Equity, education and SNC

Bringing madrassahs and government schools to a par with the elite private schools of the country will take more than a unified curriculum

Equity, education and SNC

The debate is again raging on Single National Curriculum (SNC). Unfortunately the claims and arguments of those defending the SNC religiously and those criticizing it appear to be falling mostly on deaf ears.

A quick Google search will reveal that it is hard to come across an article so far that evaluates the SNC in its entirety. From educationists to linguists and other stakeholders, many people have scrutinised various aspects of the SNC and highlighted some of the flaws. Many have found its stated objectives unrealistic.

With textbooks for Grade 1 to 5 published, the social media timelines are flooded afresh with the snapshots of book covers and lessons, along with comments that are at variance with the nature of its content.

Let’s step aside and give the benefit of doubt to all those responsible for the formulation and design of the SNC, and take it for a bid to address the longstanding issue of inequality in education. The question arises: is a single curriculum alone enough to pave the long path towards the much needed equity in education? The answer is no.

Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s scholarship, acknowledgment of cultural diversity and equal distribution of resources, known as recognitive and redistributive justice, are indispensable for closing the gap in education in Pakistan.

Looking exclusively into what is being taught cannot provide a comprehensive solution to the disparity. How they are taught, too, an essential question.

Embracing diverse cultures and indigenous languages and realigning them with the educational policies is the recognitive justice that Fraser considers intrinsic to genuine effort to bring about equity in education.

The launch of an SNC was an opportunity to make local languages part of the language-in-education policies by introducing them as medium of instruction or as additional compulsory subjects. This is neither a new idea, nor too much to ask for. In 1953, the UNESCO had stated that a child’s home language is unquestionably the best medium for teaching.

The apparently benign neglect in passing over the indigenous languages is no different than overt exclusion. Either way the ultimate outcome will be language endangerment and speech communities losing cultural vitality.

That being the case, most of the target population, whose cultural knowledge and languages are not aligned or linked with the curriculum will find the SNC yet another political gimmick.

By realigning the structures of distribution and recognition, the redistribution of the resources to the under-resourced and the proper representation of the under-represented communities are the only promising steps towards equity in education. 

Anchoring on the redistributive dimension of Fraser’s justice, prior to designing a curriculum, a more reasonable thing to do would have been the assessment of the distribution and availability of resources across schools.

What intended change can a single curriculum possibly bring to one-room schools that lack basic necessities and are assigned no more than a teacher or two to teach every subject? In 2018, the number of students per teacher in primary education was 44.08, which is almost twice the world average (Source: UNESCO).

To shift the burden of liberating education of disparities through a curriculum to the shoulders of the existing unequipped teachers is a mockery of equity.

According to UNICEF’s Pakistan Education Statistics (2016-17), 54 percent of children in Balochistan, 31 percent in the tribal districts and 30 percent in Gilgit-Baltistan are out of school in primary education. Looking at the percentage of-out-of school children, efforts to ensure students’ attendance should precede the matter of what is to be taught in the classrooms, because without addressing the factors that contribute to the number of school dropouts and absenteeism, even a perfect curriculum is useless.

‘One nation, one curriculum’ being the keel, the SNC is showcased as a panacea to inequity in education. It is pertinent to mention that the gap is too big to be bridged by a curriculum. Bringing madrassahs and government schools to a par with the elite private schools in the country will take more than a unified curriculum.

Realigning the structures of distribution and recognition through a redistribution of resources to the under-resourced and the proper representation of the under-represented communities are the only promising way towards equity in education.

The journey towards equality in education is a long one. It is important to take the first steps in the right direction.

The writer teaches linguistics at Balochistan University of    Information Technology,  Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS)

Equity, education and SNC