The Single National Curriculum Is More A Political Slogan Than An Educational Need

The Single National Curriculum Is More A Political Slogan Than An Educational Need
The Single National Curriculum hasn't gained nationwide acceptance given Sindh’s reservations. The provincial government differs over several subjects, including Islamic Studies, Urdu, Sindhi and Social Studies, and would not incorporate SNC in the academic year starting next month.

The federal government’s initiative to implement a standardised curriculum is ambitious. It hopes to provide fair opportunities to all students in terms of quality education and holistic development. The SNC plans to align the education system with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: equitable education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The Federal Ministry of Education has notified the draft of SNC for primary classes (Grade I-V), with the curriculum being a minimum standard to follow by all. Its critics are concerned that the curriculum is content-heavy and focuses on generalisations. But one positive is the inclusion of religious education for minorities as per their faith.

The SNC appears to be implemented in haste, perhaps owing to its scheduling in accordance with the government’s electoral timeline. The curriculum of primary classes is a pilot project and needs ample time for test run.

The centre, however, seems to be determined to impose SNC without coordinating with provinces. The Punjab government, for instance, passed Punjab Curriculum and Text Books Board (Amendment) Bill 2020 to pave the way for Muttahida Ulema Board to review textbooks.

The MUB’s jurisdiction involves review of any textbook in light of Islam. The MUB charges Rs45,000 to review books, an external committee Rs80,000 and the PCTB another Rs15,000. This has tripled the book prices.

The PCTB is actively hunting down books published without the board’s NOC. Recently, the board confiscated an Oxford University Press book featuring Malala Yousafzai as a national hero. Meanwhile, the Shoaib Suddle Commission report, urging the exclusion of Islamic material from textbooks other than Islamiyat, is currently under review in court.

There are obvious questions over the ‘one nation, one curriculum’ narrative given that education is a provincial subject. It is also worth asking whether one narrative should be implemented across the nation, and whether it might infringe upon critical thinking and academic freedom in the society.

The equal citizenship framework hasn’t been implied on the curriculum either, flouting constitutional safeguards against forced religious teachings and provincial autonomy breaches.

One also has to question if unified curricula is even the most pressing educational issue. Pakistan is still striving to reduce the number of children out of school. Similarly, according to a Centre for Social Justice report, half of the Church-run schools nationalised in 1972, still haven’t been returned to their real owners.

There is a dire need to include children from marginalised sections, ie religious minorities, those with disabilities, and girls. Following demand from rights groups, Punjab and KP governments have notified a 2% quota for minorities in educational institutions.

Let’s not forget that the Covid-19 pandemic has severely hit the education sector, with school administrations already having to shift to digital learning. The government should focus on these alternative learning models and realise that this requires funds in the higher education budget. Today, many universities lack money even for staff salaries.

Instead of addressing these pressing issues, the government is championing SNC more as a political slogan than an educational need. This is reaffirmed by the SNC seeking to unrealistically incorporate a diverging range of issues — from one education system to madrassa reform — under one action plan without taking stakeholders onboard.