Tuesday May 21, 2024

Equality of opportunity

By Ali Rafi
August 29, 2020

The late American president, John F Kennedy, once claimed that while all of us do not have equal talent – all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our individual talents.

The Single National Curriculum (SNC) debate appears to have polarised critics on the ability of the state to foster cohesion through a standardisation of the education curriculum, but a closer inspection into the process by which the SNC has been built does away with these apprehensions.

It is beyond debate that the current education system is failing the country and its students. There is a large gap between the learning outcomes for students in seminaries, public schools and private schools across Pakistan. This, undoubtedly, fosters further gaps in the attainment of further education, career opportunities and, ultimately, wealth.

A SNC is perhaps the most ambitious plan introduced by the current government, and it should be lauded for its far-sighted positive implications. The possibility of having standardised education outcomes promises something to students that has long been missing – an equality of opportunity.

It is important to understand that the SNC is not a single syllabus to be blindly enforced on every school and student across the country. It is a collection of learning outcomes which focuses more on what is taught than only on how it is taught. This is critical due to the disparity in school capacities and learning environments across Pakistan. It will allow local schools to cater to their students based on context, capacity and ability of resources.

The SNC charts a way to ensure that standardised learning outcomes are ensured between a seminary in Karachi and a private school in Peshawar. This would be a landmark achievement resulting in long-lasting structural socio-economic change and would contribute greatly towards nation-building.

There is a debate on the nuances of how certain subjects are going to be taught in schools and whether the teaching of religion can possibly be standardised between a private school and a seminary. However, this debate misses the crucial aspect of learning-outcomes-based policy planning as the SNC does not relate to standardising individual lessons or the way that a subject is taught but rather focuses broadly on learning outcomes.

There is also further good news in the development of standardised textbooks. This will ensure that students across the country have the same material tools to attain the same outcome. There will, undoubtedly, be disparity in how well the same textbook is taught across the country, but this is a gap that can be bridged over time. The SNC is the first major step in ensuring that students are not held back by a lack of resources or the locality in which they are born and raised.

As per the government’s claims, the SNC has been developed in consultation with hundreds of experts including local teachers, religious scholars and international professionals. The ability of the government to reach consensus amongst such a vast range of scholars and experts is monumental and unprecedented on its own.

It must, however, be understood that the SNC is a process that will only be implemented gradually over time and it must be dealt with patience from critics and policymakers alike. Changing the very fabric of the national education system cannot be done overnight. This process will have setbacks and its implementation will be challenging.

As with any matter requiring broad consensus, criticism will continue to exist from various quarters. Much of this criticism can also be used to strengthen the SNC and it can only be hoped the government will be able to continue building consensus in a way that it has done so far.

For too long, Pakistan’s education system has failed disenfranchised students from low-income backgrounds. The disparity in learning outcomes and curriculum is only one, but a major, instrument of this gap. The unequal attention to students has perpetuated a system of inequality that creates generational wealth gaps and restricts career mobility.

As the government embarks on this journey to standardise the learning experience of students across the country, this process must be wholeheartedly appreciated and patience should be exercised to allow the space for its rightful implementation.

The writer is a development professional