Back when I was in elementary school, a studious non-Muslim student had chosen to study Islamiyat instead of Ethics because Islamiyat students used to get higher grades compared to those studying the latter. Now that I think about it, Urdu -
a compulsory subject - had textbooks replete with religious content, and there were about five non-Muslim students in our class. The recently launched single national curriculum is no different when it comes to the Urdu textbooks. The English ones aren’t inclusive towards non-Muslim students, either.
Pakistani Muslims in the West complain about what their kids are taught in schools, so it shouldn’t be hard to understand why religious minorities might be unhappy with their children’s education. According to our constitution, we are not supposed to give instructions and lessons of a religion to someone not belonging to that religion.
The syllabi, however, are not the problem of religious minorities only. Our ethnic minorities may also have a few concerns, and they have the right to do so. Enforcing a single syllabus in a country with residents belonging to diverse ethnic, religious and political identities doesn’t seem like a good idea. Instead, as the main stakeholders, parents, teachers and intellectuals from all these groups should have active involvement and representation in the curriculum formation process. They should be able to choose the kind of education they want for their children.
I am pretty sure that the intentions behind the single curriculum were great. Invoking equality for all sounds nice, but students can have different mental processes, different cultural backgrounds and different beliefs about certain things, and they all deserve to go to school and get quality education.
In our society, differences are demonized, consciously or subconsciously. We don’t want to invoke the we vs. them mentality. Instead, we often try to focus on what’s common and what can be the basis of solidarity. This kind of thinking is flawed because it leads to ignoring diversity when it shouldn’t be. Inclusivity is traded for a shallow, pretentious unity. Different people can and have been living together and we can live fine with other people, too, given that rabble-rousers are ignored.
A single syllabus for everyone will not reduce the number of out-of-school children; it won’t end the social stratification, and it’s hard to say whether the private schools will conform or not. Content of textbooks is not all that matters; instruction methods and strategies, academic environment, and modes of evaluation also need much attention.
The representation of women only as homemakers and teachers in these textbooks is quite concerning. Is that all a woman can do in the country that has given birth to women like Benazir Bhutto - the first female prime minister in a Muslim majority country; Malala Yousafzai - the youngest Nobel prize laureate; Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy - the only Pakistani filmmaker to have won two academy awards? Like come on, it’s 2021!
The purpose of enforcing the single syllabus is to lead children in a single direction, to elicit like-mindedness in them and to inculcate traditional values in them. But everyone thinking the same way will do no one good. Technicians think differently than scientists and artists, and we need all these people for a functional and a progressive society.