The Single National Curriculum is neither single nor constitutional
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government drafted its Single National Curriculum (SNC), spending some Rs 177 million and involving about 400 academics/experts over a period of two years. But is it really a single curriculum and being implemented in its true spirit or was the effort unconstitutional and a half-baked political gimmick?
Since the adoption of the 1973 constitution, education was on the concurrent list i.e., jointly run by the federal and provincial governments, though national policies and planning including curriculum development remained with the Ministry of Education (Article 70 (4), Entry 37).
But, in 2010, the removal of the concurrent list under the 18th Amendment devolved key roles in educational policy, planning and curriculum development to the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the provinces. It is no longer the federal government’s prerogative to draft a single national curriculum until it brings another constitutional amendment.
After the constitutional amendment, the provincial assemblies passed Acts to draft frameworks to develop their own curriculums. The Education Ministry in 2017 under the PML-N government also developed and implemented a curriculum from Grade Pre-I to VIII but only for Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
Now the incumbent government has introduced a new Single National Curriculum at the primary level from this academic session to give equal opportunity to all children at public and private schools as well as of madrassahs to receive a high-quality education. In 2022, the SNC will be introduced for Class VI to VIII. In 2023, it will be introduced from Class IX to XII.
The provinces have been pushed to implement it but Sindh, the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have their own Acts. Legal experts say that the provinces cannot lawfully implement the new curriculum until provincial assemblies pass legislation to adopt it.
The provincial assemblies should have either passed new laws to implement the SNC or passed a resolution to adopt it. Instead, it was enforced through executive order that is against the constitutional spirit, says a public curriculum expert who has been involved in the development of several curricula.
The PPP-led Sindh government has rejected the SNC. Balochistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan haven’t adopted it this academic year.
The federal directions in this regard are in the nature of advice and not orders or binding, says Aslam Khaki, an advocate of the Supreme Court. He says its implementation depends upon the level of cooperation between the federation and the provinces.
He opines that there is no constitutional problem if the provincial assemblies pass laws to adopt the new curriculum. But so far, the provincial assemblies have not passed any laws in this regard. However, the SNC has been enforced in the Punjab and the KP via administrative/executive order.
Technically, the curriculum is meant only for Islamabad as curriculum development is now a provincial subject, says lawyer Salman Akram Raja. “The Punjab and the KP governments have adopted it voluntarily. It cannot be enforced. Sindh government has refused to implement it, and it cannot be forced to do so”.
The provincial governments have a right to draft their own curricula, he says, and the future governments will continue to do so.
Private schools’ bodies, too, say that the federal government has transgressed upon the constitutional domain of the provinces. They call it a futile exercise as the ministry, according to them, has reproduced an old curriculum that is not at par with the standards of private education.
Kashif Mirza, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation president, says new academic session 2021-22 that started in August is coming to an end, but the new books are not available nationwide in the market. Pre-nursery, nursery and prep curricula are also not ready yet, he adds.
In the time of Covid-19 when schools were closed and teachers lost their jobs, the government’s priority should have been to accommodate them as well as bring all the out-of-school children to schools, as required by Article 25A of the Constitution, he says. Instead, the government jumbled up things further and ruined the academic year.
Now the ministry is revising the SNC again, he says, meaning that the revised books will be reprinted and will not be available in the market when the new session starts.
“Major elite private schools, including Aitchison, started the new academic year without adopting the SNC. If the alma mater of PM Imran Khan is not following it, how can it be a single national curriculum,” he says.
The private schools have been issued notices to implement the curriculum but the books are not available, he says. “If the implementation of the SNC remains discriminatory and coercive measures are taken, the private schools will move courts for relief”.
Local publishers have also protested against the issuance of NOCs for the textbooks produced by UK publishers, which, according to them, are not aligned with the SNC and were developed several years earlier.
Calling the practice discriminatory, they say, while the local publishers were forced to reprint the books in accordance with the SNC, books produced by foreign publishers have been allowed to be taught in private schools.
Parents whose children study in private schools say the SNC has only increased confusion and financial burden for them. “Parents are being forced to buy SNC books along with the previously taught course books,” says one of the parents’ representatives, Hamid Khan. “No relief for parents as always. They have been left at the mercy of market forces.”
The principals of government schools, too, complain of delays, difficulty and irrelevance of books.
The books were delivered very late to students who have already suffered a great academic loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic, says the vice principal of Islamabad Model School for Girls in Tarnol. Complex sentences and phrases used in almost all books are difficult to understand for village students, she says, hoping that the next editions may be revised, making them easier and more enjoyable.
The principal of another primary school complains that a majority of teachers are unable to teach the new English, science and mathematics books. If the government wanted to raise the academic standards, it should have trained all the teachers first, she adds.
“These books are way beyond the mental capacity of the students. Even some of the teachers are unable to understand the new books. How will students understand them? Someone should go to the villages and see how teachers have been teaching it. You need Plato(s) to teach this new curriculum to students”.
Complex grammar terminologies at this age are totally irrelevant and difficult, says the principal of a boys’ school in Bhara Kahu. “There is very little content related to village life in the English textbooks for Grades I to V. These books are not aligned with the needs and interests of students who live in rural areas.”
The SNC is also under fire for its depiction of stereotypical gender roles and the inclusion of excessive Islamic content in books for compulsory subjects other than Islamic studies.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and some other civil society organisations working for minority rights have filed a petition in the Supreme Court for relief against the teaching of Islam-related materials in English and Urdu.
The petition says that both are compulsory subjects and all students are required to learn the content, including students from faiths other than Islam and that this is a violation of Article 22 of the constitution. However, in its response, the ministry has denied that the SNC violates Article 22.
Most religious seminaries, however, have supported the initiative despite the non-availability of books and the lack of training. Maulana Hanif Jalandhari of Wafaq-ul-Madaris says currently the books based on the new curriculum are not available in the market. Once they become available, he says, they will be taught in madrassahs. The madrassahs have already been following government text books, he says, and have no objections to the SNC too.
In the beginning, some madrassahs had asked for extra time to hire teachers for science, mathematics and English, says Mariam Chughtai, who is heading the National Curriculum Council. “But the SNC is for all schools, public, private and madrassahs alike. Implementation work on all sectors has started”.
She says the manuals for trainings have been drafted and teachers’ trainings will be started soon. “We are making gradual progress on all fronts, building capacity in the public sector and madrassahs because that is where the most amount of work is needed”.
She says that the NCC has been updating the SNC to incorporate suggestions from minorities and other stakeholders.
The SNC is a living document, she says. The government is very open to feedback, to constantly revise and update it, which is standard practice in countries with good education systems.
She is of the view that while education was devolved to the provinces, the federal government still has a coordination role. “But it’s not being enforced. Rather the stakeholders have been asked to adopt the minimum standards.” Officials from all seven federating units were involved in the formation of the SNC, but later politics caught up. Currently, Sindh is exercising its right and taking it slow.
The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad. She has been reporting on social sector issues for over 12 years. She tweets @asmaghani11