There are emerging international trends in teaching, learning, and assessment, which develop analytical skills, critical thinking, and creativity in students, and move away from rote memorization. Before coming to power, the Pakistan Justice Party (aka Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf) had declared in its manifesto that there would be the same education syllabus for all the children in Naya Pakistan. They vowed to eliminate a discriminatory practice that has remained ubiquitous since the inception of Pakistan in the form of private, public, and Madrassah systems. In this direction, the new government led by PM Imran Khan with Shafqat Mehmood as his Education Minister has announced a new policy for education. That would, as per the education minister, bring an end to “educational apartheid”. But, it remains to be seen whether this brings revolution or disaster to the already unsatisfactory quality of education. The new syllabus would be introduced into three distinct phases.
At the time of the inception of Pakistan, the education ministry announced that the country needed a new curriculum, but despite that, it followed almost the same inherited from the British India that was based on ‘Wood Dispatch of 1954’. It stated that the schools are useful for the people in their different spheres of life and it emphasized the teaching of law, economics, and sciences. Whereas teaching of religions was kept private.
During the Ayub Khan regime, the commission was to formulate a new curriculum. The Commission on National Education recommended designing of curriculum that would focus on developing basic reading, writing skills, and arithmetic, besides creating a sense of patriotism. It also suggested the establishment of textbook boards to regulate the development of books.
During the Bhutto regime, the whole curriculum was changed with the addition of a new subject – Pakistan Studies. The subsequent government of the military added the flavor of Islamization in Pakistan Studies, and the education sector was overhauled completely.
Musharraf, though unsuccessfully, tried to control Madrassah according to the government’s writ and introduced non-religious subjects in Madrassahs. At that time almost all the Madrassahs were already teaching the core science subjects. The actual problem was the restrictions and recommendations designed by the government that was somehow affecting their traditional values.
Imran Khan-led government started its tenure highlighting reforms in four priority areas in education through Education Policy Framework:
- Putting all out-of-school children in schools, as it is also required under Article 25-A of the Constitution
- Introducing a uniform curriculum to end “apartheid” in education
- Emphasizing technical and vocal education
- Above all, enhancing the quality of education
Under this framework, the new Single National Curriculum has been announced.
The lately announced “Single National Curriculum” would be implemented in three phases. A Uniform curriculum for classes 1 to 5 in the first phase has been devised and would be implemented by March 2021 throughout the country.
In the second and the third phases, the curriculum for classes 6 to 8 and for classes 9 to 12 would be ready by March 2021 and March 2022 respectively. These phases would be implemented in 2022 and 2023.
Some people have the opinion that the SNC is a “floor” and not a ceiling on what children are supposed to know in a particular grade. If that is true then why a floor ‘single national curriculum?’ Why not call it a “minimum standards curriculum” which sets the standards that every child in any educational institution is supposed to meet? As per Faisal Bari, an educational expert, if some schools want to do more, so is it. The federal minister replied to a question that SNC would not be applied in international school systems (for elite people) and we have made such a brilliant curriculum that the world will follow us!
He further added that if the object is to reduce inequality, a guarantee of a minimum standard of education for all children would be more effective than an SNC. Differences in child achievement and progress are determined by a variety of different factors encompassing: ability-related factors, school environment, household income, and home environment, quality of teachers and books, assessments, and others. To put pressure on small variables to deliver a very large result seems counter-intuitive.
To end educational apartheid is a laudable goal indeed, but what has been approved and notified is a uniform curriculum, not a system of uniform education. The latter implies all facilities of education for all – rich and poor, boys and girls, rural and urban. To end apartheid, it is uniform education that ensures an end to educational apartheid.