The government has unveiled a Single National Curriculum (SNC) for school education in the country. 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 emphasizing 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.
The School Education Department (SED) Punjab has directed CEOs of District Education Authorities (DEAs) to ensure implementation of the Single National Curriculum (SNC) for Grade pre-1 to Grade-5 in all streams of education from the academic session beginning from August 2 in the province. It is pertinent to mention here that on the direction of the federal government, Single National Curriculum is being implemented at the primary level in the first phase across the country. The Punjab Cabinet had approved the Single National Curriculum in late 2020 for its implementation across the country from August.
One Nation One Curriculum is a great but hollow slogan, as it’s not single nor National. The slogan that eliminates educational discrimination is commendable, but what is adopted is not a uniform national curriculum or 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. On the other side, provinces are not ready to adopt and also have the right to adopt their own curriculum after the 18th Amendment. The provincial governments have full authority to implement. The provinces also have the right to education in Urdu or their mother tongue. So far, the government’s plan for a uniform national curriculum is nothing more than the fulfilment of a political or election slogan.
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 emphasizing technical and vocational education. 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.
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.
The new uniform curriculum, drafted by the PTI-led government, will be implemented in schools across Pakistan from April 2021, the uniform curriculum would be implemented from grades one to five. Unfortunately, a uniform curriculum could not be introduced in the 72-year history of Pakistan, now again it has been developed after the consultation of only favourited with only specific schools of thought. To both improve the long-neglected education sector and end this cycle of inequality, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government announced it would introduce a ‘Single National Curriculum’ (SNC) to be followed by all schools in the country, be they public, private, or religious. All Pakistan Private Schools Federation expressed serious concerns about the scope, content, and practicality of implementing the new uniform curriculum.
Unfortunately, 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.
One Nation One Curriculum is a great but hollow slogan, as it’s not single nor National. A slogan that elimination of educational discrimination is commendable, but what is adopted is not a uniform national curriculum, nor a uniform education system.
Under the federal government’s vision, the SNC is designed to bring all children on a level playing field while overcoming gaps in the currently followed National Curriculum 2006. The Single National Curriculum (SNC) is an outcome of the promise of Naya Pakistan. A Pakistan is 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 memorization. But indeed PTI curriculum is a near-perfect copy of Gen Musharraf’s 2006 curriculum.
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. The SNC confirms to us that education policymakers continue to have a skewed belief in what constitutes quality education. They believe that, even if the English language is completely alien to a five-year-old child, he must nevertheless be instructed in English.
This has never happened in 72 years of history that a uniform curriculum has been devised for students, in which Religious seminaries would also teach this curriculum to enable children studying there to join various fields. 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 to the Islamiat curriculum. In addition to the Nazra Quran, a framework for reading 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 percent, 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 by the 21st-century requirements you need resources.
The government education expenditure as a percentage of GDP is nearly 13 percent in Cuba, around 8 percent in Namibia and Botswana, over 7 percent in countries such as Belize and Bolivia; even Bhutan spends over 6 percent of its GDP on education. Among the Muslim countries, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey spend between 4-5 percent. Even some of the most developed countries that already have nearly 100 percent literacy rates such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden spend 7-8 percent of their GDP on education. Closer to home, Nepal stands at over 5 percent and India nearly at four. So where do we stand with slightly over 2 percent? 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. 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. And it is unclear if it ever will.
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. Especially when Pakistan’s largest province bans 100 textbooks for ‘blasphemous’ content. Books printed by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press are among 100 that have been banned by an education board in Pakistan for containing content deemed anti-Pakistan. Moreover, a critical review of at least 10,000 books is in process, which would increase the number of banned books a lot higher in the coming days.
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 programs to ensure practical skills training at the school level. 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 72 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.
The writer is an economist, anchor, analyst, and the President of All Pakistan Private Schools’ Federation president@Pakistanprivateschools.com