Rethinking history

A new kind of education

Boasting over 900 students, THP is now systematically moving into schools in Lahore and Islamabad, and future plans include expanding into Karachi. Furthermore, THP is also moving the project to Mumbai and other cities in India for the next 12 months, before taking it across India and Pakistan
History, which is comprised of various accounts, is regularly taught as an arrangement of actualities to understudies around the world. These certainties are intended to serve political and ideological closures that, in their most amazing structure, instruct understudies to detest built others e.g Hindus or Muslims. Rather than building up the capacity to think basically and to touch base at autonomous conclusions, understudies soak up nationalistic belief systems in their developmental years. During a time of fanatics and perilous clamour, it is basic that we instruct our future eras to question and shape their own sentiments, and to comprehend that there is constantly another side to each story.

DNA spoke to The History Project Co-Founder and Managing Director of Qasim Aslam to get further insights of the project.

“History texts may perpetuate stereotypes and deepen ethnic divides. The History Project is fighting bias with the facts,” he said.

From this point The History Project (THP) – Beyond the Classroom comes in the picture. THP, a registered education body in the United Kingdom was started back in 2012 by a group of young, passionate Indians and Pakistanis. The goal was to blend academics and activism to create innovative educational materials that juxtapose competing national narratives found in history textbooks.

Boasting over 900 students, THP is now systematically moving into schools in Lahore and Islamabad, and future plans include expanding into Karachi. Furthermore, THP is also expanding the project to Mumbai and other cities in India for the next 12 months, before taking it across India and Pakistan.

Earlier this month, THP held a course for children in Lahore at ‘The Last Word’.

While talking to DNA Qasim Aslam said, “The idea behind the project is to do something about the bias in what we study, what we know, which in turn is perpetuating intolerance in our society that is very much embedded in our history textbooks,” Qasim said.

“We are not replacing the curriculum, but we are putting it as a supplementary intervention. We want students to start asking questions”.

The co-founder further said that they noticed mindless conformity about history in classrooms. According to him, nowadays the education system is devised to satisfy the exam system as opposed to education itself.

THP eternal motive is to teach children in their formative years to ask questions, instead of just blindly following somebody kicking up a ruckus in the streets.

“First, we shake the notion of rigid right and rigid wrong, and once that”s shaken, we empower the students how to ask questions,” Qasim told DNA.

“It is not restricted to their identity, it’s about everything you perceive; via the information you get through your textbooks, your history textbooks through the other textbooks, the information you get in the media, the stories you hear on the streets, the propaganda, the information that you get from the political banter and a lot of that comes with a lot of baggage, that we never really pause to understand properly,” he added.

The project continues to restore students interest in the discipline of history, leaving them open to the idea their reality may not be the only truth out there.

THP draws content from multiple history textbooks in India and Pakistan. “We place the Pakistani and Indian textbooks side by side and highlight the differences between them as well as point to areas of convergence,”

Qasim said explaining the procedure. He further talked about measuring success when he said that even though there were no correct answers per say, but the fact that the children started asking all sorts of questions was a big achievement.

Not only that, it also inspired the team to continue with the project, that maybe they are on to something. After the media got wind of it, THP was featured in the BBC, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, New York Radio and many others. Universities like Stanford, Harvard and Brown also started inviting them for talks in their respective establishments.

Instead of offering the ‘correct’ version of history, THP aims to empower young minds to ask better questions and to form their own opinions, rather than allowing someone else to define their views and identities for them.

During the five weeks of activity-based learning, each chapter is richly illustrated and designed to be interactive and engaging: Every chapter contains questions that encourage discussion.

Furthermore, the content selected is derived from existing textbooks with a view to teaching students how to ask the right questions, see multiple sides to every story, and examine the underlying assumptions and contexts that shape historical narratives.

THP identifies contrasts in historical accounts, supports them with illustrations and discussion questions, publish their own textbooks, and then introduce them in schools in both India and Pakistan. Furthermore, they partner with existing outreach entities, such as schools and educational non-government organisations (NGOs), and equip them with their content and a guide on how to use the content.

The course starts by telling kids what history is, purely through activities.

“In a class of 30 students, few students are asked to stage a fight, while the rest of the students are asked why they are fighting. 30 students in one classroom, with the same demographics, come up with 30 different answers,” Qasim explained.

He further said, “That’s when the trainer reconciles them, saying, if you kids sitting in the same place, same time, the same demographic can’t agree on what just happened, how do you expect a historian to tell you exactly what happened from a time when he was’t even alive then. That is how we tell them that history is narrative as opposed to exactly what happened.”

Talking about minorities in a country, Qasim elaborates on another activity at THP.

“A cricket match between 30 students, where 27 students fielding are at the same time and one batsman; a team of three competing against them. So once the team of three loses, again and again, the children are debriefed about how the minorities in the country feel. This is how the entire curriculum is divided, purely activity based. We get them to manifest the behaviour and then draw lessons from them,” he added.

Activities at THP don’t teach children how to interpret things, instead, they are taught how to analyse a piece of information.

Similarly, while talking about the parents reactions at the orientation, Qasim spoke of a parent who questioned the reason why Indian content was being taught to their kids, to which he responded, “It’s not about Indian content, you can replace it. The content is just a case study. You can replace it with China-Japan content, that’s actually not the main focus here, the main aim is to actually shake their notion of rigid right and rigid wrong. And that”s necessary, even in the local context.”

When DNA asked Qasim how successful THP has been in changing the mindset of people, he replied by recalling an incident at the Lahore course.

At the end of the five sessions, a chief guest is invited to the venue where the students teach him/her what they have learnt in the previous weeks. At the Lahore session, the chief guest claimed, “All Indians are greedy.”

That”s when the students react to the statement saying, “Have you met all Indians?All of them?” Another student said, “Where did you find out about this?”

“Questioning the source is one of the things we teach them in the 2nd session,” said Qasim.

Recalling the chief guest’s reaction after a student replied to his statement, “My grandfather told me that all Indians are greedy.”

The student replied, “One person’s account is enough to label one billion people?”

Qasim said, “The transformation in the kids, that they have started questioning things is considered a reward for us, it’s what keeps us going knowing that this new transformation is what these kids are going to take back in their lives and apply it in different places.”

How THP works:

With about 57 people on board from different parts of the world who volunteer to help out, the course is designed in conjunction with university professionals from all over the globe. People from India, US and students keep volunteering through the website page which is [email protected] With the level of interest The History Project has received so far and the impact it continues to accumulate, the team hopes that this model is used in the education system in regions facing generational conflict driven by intolerance bred in the classroom.


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