend

  • Agha

    That is far from “Universal Truth”. Except the muslims other people in this “world” will disagree with this supposedly universal truth.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Because mostly Muslims go berserk over books they don’t even care to read;no religion is banned in India unless terrorism is a religion.Not true for Pakistan where the constitution bans Ahmadis and Blasphemy law is used to get rid of minorities.Recommend

  • siesmann

    It needs repeating that errors be corrected.Recommend

  • siesmann

    And you believe Quran is a science book with everything that the science discovered written in it?!!!Recommend

  • FaithandScience

    Ofcourse He knew about Americas, where do you get the information from?, Choice is the answer to your question regarding one religion and one language. And please do google theistic evolution.
    Where do you get the info about the Earth being flat?
    That being said, our textbooks definitely do need to new editions and be up to date. And focus on interaction and less rote learning.Recommend

  • LS

    There is NO evidence in Bible, Quran, Torah or any other book of any other in Asia or Europe that knew about Americas in 600/700AD

    I think you are missing my point. If there was a single entity overseeing the creation of universe and humans… One language and One religion would have augured better than the current model. Now, give that there is nothing like that we have what we have…

    You need comprehension skills as well as context of this conversation.Recommend

  • Brij Mehndiratta

    That would be a progressive recursive infinitive tautology sans pareil. Recommend

  • Pakistani-SUNNI-KAFIR

    Exactly too many Conspiracies! way — too many people are always conspiring against the VERY PURE PAK-and SAF people of Pakistan, whose Great Leaders like Nawaz Sharif and ZARDARI and 5000 others are examples of piety for all time to come.

    Ahmedi and Shia should be required to wear ARM BAND like the Great THIRD REICH required some undesirable, and sazishi people.Recommend

  • Pakistani-SUNNI-KAFIR

    Exactly too many Conspiracies! way — too many people are always conspiring against the VERY PURE PAK-and SAF people of Pakistan, whose Great Leaders like Nawaz Sharif and ZARDARI and 5000 others are examples of piety for all time to come.

    Ahmedi and Shia should be required to wear AR M BAND like the Great THIRD RE ICH required some undesirable, and sazishi people. The whole Nation has gone Islamic MAD.Recommend


    Pakistan has lost its common sense a long time ago. Religion has penetrated the DNA of every individual, and Blasphemy laws keep it locked in there. You CAN NOT discuss any thing, science, Physics, Astronomy at all. You may end up in jail in no time under Blasphemy laws. If you want to see an abject example of a doomed Nation in modern times, come to Pakistan. NOT Much hope for few centuries.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Is there any other instance of theology introduced into science in the rest of the world? I don’t think so. I think it is a disservice to the students. There is no reason for science to be melded with religion at all. Both can coexist within their own realms. Eventually it is Pakistan that will pay the price. In this day and age, knowledge is power and prosperity.Recommend

  • Jayman

    India is the only nation where different sects of Islam live in harmony. They have their mosques in close proximity without any issues. I am really proud of that.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Unless all religions pray to the same God, the very premise that “my” God created the Universe is patently untrue. Only one religion can be correct – not all of them. I was expecting more common-sense from modern, educated humans.Recommend