Two civil society organisations have expressed concern over the loaded religious content in the new curriculum and its consequences on the worldview of students, teachers, and overall education system in Pakistan.
Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Working Group for Inclusive Education (WGIE) stated in a press statement that they had reviewed the final Single National Curriculum SNC Core Curriculum issued last week for classes 6-8. They observed that the revised curriculum does not incorporate most of the changes that were suggested to the NCC for the grades 6 to 8 for the subjects English, Urdu, Geography and History.
In Aug. 2021, the first phase of the SNC for grades Pre-1 (Kindergarten) to grade 5 was 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 director of the CSJ, Peter Jacob, the government of Punjab continues to ignore the learning losses incurred due to the pandemic and other factors.
“It is turning the schools into seminaries reducing the scope of education in science, maths and social science,” he said, adding that the government should make Articles 20, 22(1) and 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan the guiding principles for curricula preparation.
“Minority students must not be forced to study Islamiyat under any excuse, and teachers must be hired to teach minority students their own religion as an alternative to Islamiat as promised in the SNC.”
Peter was addressing Feb. 9 seminar on How the school curriculum is evolving. CSJ and WGIE highlighted the gaps in the curriculum and violations of constitution.
Researcher Zeeba Hashmi observed that neutral themes in English textbooks such as tolerance and fairness are embedded with religious ideals and Islamic principles, which result in making the students with diverse faith backgrounds feel alienated.
She noted that the curriculum for the subject of History does not acknowledge religious and cultural diversity of Pakistan, which leaves an impression that cultural, religious, and ethnic minorities are disassociated and disengaged.
According to Hashmi, the review framework for the SNC is based on four major areas — civic and citizenship values imparted from content, reflection of diversity of religions and cultures, gender representation and relevance and rationality of approach. Each subject has a set of themes that are based on the main framework but the content has attracted concerns by academia and publishers as the curriculum is problematic.
The list of concerns in the subject of English included embedding Islamic content under different themes such as tolerance and fairness. The regional consciousness about neighboring countries and identifying familiar environmental concerns, such as smog, global warming, and internal human displacements, was missing from the Geography section.
“Religious and cultural diversity is depicted in the themes/topics reserved for ancient history; however, no such diversity is mentioned in Pakistan’s context. It is important because many cultural, religious and ethnic minorities of Pakistan feel disconnected from history taught at schools. Add more examples on interfaith relationships in Pakistan’s direct context,” said Hashmi.
Dr AH Nayyar, an academic and a researcher, said, “It is extremely regrettable that the government of Punjab is bent upon reinforcing rote learning and imposing religiosity upon the students. This won’t help students explore and polish their creative learning but also create an atmosphere of inequality and discrimination in the class.”