The first phase of the Single National Curriculum (SNC) for grades Pre-1 (Kindergarten) to grade 5 has been officially activated by Prime Minister Imran Khan amidst an ongoing debate about the nature and scope of the curriculum.
For students from minority faiths, the government says it has developed a separate curriculum with the title Religious Education. Five major religions are represented, with individual curriculum for each including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i and Kalash.
According to the government, certain key considerations have been outlined for the development of the SNC. These include:
- Teachings of the Holy Quran and Seerat-e-Nabwi.
- Pakistan’s constitutional framework.
- National policies with their aspirations and standards.
- Alignment with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal’s vision.
- A focus on values.
- Respect for diversity in cultures and religions.
- Development of 21st-century skills including analytical, critical, and creative thinking.
The government has claimed that multiple comparative studies were conducted to align an SNC draft with international standards. These standards were taken from curricula followed in Singapore, United Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia.
It stated that a consultative process was held with stakeholders from the public sector, private sector, madrassas, and the cantonment and Garrison boards across Pakistan. Provincial and area workshops were subsequently held in all federating units, it said, adding that a national conference was held in Islamabad where a consensus on the final draft of the curriculum was secured.
The SNC, a dream project of PM Khan, is being released in three phases:
- In Phase-I, the curriculum for grades Pre-1 to 5 (the academic year 2021-22) will be implemented.
- In Phase-II, the curriculum for grades 6 to 8 (the academic year 2022-23) will be implemented.
- In Phase-III, the curriculum for grades 9 to 12 (the academic year 2023-24) will be implemented.
- Under the SNC, English will be taught as a language with a focus on skills.
- In Islamiat, new themes of “Muamilaat” (social matters) and “Islam aur daur e hazir ke taqazay” (Islam and requirements of the modern world) have been added.
- The practical aspects of the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have a special focus in the SNC, particularly in terms of how they apply to the lives of the younger generation. The aspects include taking care of the planet, water conservation, rights of the elderly, citizenship, respect for religious and cultural diversity, and values of honesty and hard work.
- Social Studies has been developed to ‘encourage patriotism, global citizenship, human rights, and peace’.
CONCERNS OVER SNC
The government has claimed that the SNC is designed to bring all children on a level playing field while overcoming gaps in the currently followed National Curriculum 2006.
However, critics of the SNC argue that the curriculum is excessively religiously inclined, and have argued that a move such as this could potentially sabotage scientific thinking and impose rote learning and memorisation in schools.
Others have dismissed the SNC as overly ambitious and have raised concerns over the challenge schools might face at the time of implementation. Additionally, questions related to 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.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent critic of the curriculum, states that the SNC massively prioritises ideology over education quality and acquisition of basic skills.
He said the push for a uniform national curriculum idea is based on three flawed assumptions: First, the false assumption that quality differences between Pakistan’s various education streams stem from pursuing different curricula.
Second, the false belief that a hefty dose of piety will somehow equalise students of the upper and lower end institutions.
Third, the false assumption that school systems belonging to the modern world can be brought onto the same page as madrassahs.
He argues that Pakistan’s greatest need and its single greatest failure has been the failure to impart essential life skills to its citizens and thus, the priority should be to educate rather than score political points. Additionally, he states that the kind of mixed-up, confused and ignorant generations PTI’s curriculum changes will produce in times ahead is absolutely terrifying.
Others argue that the education ministry failed to recognise the discriminatory actions in the curriculum in line with t Article 22 (I) of the constitution, arguing that such plans will result in singling out minority students in front of other students and promote a sense of otherness.
Further, another criticism stems from the fact that the SNC sets a bad precedent in terms of recentralising, on a de-facto basis, what is otherwise a provincial subject after the 18th Amendment of the constitution, arguing that this move contributes to the shrinking provincial policy space, and space for democracy and fundamental rights.
Proponents of the curriculum say that most of the criticism of the SNC has come from a modernist backlash based on a misperceived notion of Islamisation. They admit that even though there’s a heavier content of Islamiat in the curriculum, it is a move away from passive learning to activity-based learning so that children do not merely memorize but understand and relate their learning from Islamiat to their daily life.