Why schools in Punjab should not bid goodbye to Mr Chips

Published: April 17, 2019
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While many have hailed the decision as a step in the right direction, others have questioned why the board felt it necessary to remove the book from the curriculum entirely. PHOTO: EBAY

One of my most cherished memories from my school years is reading the James Hilton novella, Goodbye, Mr Chips. The book tells the heartening story of a seasoned school teacher whom the students lovingly refer to as Mr Chips, a man who is an institution unto himself. Over the course of the story, Mr Chips reflects on the life he has led and hopes that his decades of service as a teacher have enriched the lives of his students.  

The enduring popularity of the novel has ensured that it has remained a staple feature in English Language classrooms across Punjab for over 30 years. However, the Punjab Textbook Board (PTB) announced last month that it would remove Goodbye, Mr Chips from the syllabus and replace it with a book which narrates several stories from the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

While many have hailed the decision as a step in the right direction, others have questioned why the board felt it necessary to remove the book from the curriculum entirely. Regardless of the specific intentions behind the syllabus change, let us look at the matter in a slightly more nuanced manner.

Firstly, it appears rather improbable that anyone would object to the novella’s subject matter on the grounds that it is inappropriate for intermediate students. In fact, the story and characters are rather harmless and inoffensive. Mr Chips is shown to be an upstanding gentleman who devotes his life to his work despite suffering personal and professional hardships, thus highlighting the importance of leading a principled life. It is hard to imagine that the contents of the book in anyway challenge or run contrary to our nation’s collective ethos.

Secondly, perhaps the one moral objection which does tend to surface is that Mr Chips and his wife-to-be, Katherine, engage in an affair before they are wed. However, it seems odd that such a trivial detail, which has not bothered the PTB for decades (even during more conservative regimes), would suddenly start to ruffle feathers and upset our cultural sensibilities now.

Thirdly, the argument may be made that replacing Goodbye, Mr Chips with a book that recounts stories from the life of the Prophet (PBUH) is rather redundant since the syllabus of the compulsory Islamic Studies class at the intermediate level already covers the Prophet’s (PBUH) life in great detail. The students would simply be covering ground they’ve already explored in another class.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if the PTB feels it is necessary to alter the English Language syllabus, then surely both the texts can be taught side-by-side over the course of the academic year. Given that they are both relatively short texts, this should not present too much of a problem. Teaching both the books will not only help create the right balance between a literary and religious text, but students will also be able to extrapolate important lessons from both the works. Additionally, if the view is that Goodbye, Mr Chips has now become dull and outdated, surely it can be replaced with a more suitable modern English language text.

It is of course paramount that students are exposed to a wide array of literature from a young age as it often encourages them to pursue literature and language at the university level while also expanding their thinking horizons. One hopes that the board will review its decision and choose to incorporate both the texts.

Umer Rafi

Umer Rafi

The author is a graduate of the Pakistan Marine Academy and works as a digital marketer for a software house in Islamabad. He tweets @umerrafi787 (twitter.com/umerrafi787)

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