Pakistan Reader# 205, 16 September 2021
The PTI government has been keen on the concept of a uniform education system in Pakistan to eliminate educational apartheid in Pakistan, however, whether the measure will be able to achieve the target is questionable
The Single National Curriculum (SNC) was introduced by the PTI government introduced in 2019-2020, since then there has been an ongoing debate about the nature and scope of the curriculum. According to the government’s vision, the SNC is designed to bring all children on a level playing field while overcoming gaps in the currently followed National Curriculum 2006. The SNC was conceived as a ‘One System of Education for All,’ intended to introduce a uniform system “in terms of curriculum, medium of instruction and a common platform of assessment so that all children have a fair and equal opportunity to receive high quality education.” The curriculum is aimed at alleviating “disparities in education content across the multiple streams” and offer “equal opportunities” to all children to “receive higher education” and enable them “for upward social mobility.”
Although the measure is one of the most revolutionary steps taken in the education sector since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s nationalisation of schools and colleges in 1972, the effectiveness of the SNC has been a debate since its inception. The federal government believes that the implementation of the SNC will help establish all-inclusive participatory approach for updating the blueprint for children’s education, and envisions reforms in teaching and assessment practices to support the implementation of an updated, standardized, student-centred and outcomes-based SNC. Conversely, critics of the SNC state that the curriculum is excessively religiously inclined, arguing that a move could potentially sabotage scientific thinking and impose rote learning and memorisation in schools. Additionally, they have criticised the SNC over the challenge schools might face at the time of implementation, the language of instruction, the redesigning of textbooks, potential problems that public schools could face related to the teaching methods and be at par with private schools, and implementational autonomy for private schools are some issues that have been brought out.
A move to eliminate educational apartheid?
The main reason for the implementation of a uniform curriculum in Pakistan has been to end the educational apartheid. Pakistan's education system is split along three broad lines: a small portion of expensive private schools that prepare students for foreign examinations; low-to-middle end public or private schools that follow the federal or provincial curriculum; and madressah education, which seek to produce the clergy. It is in this context that the SNC has been brought in. However, although the government seems optimistic about the SNC addressing the issues, others have raised concerns on the same. Zahid Hussain in an opinion in Dawn argues that although educational apartheid must be eliminated, the problem can only be solved by reforming the education system. He argues that the problems in the education sector cannot be resolved by a retrogressive curriculum. Further, he states that the educational apartheid is perpetuated by the low quality of education in the state institutions.
Another criticism stems from the concern that the government is not addressing the real criticism directed against the SNC, which is that its content is restricted by the same intolerance that put Pakistan with the essential needs of a modern world. Further, critics argue that the SNC may produce fiery moralists and theologians, both traditionalist and postmodernist, warning that the SNC will not be able to produce scientists or economists of any merit or practical use.
Thus, the larger question lies in the fact that Pakistan’s education sector is ridden with issues because of which the PTI-government is trying to put a band-aid on the same in the name of the SNC. There a genuine concern about the quality of education is the foremost challenge for Pakistani education policy planners. Trying to eliminate educational apartheid in Pakistan would not be possible only with the implementation of the SNC, the measure, however, could be a starting point to reforming the education section if concerns are addressed.
“The Single National Curriculum debate in Pakistan,” Pakistan Reader, 23 June 2021
Zahid Hussain, “A great leap backward,” Dawn, 15 September 2021
“Curriculum debate,” Dawn, 9 August 2021
Dr A.H. Nayyar, “Dissecting the Single National Curriculum,” Dawn, 9 August 2020
Nadeem F. Paracha, “Smokers’corner: Single National Step Backwards,” Dawn, 29 August 2021
Kashif Abbasi, “Single National Curriculum launched,” Dawn, 17 August 2021
Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Cost of enforced modesty,” Dawn, 19 June 2021
“Who is upset with Islamic content of Single National Curriculum?,” The News International, 9 August 2020
“The SNC as ‘the way forward’,” The News International, 15 October 2020