Single national curriculum: All hat and no cattle

Single national curriculum: All hat and no cattle

Dr. Hassnain Javed

AUGUST 26, 2020

The Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood’s statement, “we have attempted to define a curriculum which is outcome based, to create a more fair system” appears vapid when juxtaposed against A.H Nayyar’s assertion that Single National Curriculum (SNC) confirms that educational policy makers continue to have a skewed belief in what constitutes quality education.

PTI’s Naya Pakistan promised an end of education apartheid by bringing a uniform curriculum in the country. After 18 months of tiring consultative process what it achieves left most educationists disgruntled.

The SNC that has been approved so far presents curriculum for grades I-V but its flaws are already becoming apparent. The biggest concern so far has been around government’s move to bring the madrasa to public and private schools. The manner in which religious studies are made part of SNC, it reminds of 1980s controversial imported American Curriculum of Talibanisation.

Post 9/11 scenario brought Madrassas under criticism as the main sources of fundamentalism and militancy in Pakistan. Generally, they propagated a myopic and militant version of Islam.

Under International pressure, efforts were made to bring all madrassas into the mainstream of Pakistani society with mandatory registration and course offerings in english, mathematics, science and business studies. Students who completed these courses were given certificates equivalent to public school after ten years of education. The move was initiated to blunt the potential temptation to militancy and provide future employment opportunities.

In 2017 PTI’s provincial government in Khyber Pashtunkhwa gifted a huge grant of $2.7 millions in public funds to Akora Khattak madrassa of a man who proclaimed himself as “the father of Taliban”. The decision was criticised widely as an act of supporting extremist elements and dishonoring the martyrs of December 2014, militant attack in APS Peshawar.

Most of the educationists fear that PM Imran Khan’s inclination toward madrasas might lead this country into an era of the dark ages. The greater dose of religious education offered in SNC would be a death kneel of critical thinking and reasoning in schools. According to the arrangement worked out in the SNC, the madrasa teachers will get jobs in schools which would give them huge influence over young minds.

These fears aren’t baseless, in recent years multiple incidents have been reported involving violence against teachers and students with moderate and progressive views. Lynching of Mashal Khan and muder of a professor in Bahawalpur for merely organising a farewell party speaks volumes that our syllabus and narrative need to change. We need teachers in schools that do not propagate hatred and contaminate mind of our children.

It is problematic how naive madrasa teachers portray Islam as opposing science and reasons. They spread their faulty understandings of religion to confuse students. Few months back, Maulana Imran Attari on Madni TV told his young students that the Earth is stationary while the student argued that their Geography syllabus told them otherwise. It is expected that similar type of confusions would arise if we put future of our youth in such hands.

Moreover public/private schools provide employment opportunities for females. It is still unclear how they would react to SNC latest decision, would they feel comfortable teaching liberal subjects? How would school administration strike a balance between opposing viewpoints of modern versus religious ideas.

Paulo Freire in his book,” Pedagogy of the Oppressed” states that the tragic dilemma of the oppressed which their education must take into account is presence of duality, they internalise the consciousness of the oppressor. This is exactly what we witness in this SNC, under an illusion to reform madrasa, in reality we are turning schools into seminaries.

Pakistan has the youngest population in the South Asia almost 64% are below 30. Yet we are worst performers in terms of technical and vocational education and training

What history taught us over time is that our best hope for bringing a new wave of progres lies only if we invest in the future of our youth and make them responsible for the success of our economy. A Chinese proverb says,

“if you plan for a year, plant corn. If you plan for a decade, plant a tree. But if you plan for a life, train people.

Pakistan has the youngest population in the South Asia almost 64% are below 30. Yet we are worst performers in terms of technical and vocational education and training. Unfortunately, SNC doesnot focus on providing an effective development and implementation strategy to harness its young potential. It stays silent on initiating a school vocational training programmes to ensure practical skills training at school level.

We talk to make CPEC a success but we can only reap its maximum benefits if we connect the world of learning with work and equip our youth with requirements of the digital age and instill capabilities required to do them. Such initiatives will increase the earning capacity, decrease unemployment and contribute to poverty reduction.

In the end I would appreciate an honest assertion of Dr Maryam Chughtai that in a parliamentary system one cannot neglect the demand of all political parties to teach Nazrah Quran to Muslim students. She acknowledged that as a policy maker, her personal take on issues take a backseat when constitutional restraints and majoritarian democracy takes over. But I consider it an intellectual corruption when scholars of her stature can’t ratiocinate the consequences of their decision. Sadly, an elite class of Harvard alumni i.e Shafqat Mehmood and Maryam Chughtai have turned a Nelson’s eye to the festering issue of Education in Pakistan.

The author is Special Advisor (Pakistan Institute of Management, Lahore operated under Federal Ministry of Industries and Production, Islamabad) and Foreign Research Associate (Centre of Excellence, China Pakistan Economic Corridor, Islamabad)