The single national debate!

September 19, 2021

Does the SNC really free us from the chains of educational apartheid?

The only messages these textbooks seem to reinforce are those surrounding nationalism, religion and gender. — Image: Courtesy of
The only messages these textbooks seem to reinforce are those surrounding nationalism, religion and gender. — Image: Courtesy of

Let’s admit it. We always thought debating policies introduced under the PTI regime was the exclusive pastime of politically opinionated middle-aged uncles. Your pro-PTI uncle would probably tell you that the formal launch of the Single National Curriculum (SNC) was monumental for Pakistan and how August 16 should now be a day worth commemorating. The anti-PTI uncle, who you’ll probably find sitting on the opposite end of the dining table, would oppose this statement as colourfully as one can imagine.

My job, as the self-proclaimed mediator, is to settle the war of words over the SNC by one ‘simple’ statement: The fundamental problem of educational inequality that the SNC targets is one that cannot be eradicated by simply introducing a synthesised curriculum.

The curriculum aims to end disparity within Pakistan’s educational system by streamlining the syllabi taught in religious seminaries, public schools and private educational institutes. As someone who considers herself to be a fairly apolitical person, I find myself skeptical. I believe that the stated motive behind the introduction of the SNC, which is to bridge the gap in educational quality and attainment, is indeed a cause worthy of praise. Yet, does the SNC walk its lofty talk? Arguably, not. Does it put the 22.8 million out-of-school children into school? Clearly, not. Does it free us from the ‘mental slavery’ imposed through retaining colonial elements within the education system? Debatable.

The SNC claims to take into consideration all learning standards, consisting of the learning experiences children undergo at early ages. It includes textbooks, evaluation methods, teaching techniques and extra-curricular activities, and promises to be frequently up for revision. The extent to which the National Curriculum Council (NCC) has achieved these aims raises many a question.

Apparently, the publishers were asked to consult ‘model’ books in accordance with the Singapore and Cambridge curriculum, but the content of these textbooks depict otherwise. I saw photos of the SNC textbooks circulate like wildfire on social media platforms. To me, the only messages these textbooks seemed to reinforce were those surrounding nationalism, religion and gender.

I find it extremely ironic that the stakeholders that were consulted for the formulation of the SNC included everyone from religious seminaries to Cambridge University but did not include students, parents or teachers. Additionally, the unrealistic expectation for children to grasp scientific concepts such as states of matter or photosynthesis is also problematic and worsens the problem rather than solving it.

Not only is the implementation hasty and forced but also, in my view, unnecessary involvement of Islamic scholars in subjects such as chemistry and biology could have been avoided. I was baffled after coming across the first page of a model Urdu book that posed the question: “Do you know that Allah is our Creator?” Nowhere does the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan call for the religious indoctrination of 5th graders. Even the pro-PTI uncle would agree.

Adding onto the rightful claim of the SNC being a ‘national step backwards’ and proof of the fact that it has failed to unify the nation (as it intends to do so) is that private schools, including my own, have not implemented the curriculum. If the grapevine is to believe, the principal of Aitchison College — a quasi-public institution — has also expressed concerns. Are they being rebels or do the educationists that weren’t consulted acknowledge the problematic nature of the curriculum? Probably, the latter.

In response to the endless list of problems with the SNC, the optimistic pro-PTI uncle would probably ask you to wait till the ‘testing phase’ of the curriculum is over as it has ‘long-term positive effects.’ But every coin has two sides to it and the Single National Debate continues until all of us can witness it revolutionise Pakistan’s education system. Or not.

The only hope that I have lies in the fact that the SNC will be revised frequently. Maybe our aggressive political rants will pay off after all. To the wishful thinker go the spoils. (I came up with the quote. Imagine an SNC-educated child ever having the creativity to do so.)

The writer is in her last year of high-school. She aspires to be a politician

The single national debate!