Over fears of growing religious intolerance, journalists and civil society activists in Lahore have joined a growing chorus of national condemnation of the recently introduced Single National Curriculum (SNC) in the country.
SNC, a uniform education system, was last year implemented in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision to end the decades-old educational apartheid among different streams of education in the country. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) cites “one nation, one syllabus” among its top achievements of 2021.
However, the same has been criticised for the overtly Islamic content in compulsory subjects. Educationists fear that PM Imran’s inclination toward madrassas (schools for Islamic instruction) might lead to the loss of students’ ability to think and reason independently from the dictates of Islamic thought.
About 20 participants, including media persons, activists and educationists, attended Monday’s consultation titled “What will SNC Change In Education System and Society At Large?” organised by the Center for Social Justice CSJ and South Asian Columnist Council at Lawrence Gardens’ Cosmopolitan Club.
The speakers called for a redirection of the new curriculum citing its uncertain future.
“We are all being affected. Failing to deliver, the State has resorted to making laws as per public wishes. The government had to roll back the new textbooks at least four times. There is a conflict among provinces over the implementation of SNC,” said Daily City Press Editor Zameer Afaqi.
CSJ Director Peter Jacob condemned harmonising the syllabus.
“The author’s school of thought continues prevailing in the textbooks thus embedding them with extremist elements. Names of the authors were changed. Draft textbooks were shared without the approval of the federal government or textbook boards. Even minutes of SNC council meetings were not circulated among the participants,” he said.
“Most of the education policies have failed in achieving their targets but our political leadership refuses to listen. The ideology of a national curriculum resists academic freedom.”
Last month, Sindh Education Minister Syed Sardar Shah had said there was no room for SNC in the country. Using its constitutional right in accordance with the 18th Amendment, the provincial government also categorically rejected the National Education Policy last year.
Despite their acceptance, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan are yet to adopt SNC that is already being implemented across Punjab.
The Federal Ministry for Education and Professional Training has already completed the first phase of the SNC for grades one to five. The National Curriculum Council is now seeking recommendations from civil society to revise the Education Policy Framework 2018 while preparing the second phase of SNC for grades six to eight, to be launched this year.
According to teachers’ trainer and education expert Dr Rashid Mehmood, a national curriculum is being implemented only in four countries across the globe, namely, South Korea, Hong Kong, Finland and Japan.
“None of the superpowers have adopted this strategy. For four decades, textbooks have been affected by Saudi manipulation. SNC council calls for training of 40 percent teachers but government teachers have resisted it. It affects the learning outcome of students who are burdened with more books,” he said.
According to Dr. Qais Aslam, a distinguished professor, and economist, SNC is not compatible with the modern world.
“It will impede productivity, citizenship behavior as well as communication and analytical skills. The textbook authors must translate world technologies to pave a way forward. The state must increase teacher salaries and link students with industries,” he said.
Human rights organisations have published several studies on hate material in the curriculum and an overemphasis on Islamic instructions in the education system, often with a bias against non-Muslims. Article 22 (1) of the Constitution prohibits the teaching of religion to students other than their own.
Former chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar had created a one-man commission with Dr Shoaib Suddle as its member in 2019 to push the federal and provincial ministries and departments to implement the Supreme Court’s 2014 landmark judgement on religious minorities. A key recommendation was to reform the curriculum.
It is also worth mentioning that over 20 million children, aged five to 16 years, are presently out of school in Pakistan where the World Bank says learning poverty stands at 74.5 percent.