Wednesday July 06, 2022

One curriculum?

September 13, 2018

The federal government has decided on a policy to introduce one standard curriculum for the entire country. The curriculum will reportedly have core compulsory subjects that will be taught throughout the country.

According to a press release reported in this paper on September 3, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, this is being done to “ensure quality education, provide level playing field and equal opportunities to everyone”. While in theory this sounds like a utopian solution for improving the educational scenario in Pakistan, in practice this could prove to be seriously problematic. It is a general global practice to have clearly defined national standards for education and state or provincial curricula based on these, to meet the national and international standards as well as to cater to provincial requirements.

Devolution of curricula to the provincial level had been decreed under the 18th Amendment that was passed in 2010, and Pakistan had made the move from the national curriculum of 2006 to developing provincial curricula. A costly devolution exercise was undertaken across the country, and recently completed. The newly developed provincial curricula are in the process of being uploaded on the Ministry of Education provincial websites. Would it then be wise to make a move on reverting to the structure of a national curriculum?

I do agree, though, that some practical steps are required to improve the existing education system. Pakistan needs a policy that should firstly focus on reworking the existing ‘Minimum Standards on Quality Education’ and develop comprehensive National Standards on Education with a special focus on fostering 21st century teaching/learning skills. These standards should provide the guideline for the provincial curricula. This will help our students meet the national standards and perform well on both national and international assessments, standardised or otherwise.

Teachers play a crucial role in the system of education and should have proper knowledge, skills and trainings to perform optimally. The second step should be to make teacher certification or licence a requirement. Teacher certification is usually mandatory in most countries but not so in Pakistan. According to research, the benefits of teacher licensing include increased assurance and confidence of both parents and pupils in the teachers’ knowledge, attributes and professionalism.

Working as a national trainer for continuous professional learning and for the development of teachers across Pakistan, I have come to realise that investment in the capacity building of the existing pool of teachers is imperative to improve the quality of instruction being offered. As it stands at the moment, it is a rather dismal situation. According to the provincial teacher-hiring criteria, listed in the National Education Policy of Pakistan 2017, in Punjab the minimum required academic qualification for elementary teachers is BA/BSC/BS (Hons), in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it is Intermediate and in Balochistan matriculation. In addition, Punjab also requires teachers to hold a professional qualification – BEd/ MEd/MA Education. In KP and Balochistan, the requirement is for PTC/ADE diploma, Sindh requires NO Professional qualification.

This leads to a huge disparity in the quality of education being offered in each province. In order to rectify this situation we must move to have the same minimum requirements for hiring school teachers across Pakistan. Professional qualification in education as well as subject-based academic qualifications must be made mandatory for all teachers.

The third aspect that should be focused on is vocational and technical training. The announcement that the government has made in this regard, of ‘setting up skill universities working in close liaison with all the chambers of commerce and other stakeholders’, is certainly a step in the right direction. The measures that could be taken in this direction are: to develop comprehensive standards for a competency-based training and assessment system, get on board expert content writers to develop detailed courses, and explore new trades and technologies to increase women’s enrolment in these courses.

Another step could be something that works really well in Australia: the introduction of vocational training courses in high school, from grade 9 onwards. This will give the students a chance to explore skill-based career choices. However, it must be done keeping in mind that vocational trainings are a pathway to further education and also offer advancement in the career path.

An area that merits inclusion in the curriculum is ‘Life Skills Education’. It must be made mandatory so that young people can develop global citizenship skills, learn about their rights and safeguard themselves from sexual abuse and exploitation.

The policy also needs to focus on providing inclusive special education for children with special needs. Allocating special areas for these children in mainstream schools will help remove the stigma attached to them in our society and will create sensitisation and acceptance for them among their general student peers.

Only once we have a clear comprehensive national curriculum framework with clearly defined literacy and numeracy standards to guide the provincial curricula will we be able to move in the right direction to provide our children quality education in Pakistan.

The writer is an educationist currently working as the head of the Professional Development Department at the OxfordUniversity Press, Pakistan.