Dismay over the 'Islamization' of education in Bangladesh

Secular content in primary school textbooks replaced with Islamic content
Dismay over the 'Islamization' of education in Bangladesh

Leaders and activists from social and political organizations take to the streets of Dhaka to protest against the 'Islamization of school textbooks' on Jan. 31. (ucanews.com photo)

The Catholic Church in Bangladesh has joined others in raising concerns over the "Islamization" of the country's primary school curriculum.

The ruling Awami League government has faced strong opposition from liberal political elements and minority groups over unadvised changes made to the country's primary school curriculum that favors an Islamic worldview.

When primary books were distributed to schools on Jan. 1, it was discovered that articles authored by non-Muslim and secular writers were absent with no explanation from the government offered.

It was then learnt that when Bangladesh' Education Ministry prepared Bengali textbooks for primary schools in 2016, a group of conservative Islamic scholars from Hefazat-e-Islam (Protectors of Islam) demanded that 17 poems and stories be removed because they were "atheistic and un-Islamic."

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission voiced concern over what has been allowed to transpire.

"I think a vested quarter in the government is in favor of the Islamization of the curriculum, which would surely have a dangerous impact on schoolchildren," said Bishop Rozario.

"This sort of appeasement of radical ideology will diminish the nation's commitment to secular and democratic values," he said.

"The government must take immediate steps to save its liberal face by republishing the textbooks so they can be acceptable to students from all religions," he added.

 

Watch this ucanews.com video of the protest.

 

'Nobody is taking responsibility'

Apart from the 17 omitted articles there were other noticeable changes made to the textbooks that were made to favor Islamic sensibilities.

Pius Nanuar, a senior education officer with Caritas, said the government has taken up a policy of gradually moving away from non-communal principles.

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"The erroneous textbooks conflict with 2010's highly-applauded education policy, which is a benchmark for secular, qualitative and inclusive education," Nanuar said.

"Frustratingly, the controversial changes were made without the knowledge of the editors and nobody is taking responsibility," he said.

"If the government silently supports the demands of Hefazat now, in future they might introduce the hijab for female students, and this would have long-lasting, disastrous impacts on the country," he said. "Civil society and educators need to come forward to save our education system and keep it in line with our constitution."

Despite being a tiny minority, Christians, especially the Catholic Church, play a vital role in the country's education sector.

 

Leaders and activists from various minority forums want to ban 'Islamized textbooks' and restore articles from secular writers during rally in Dhaka on Jan. 26. (Photo by Robin Bhabuk)

 

Street protests

Changes to the textbooks have furthermore resulted in street protests by various groups in the South Asian nation.

During a protest rally in Dhaka on Jan. 26, activists and leaders from minority forums including Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, Bangladesh Christian Association, Bangladesh Hindu League and Bangladesh United Council for Women, urged the government to stop planting "poisonous seeds of militancy and communal elements" among schoolchildren.

"In 1971, we fought against the communal state of Pakistan to establish the modern, secular, and democratic state of Bangladesh, but frustratingly we are moving in the opposite direction by accommodating radical ideology in textbooks," said Nim Chandra Bhowmik, a Hindu professor and adviser to the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council.

Several leftist and progressive political organizations also held protest rallies nationwide on Jan. 31 demanding "communal and discriminatory textbooks" be withdrawn.

In Dhaka, hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the Education Ministry and scuffled with police. In other parts of the country, protesters rallied outside the offices of deputy commissioners in all 64 districts.

While there has been no official response or explanation from the government on the issue, the Education Ministry has suspended several officials from the National Curriculum and Textbook Board and formed a committee to investigate.

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