Of many of the country’s woes, the divided educational landscape has served to be one of the prominent systemic issues that urgently require an overhaul to bring meaningful changes. While many former elected officials have addressed parts of it, the ruling party of Pakistan aspires to be the first to improve the four essential components of a good education system – curriculum, books, teachers and assessment) by introducing the much debated Single National Curriculum.
There is no disagreement on the fact that all children are equal and that they should be provided quality education irrespective of their background. Article 25-A of the constitution also mandates it for the governments to provide free and quality education to all children between the age of 5 and 16 years. Given this obligation, the government has introduced a single national curriculum through which it aims to address various socioeconomic woes of Pakistan by providing equity education.
To underscore the importance of Single National Curriculum (SNC), it is imperative to understand the education system in Pakistan. Education setup in Pakistan has three divergent streams, namely, public, private and madrassah education, where the different syllabus is being taught. In such a setting, madrassah graduates are at a significant disadvantage when compared to their counterparts from elite private institutions. This issue has also been pointed out by the honorable Prime Minister on the floor of National Assembly. The government aims to remove this disparity by providing equity education and equal opportunities for upward social mobility. SNC will also improve the social cohesion and national integration in this otherwise divided nation.
Single National Curriculum can be a harbinger of prosperity by bringing an end to social injustice and overcoming the class divide. At the moment, the curriculum of different quality is being taught in various provinces. As a result, students from Baluchistan, Interior Sindh and South Punjab are unable to compete at the national level. They do not get quality jobs due to which the economic conditions of their families deteriorate in the face of rising inflation. On the other hand, students from privileged backgrounds have an edge. They land better jobs and earn more than their fellows from marginalized communities. This income disparity increases the class divide. Therefore, by providing quality and equity education to all the students, SNC can overcome this class divide.
For one, the SNC confirms to us that education policymakers continue to have a skewed belief in what constitutes quality education. They believe that, even if English language is completely alien to a five-year-old child, he must nevertheless be instructed in English. They also believe, contrary to all available evidence, that a greater dose of religious education will produce more honest and useful citizens of Pakistan. Critical thinking is central to modern knowledge, while through the SNC, policy planners seem to be promoting influences that are antithetical to critical thinking. The primary focus is on the sheer quantity of information poured into students’ heads.
The government’s slogan of reform is: an end to educational apartheid, a laudable goal indeed. But what has been approved and notified is a uniform curriculum, not a system of uniform education. The latter would also imply equal educational facilities for all rich and poor, rural and urban, boys and girls. Only a uniform education would ensure an end to the educational apartheid. But the government has not put forward any plan for uniform education yet.
Similarly, a single national curriculum can be fundamental in building a strong nation by instilling a sense of acceptance and inclusion by providing equal opportunities, creating a level playing field and developing a holistic understanding of contemporary challenges. Skill development is an important component of the SNC. This will equip our youth with the requisite skills to actively play their part in the economic development of the country. Experts like Faisal Bari, Baela Anjum and Raza Rumi have also endorsed it as a great initiative by the government to build a strong, cohesive, and integrated nation. They have also raised some concerns as well.
The foremost of them is a belief that it is against the spirit of diversity and UN human rights charter to which Pakistan is a party. A-35 of UN Charter states that everyone has the right to study whatever he/she wishes to. The SNC might deprive the students of this basic right. Students from various regions of the country have local literature incorporated into their books which keeps the traditions alive.
Similarly, the experts have raised questions about the inclusion of religious content. There are two most important aspects of this issue. One, there is an only single interpretation of the religion however the policymakers forgot to note that there exist various schools of thought in the country and this might create problems like the one manifested in a press conference by one school of thought right after the SNC was made public.
However, by taking various steps like opening the SNC for public debate and addressing the concerns raised by the academics, a viable solution can be carved out. Increasing the education budget to bring it at par with international standards and developing the necessary infrastructure and providing basic facilities can also accelerate the implementation process. Introducing minimum learning standards and adopting an outcome-based approach can also prove critical in this regard.