Contrasting conceptions

January 21, 2021

Last year saw the beginnings of the initial development phases of the Single National Curriculum in Pakistan, which embodies the transformation of education that Imran Khan envisioned in the...

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Last year saw the beginnings of the initial development phases of the Single National Curriculum (SNC) in Pakistan, which embodies the transformation of education that Imran Khan envisioned in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) manifesto prior to his election to the prime ministership.

The three phases of the SNC development will not be completed until at least 2023, with the first phase concerned with the creation of the SNC and its textbooks for grades Pre I-V. On 5th January, it was announced that the first phase will be implemented in Punjab throughout the entire province starting in the academic year 2021-2.

As stated by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MOFEPT) on its website, the objectives of the SNC include ensuring equal opportunity to high quality education, the “alleviation of disparities in education” and the development of children in line with “emerging international trends and local aspirations”.

The implementation of an SNC seems a positive development if applied equally across the country. For proponents, the SNC does have several major strengths.

Firstly, given that the policy will apply to madrassas as well as public and private schools, the SNC has the potential to reduce the number of students unprepared for the job market as a result of the outdated pedagogical methods of some madrassas. The MOFEPT explicitly states that a key consideration of the SNC is to “move away from rote memorisation”.

The lack of employment opportunities for students undertaking such outdated studies has in turn fostered youth disillusionment due to the feeling of having no future, and disillusionment is inevitably the bedfellow of extremism.

Secondly, the SNC in theory appears to modernise Pakistani education without attempting to westernise its students. Divisions between the people of Pakistan and its government often revolve around the extent to which policies compromise the identity of Pakistan by being too sympathetic to the West, especially the US.

The SNC has the capacity to maintain the quintessential foundations of Pakistan through its consideration of the visions of Pakistan’s founding father, Jinnah, and its spiritual father, Iqbal. To teach the youth of Pakistan about Jinnah’s vision, in particular, could be positively construed as a result of the tolerance that defined his speeches prior to the independence of Pakistan — the tolerance which consequently fell by the wayside under certain leaders in Pakistan’s history.

Thus, the modernisation of education, as envisioned in the SNC, does not have to mean the abandonment of Pakistani thought. It just means the amalgamation of that thought with more progressive methods and subjects of study.

Conversely, opponents of the SNC could be concerned with the extent to which it conforms to the madrassas rather than bringing madrassas in line with progressive education. The list of key considerations of the SNC is topped by the “teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah,” whereas the considerations of critical and analytical thinking fall towards the bottom of the list. Despite the importance of religious education, it might be argued that, in order for Pakistan to compete internationally, other subjects should take a more central position.

Furthermore, Islamiat, the academic study of Islam, will become a separate subject to be taught from Grade 1 till Grade 12. Those students who belong to a minority religion will not join their Muslim counterparts in studying Islamiat but will be taught Religious Education instead. Proponents suggest that this represents respect and tolerance of Pakistan’s religious minorities and a protection of their identity.

However, if the SNC is truly intended to improve tolerance towards other religions, the most effective way to do this is to bring students of different religions together, educating them on their own religion as well as those of others. For young Pakistanis to be formally educated on other religions will prepare them well for dealing with diversity on the international stage. Thus, the separation of students based on their religious affiliation could be more harmful than productive.

To reform Pakistan’s education system is a momentous task and the context surrounding it is incredibly complex. Educational reforms certainly cannot be sweeping to the extent that it mirrors the national curricula of other countries because school boards, whether of the madrassas, public or private schools, would object. There are many people to please with heavily contrasting conceptions of what a good education would entail.

What the SNC will look like in reality is unclear. But what is clear is that the SNC has to strike that sweet spot of factors, such that Pakistan’s education system continues to represent its own culture and religious identity, while encouraging tolerance and analytical skills to prepare its youth to compete internationally.

The writer is currently working as a researcher and analyst. She will soon be undertaking a PhD. She tweets MaryFloraHunter

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