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Prime Minister Imran Khan officially launched the ‘Single National Curriculum’ (SNC) and termed it a milestone to end inequality in the education system. Prime Minister Imran Khan also urged the provinces to ensure the implementation of a uniform national curriculum. Whereas, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood warned of action against those private schools which will not adopt the SNC-based books. However, the PPP-led Sindh government rejected the SNC claiming that education is a provincial matter as enshrined by the 18th Amendment. Balochistan, Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan didn’t adopt SNC for this year yet. Provinces are not ready to adopt SNC and also have the right to adopt their own curriculum after the 18th Amendment. The provinces also have the right to education in Urdu or their mother tongue. Apart from the Sindh government, private schools, parents, and teachers have complained about the SNC. Although the medium of instruction for the new uniform curriculum unveiled by the federal government recently will be the national language of Urdu, but not in practice. Urdu will be the main medium of instruction for the new curriculum which will be implemented from class one to five in the next educational year, but out of a total of five subjects, three subjects are in English in Punjab, whereas, KP adopted full subjects in English medium. So far, the government’s plan for a uniform national curriculum is nothing more than the fulfilment of a political or election slogan.
Unfortunately, a uniform curriculum could not be introduced in the 74-year history of Pakistan, now again it has been developed after the consultation of only favourited with only specific schools of thought. All Pakistan Private Schools Federation expressed serious concerns about the scope, content and practicality of implementing the new uniform curriculum. The Single National Curriculum is superficial, serves an agenda, with fake consensus, that will erase all ethnic identities and regional languages. Cambridge O-A levels and International Baccalaureate will not be touched by the PTI’s Single National Curriculum (SNC). This is fantastic news for the elite class who once feared privileged education for the rich was in danger. Talk about equal opportunities for all turned out to be just talk — opium for the masses.
Sindh government rejected the SNC claiming that education is a provincial matter as enshrined by the 18th Amendment. Balochistan, Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan didn’t adopted SNC for this year yet.
Interestingly, The Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB), had not given the private schools any NOC for compulsory subjects, namely English, Urdu, Islamiat, General Knowledge, Social Studies and General Science. The private schools only got the NOC of the Supplementary Reading Material (SRM) for the grade 1 to 5 of the compulsory subjects and some of the optional subjects, including Science and Mathematics. The PCTB had formed three committees for approval of the subjects aligned to the SNC, namely External Review Committee, Ulema Board and Internal Review Committee. The most elite private schools, including Aitchison, have started the new academic year without implementing the SNC, terming it a failure of the government not to give them the approval of the syllabus books or even booklist for starting the new academic year. Ironically Aitchison is not implementing SNC, the alma mater of Prime Minister Imran Khan. If the vision was one curriculum for the whole nation, why can elite schools opt-out of it? One curriculum can’t bring the same learning outcomes because the curriculum is the last reason for inequality in education. The SNC has widened the divide between the Private and public education sector where rich schools can get NOCs and refuse to teach the SNC without problems.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government started its tenure with an Education Policy Framework, highlighting reforms in four priority areas in education. These were: Putting all the out-of-school children in schools, as required by Article 25 A of the Constitution; eliminating apartheid in education by introducing a uniform curriculum; enhancing the quality of education, and emphasising technical and vocational education. Before Government, PTI leaders were pretty vocal about their desire to introduce a uniform education system in Pakistan, ‘Yuksaan Taleemi Nizam’ meaning the uniform education system for all students, irrespective of their economic and social background. The slogan was attractive and no sane person could disagree with it because the need to eliminate – or at least reduce – discrimination in education was a sound proposition. It is pertinent to mention here that on the direction of the federal government, Single National Curriculum is being implemented only at Punjab in a very weak manner at the primary level in the first phase across the country, in late 2021.
A slogan that elimination of educational discrimination is commendable, but what is adopted is not a uniform national curriculum, nor a uniform education system. New books of Single National Curriculum (SNC) are not available nationwide in the market. Moreover, the national curriculum is incomplete; as Pre-nursery, nursery and prep curriculum is not ready. The Single National Curriculum is superficial, serves an agenda, with fake consensus, that Cambridge O-A levels and International Baccalaureate will not be touched, as the exemption was given to elite schools and Madaras. In true meaning, not only should the curriculum be the same, the facilities and standards should be the same without any discrimination. Indeed PTI curriculum is a near-perfect copy of Gen Musharraf’s 2006 curriculum, in a new dress. Unfortunately 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.
According to Article 25A, the Education Policy Framework in four priority areas is to bring in all schools outside the schools, to eliminate educational discrimination from the uniform curriculum, to increase quality education and to promote technical and vocational education. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government started its tenure with an Education Policy Framework, highlighting reforms in four priority areas in education. These were: Putting all the out-of-school children in schools, as required by Article 25 A of the Constitution; eliminating apartheid in education by introducing a uniform curriculum; enhancing the quality of education, and emphasising technical and vocational education.
Preparation of SNC is the only second priority of the framework, with no progress in the other three priorities. The other three priorities require huge funds, introducing a new curriculum is a free process. Although the medium of instruction for the new uniform curriculum unveiled by the federal government recently will be the national language of Urdu, but not in practice. There was a continuous process in the curriculum and education system, which included capacity building as per the time and requirements, increase in schools, out-of-school classroom education and important issues in teacher training. For all Pakistani children should not go for cheap shots like a single national curriculum. Instead, it must develop what every modern education system needs: school infrastructure, a proper student assessment and examination system, trained teachers who can teach the designed syllabus, and good textbooks. The government’s slogan of reform is an end to educational apartheid, a laudable goal indeed. But unfortunately 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. This is because each of the other priority areas would require a heavy financial commitment, which the meagre national allocation to education could not promise. On the other hand, introducing a new curriculum comes for free.
All madrassas are also being registered whereas work is also underway on the curriculum from grade sixth to eighth. Some 35,000 seminaries will get registered as schools and will have their bank accounts opened. The development of SNC is driven by the key considerations like teachings of Quran and Sunnah, constitutional framework, the vision of Quaid and Iqbal, focus on values, life skills-based and inclusive education, respect and appreciation for different cultures and religions in a local and global context, focus on project, inquiry and activity-based learning, development of 21st-century skills including analytical, critical and creative thinking. According to “Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act 2017” the SLOs have been added in the Islamiat curriculum. In addition to Nazra Quran, a framework for a reading of 200 Ahadith from I-XII has been added.
Pakistan’s education system has two major problems. First, government-run schools have failed to deliver education to young minds. Second, schooling at religious seminaries has remained unregulated for far too long. The state’s newly unveiled Single National Curriculum (SNC) addresses neither of the two problems. In Pakistan, most public schools are in dire need of investment, for the most basic of infrastructures, such as toilets, libraries and even laboratories. Then, there is the issue of out-of-school children. Pakistan’s student dropout percentage is 40 per cent, at the primary level, one of the worst in the world. In contrast, madrassas provide free-of-cost education and with it, boarding, food and other facilities. But their students are ill-prepared for the job market.
Those in power forget that a single curriculum has existed in the country since the 1970s, at least on paper, and the current one is very similar and nothing more to that drafted in 2006 at the national level. To align all these in accordance with the 21st-century requirements you need resources. The government education expenditure as a percentage of GDP is nearly 2 per cent in Pakistan. On the UNDP human development index (HDI) we rank at 152, whereas the top ten countries on the HDI, from Norway to the Netherlands have some of the best education systems in the world. A Uniform education system should mean that across the country all children – irrespective of their economic and social background – get uniform opportunities for quality education. Do provide in all schools: bathrooms that are functioning, clean drinking water, computer labs, decent seating arrangements and furniture, an environment that is enabling and pleasant, electricity and fans, grounds to play, and high quality of internet service. Do make them part of a uniform education system. Then make sure that in your supposedly uniform education system the methods of learning, teaching, and assessment are aligned with the 21-century practices and requirements. 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.
Take priority number one, with 22.8 million out of school children, according to Unicef data. Imagine the number of resources needed to provide schooling to all 23 million out of school children. Textbooks provided by the state are of abysmal quality, both in content as well as in presentation. Pakistani textbook boards have repeatedly proved unable to provide good-quality learning material. A comparison between the books used in public schools with those used in elite private schools easily shows the difference in quality. Heavy investment in high-quality teachers and textbooks is an essential requirement for improving educational quality. Pakistan has the youngest population in South Asia almost 64% are below 30. Yet we are the worst performers in terms of technical and vocational education and training. Unfortunately, SNC stays silent on initiating school vocational training programmes to ensure practical skills training at the school level.
Under the PM’s vision, the SNC is designed to bring all children on a level playing field while overcoming gaps. The Single National Curriculum (SNC) is an outcome of the promise of Naya Pakistan. A Pakistan free of educational apartheid, where education is aligned to the emerging international trends in teaching, learning and assessments, which develops analytical skills, critical thinking and creativity in students, and which moves away from rote memorisation. As the prime minister himself admits, the best quality comes out of the English-medium private schools, which follow some foreign educational schemes, either the British O and A levels or the International Baccalaureate. Instead, the government chose the public school curriculum devised in 2006. In short, the best of the three standards has not been adopted.
After 74 years of independence, around half of our population cannot even read or write with ease, and our education system has a lot to do with it. Of course, neither was accompanied by implementation plans or financial outlays. A government that’s serious about levelling the playing field for all Pakistani children should not go for cheap shots like a single national curriculum. Instead, it must develop what every modern education system needs: school infrastructure, a proper student assessment and examination system, trained teachers who can teach the designed syllabus, and good textbooks. Pakistan is severely deficient in all these areas. One Nation One Curriculum is a great but hollow slogan, as it’s not single nor National.