Friday September 17, 2021

Implementing the SNC

February 22, 2021

It appears that the government is bent upon throwing the education sector of this country into a mire of uncertainty. As if the controversy involving the introduction of a so-called Single National Curriculum (SNC) was not enough, now the availability of textbooks has become a major concern for children and parents alike. According to news reports, millions of children may not receive their textbooks in time when they get into the next level of their schooling. In a surprise move, the government of Punjab has prohibited private publishers from printing books and supplementary material under its new curriculum policy. The Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) has introduced a new No-objection Certificate (NOC) criterion for hundreds of private publishers who have been involved in printing and publishing learning and teaching materials for the schools of Punjab.

This is a major stumbling block in the smooth running of the system in the province. Printers and publishers of educational material are now required to not only pay heavy fees but also arrange for 7.5 percent royalty. This sector which is already under pressure due to the closure of schools in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, has been protesting against the PCTB. The board has cancelled old NOCs and now thousands of employees find themselves under the strain of losing their jobs. First, the SNC itself was not a welcome move as it was not under the purview of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, ten years after the 18th Amendment transferred education at all levels to the provinces. Then the government clarified that the SNC simply set some minimum standards, and now this condition of new NOCs in Punjab. To top it all, the government of Punjab is trying to enforce the SNC by imposing the 30 ‘model books’ as the syllabus to be used in all schools and whoever prints these books has to pay the royalty to the Board. In addition, a new fee of Rs450, 000 has been imposed on publishers who want to print just one book. All this will result in much higher prices for the books. There are hundreds of private publishers who print thousands of books and supplementary material in an academic year.

Many educationists have complained and written about the SNC and its inappropriate implementation but both the federal and the Punjab governments appear to be in no mood to take any advice. The PCTB seems to be in a great hurry to oblige the federal government by going headlong in the implementation of the SNC without considering the pitfalls in its way. The board can at best be considered a regulator but now it is trying to play the role of a competitor against private publishers and printers. The imposition of new NOCs is a step in the wrong direction and curbs the private sector in provision of printing and publishing facilities. Competition laws do not allow for such monopoly by the Board. When the new academic year is not that far, generating new obstacles is not a good idea by any standards. The use of additional books and supplementary material for education is a fundamental right of a free and open society, and this right must be respected.