Is Single National Curriculum the antidote to Pakistan’s education crisis?

By Nawal Khurram

The incumbent government is in full swing to introduce its long-promised Single National Curriculum plan. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s manifesto during the 2018 elections quoted an ambitious plan to eliminate class-based education
apartheid—that has left the nation deeply polarized—through a series of reforms which included the introduction of a uniform national curriculum.

After the inception of Pakistan, the elite of the country readily adopted the colonial education system. They have since used education and the English language as political instruments to perpetuate the legacy of their colonial masters of subjugating and ostracizing the poor. The rest have been left at the mercy of the state which in the seventy-four years could not be bothered to ensure the provision of this basic human right. Consequently, Pakistan today has a 22.8 million out of school population—the second largest in the world.

Pakistan’s current education system lacks on all fronts, from effective teaching pedagogy to the facilitation of proper resources that are conducive to learning. And the Single National Curriculum fails to address these core issues. Pakistani
educators have a dictatorial approach to teaching instead of one that encourages questioning the established rhetoric and promotes critical thinking. One that sparks curiosity, challenges young minds and forces students to step out of their
comfort zones to explore and discover things on their own. Our teachers, on the other hand, unload the contents of the textbooks verbatim in the classroom and turn their cheek from any question or discussion that deviates from what’s quoted in the textbook. Pedagogy is a crucial skill like any other in the world that could only be acquired through effective teacher training and a strong passion for it.

In Pakistan, however, most teachers, I want to stress here that not all, are not passionate educators. As far as the teacher training programs or institutions are concerned, there are scarcely any resources and this makes a perfect recipe for
disaster. Moreover, teacher absenteeism is another factor that contributes to the crisis. Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan have the highest rates of teacher absenteeism. This doesn’t come as a surprise as both of these regions are highly
neglected in all policy and governmental levels. Moreover, the disparity in resources available to children in private schools and madrasas is appalling, and this difference cannot be rectified through a uniform curriculum alone. It is surely laudable that the students would have access to the same quality content, but there’s no way to ensure that it is imparted in the same way across the country which is where pedagogy again comes into play. The purpose of SNC essentially is to restore equity. Equity means providing people resources depending on where they are in life. While an elite college in Lahore built during the British-Raj for the children of the ruling chiefs of Punjab continues to strictly serve only the elites of the city, offering facilities like horse riding and swimming, there’s a one-room Madrasa in Peshawar where students barely have
rugs to sit on during the biting cold of winter. Children from these two starkly different worlds are given the same curriculum and expected to produce the same results. This is purported as establishing equity and providing a level playing field.

Our society’s unhealthy obsession with the English language has resulted in students battling with an alien language all their academic lives which leaves no room for creativity and critical thinking. The SNC framework published by MOFEPT highlights that Urdu would be used as the medium of instruction. The board members claim that this would not only make students’ lives easier but bring the country together as well. This reflects how far removed they are from the ground realities of the country. Pakistan is home to seventy-four diverse languages and students often speak Urdu as their second or third language. This shift to Urdu is an attempt to quash the linguistic diversity of the country.

Although the curriculum plans to promote regional languages through Urdu, the incongruous placement of this clause seems like a lazy attempt to escape criticism. Further to our disappointment, the Federal Board recognized only four
regional languages: Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, and Punjabi. One fails to understand how our students would make sense of this seemingly chaotic education policy. This probably could have been avoided if students, who would be the lab rats of this experiment, were included in the discourse.

Our education system at the moment is so lacking and egregious that anything in its replacement would count as an improvement. It is remarkable in and of itself that after seventy-four long years someone has finally decided to pay heed to this pressing issue, however, it is imperative that we do not settle for anything less than a constructive reform.

The writer is an undergraduate student at Trinity College majoring in Political Science and Human Rights Studies.

Leave a Reply