The writer is an educationist and International baccalaureate (IB) consultant.
Anyone venturing towards the daunting and a much-needed task of creating a single and national curriculum for schools in Pakistan will surely face unprecedented obstacles, varied criticism from several quarters and a nightmarish situation of where to start, how to start, whom to involve etc. However, I feel the greatest challenge lies in the type of goals and outcomes one tries to achieve through this macro restructuring of the curriculum and how the contributions of various stakeholders need to be prioritised in the planning stages.
SNC Class prep to Class 5 is now being implemented across a majority of cities and provinces and we realise that many of the factors mentioned above were either overlooked or deliberately sidelined for political rather than academic reasons.
Today we see a government in power that is in a hurry to make and forcibly implement this very sensitive document across the country before they hit the campaign trail for the next general elections in 2023. The rush seems to be because they want to go back to the electorate and show them how they promised one curriculum for all and how they delivered it during their five-year term. What we don’t see is anyone giving a thought on the implications of this rushed process and the far-reaching consequences of some of the ideas indoctrinated through this curriculum.
Interestingly, when critics – and by this I mean academics, educationists, etc – raise questions on the SNC, they are either shot down by name calling such as ‘mafias’, or ridiculed as ignorant goons who don’t know anything. The effort sadly is not to engage with the content raised and no debate or discussion is taken seriously or in the right perspective.
Curriculum-making is a very technical exercise that should be done by experts in the field only. It has to keep a vision in mind and then work in that direction, sign posting its implementation over a period of time. It is not an overnight task by any means in terms of making and in terms of implementation. This has been the practice globally wherever a single national curriculum has been made or implemented.
We are not just unclear about the long-term vision behind the SNC, but are also confused and worried about some of the changes being forced through it. Instead of aping the small islands of success in the education sector of Pakistan, the same small droplets of hope have been attacked repeatedly by the government – spearheaded by the PM himself. ‘Elite School Mafias’, ‘English medium’ are said to be the core problem of our messed up society; ‘Foreign Culture’ is being engineered in our system through ‘Private English Medium’ schools etc. These are some of the many taunts received by a system that didn’t force its way out there, but took shape because of the missing quality education in the public sector.
The world over we have private and public school systems and instead of focusing on what private schools have done, perhaps the government should have focused more on what sadly public schools have not been able to do. This has been the foundation of the SNC which claims to erase the private school ‘mafia’ culture, content and mindset and create one single document of “quality education” for public school and madrassah students as well. Instead of learning from the quality content and best practices of private schools, the government forced its own curriculum on them and others. While the SNC shows a qualitative jump for certain primary year subjects and content, it messes up with the learning curves of the private schools.
The world is moving towards greater focus on science and technology, and latest developments are added to the science content and upgraded each year. The SNC has not only abolished Science as a subject from grade 1 to grade 3, it has clubbed it with social studies and taught under general knowledge, in Urdu and in a quiz form.
Children in grade 4 and especially those in grade 5 this year, who have been studying social studies in English from grade 1 onward, are forced to study social studies in Urdu under ‘Muashrati Uloom’ only to be taught again in English in Grade 6 and beyond. I am very eager to understand the logic behind this particular move.
Article 22 of the constitution of Pakistan clearly states that no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious education if such instruction relates to a religion other than her/his own. While non-Muslims are now being taught about their respective religions separately for the first time – and one wonders how this alone will be implemented in poorly resourced schools across smaller towns and villages of Pakistan – a lot of the content in English language, Urdu language, Social studies etc is fairly religious by nature, essence and application. No wonder a petition was filed by minority communities’ representatives against the SNC.
In this era of glaring patriarchy, misogyny, sexism and violence against women in Pakistan, SNC content and prescribed books should have bent over backwards to talk about feminism, gender equality, women’s rights explicitly or implicitly. We should have seen several women change makers and those who have been in positions of power and authority as role models. Barring a few mentioned here and there, the illustrations in SNC books largely show men in most professions and women as passive home makers or teachers.
Most English book covers from grade 1 to grade 5 show women in headscarves only. What message are we sending to our kids at large? Yes, we are a conservative society where most women cover their heads, but are other women who don’t cover not worth talking about? Must we drive a certain narrative in the minds of the young when data and statistics prove how unsafe Pakistan is for women and how badly we fare on most international benchmarks for women?
A single document alone does not make a society classless. Despite the SNC, there will be schools and parents better equipped to impart the same content in a much better and qualitative way compared to their less privileged counterparts in public schools, madrassahs or even economically challenged private schools. The same content/ topic will have a different vibe in a sound private school classroom compared to a poorly resourced classroom elsewhere. The SNC will, therefore, enhance the gulf it rightly wanted to erase. It will enhance the gap between private and public schools now that both will study the same curriculum but will be divided on the lines of school resources, qualitative teachers, equipment, technology and even results.
We are living in the 21st century and our goal should have been to uplift public-sector schools and madrassahs in terms of facilities, teacher training, resources, environment etc. Global citizenship is not an option anymore. We are in direct competition with the world and have to wonder why only our private sector kids can compete with the best in the world and how are they reporting success in international competitions, foreign admissions and even within the various sectors of the country. That should have been our vision to assimilate all of that for all.
The SNC was not the first and only starting point. What we now see is a beautiful dream destroyed by a rushed in, poorly designed and badly implemented framework. Also, the implementation of the SNC, like any other curriculum, is bound to have teething problems in terms of teachers adapting to the new content with or without training. Delayed NOCs for some books mean delayed teaching. New paradigms of assessments, subjects and content are bound to make students struggle as well. All of this will happen when the student’s learning journey is already badly impacted due to a pandemic. A rushed in SNC in its infancy, coupled with the severe repercussions of Covid-19 will surely compromise the quality of education. Was this the best time to bring in such an advance and quick academic change?
We should listen to the critics, engage with them in a healthy debate and try and come out with better solutions. Sindh should be heard on why it is not implementing the SNC, and their reasons should be made public for their perspective as well. All of this is very important because at the end of the day it is not about our PM, the PTI, politics or the opposition parties. It is only and only about the children of Pakistan.
The writer is an educationist and International baccalaureate (IB) consultant.
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