Saturday April 20, 2024

Curriculum questions

By Editorial Board
May 16, 2022

As politics and economy both continue to unravel at lightning speed, it is perhaps easy to forget that Pakistan needs emergency-level interventions in both education and health. The PTI regime had laid much claim on its promises of providing the people of the country affordable ‘equal’ education – Imran Khan over the years having consistently lamented the disparity between schools with ‘shalwar-kameez’ and schools with ‘trousers and shirts’ as uniforms. It seems the previous government thought that was really the only crisis facing our education system and gave us the gift of the Single National Curriculum. Rolled out last year for grades 1 to 5, the SNC continued to disturb educationists through the PTI’s time in government.

With the ouster of Imran Khan’s government, there were questions over what would happen to the contentious SNC project. Earlier this month, Federal Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal announced that the government would hold a National Curriculum Summit with the country’s top experts to have a final review of the new curriculum. While there is no doubt that there must indeed be serious efforts to look through curricula at every level in the country, this must not remain stuck at photo-ops or complacency regarding the SNC as it stands right now and the real, hard work that is necessary to ensure good quality education to all in the country. Apart from consultations with academics and experts, the new government should focus on how to lift the public schooling system. It is noteworthy that the PTI had promised a uniform system of education in its election manifesto. A uniform system of education should first of all aim at providing equitable opportunities to all children – irrespective of their capacity, caste, colour, community, and creed. Has the SNC done that? Has the SNC managed to lift education levels? Looking at reviews of some of the textbooks, it seems just the SNC exercise as is will not have made any difference in children’s schooling standards.

It is the government’s responsibility to provide it just like good public healthcare or a good public transportation system. Unfortunately, with every passing year our public education system has gone from bad to worse. Any government that is in power or may come to power after the next elections must focus on education. Pakistan is a country of very young people. What have these young people learnt in schools? How will they be competing with the rest of the world? Can a ‘single national curriculum’ alone save our country’s children from poor quality education? Such a highly prescriptive approach to education goes against the grain of a democratic society and its education system. If the SNC just set some minimum standards – as the PTI government had been claiming – there was no need to get involved in ‘model textbook’ development. It should be up to schools to maintain the minimum standards and use textbooks and supplementary material of their choice. Uniformity kills diversity – especially if propagated by textbooks, model or otherwise. The new government needs to rethink the curriculum question and must remember that ideally it ought to be left to schools to decide what kind of supplementary material and books they want to use as long as they are maintaining certain education standards. There have been reports that the Punjab government may roll back the SNC for middle classes because of the issues that were faced during the last academic year. But we have seen how some from the current opposition are using the religion card to play politics on this subject. It is unfortunate that our politicians think it is fine to play politics with the future of our children. Education is a serious matter that should be kept away from such petty politics.