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PM’s directive on syllabi renders academics nonplussed

Updated November 03, 2014

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HEC tasked to make amendments to curriculum of compulsory subjects of schools – a job that does not fall in its purview –– File photo
HEC tasked to make amendments to curriculum of compulsory subjects of schools – a job that does not fall in its purview –– File photo

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s directions to the Higher Education Commission have created confusion among the academics, wherein he asked the HEC to make amendments to curriculum of compulsory subjects of Pakistan Studies, English and Urdu of all primary, middle and secondary schools – as well as colleges and universities.

The prime minister has given only two months to the commission to complete the job – that largely does not fall in its purview.

Many senior academics wonder as to why the prime minister has directed the HEC to amend primary, middle and secondary schools’ curriculum when it has never been within its purview. The HEC had been established for the supervision of curricula and textbooks beyond Class-XII.

The confusion not only prevails in Punjab and other provinces, the officials at the HEC, Islamabad, also admit that the task for amending school-level curricula does not fall in their jurisdiction nor do they have any expertise to perform the task. They also say, if compelled, the HEC will only be able to request provinces and relevant bodies to perform the job and submit the approved draft to the commission. “Still, the HEC will be at a loss to implement prime minister’s direction in letter and spirit with regard to “making amendments in the curriculum after due consultation and approval of the provincial governments,” said a senior official in the HEC.

After implementation of the 18th amendment, the academics say, the subject of curriculum was devolved to the provinces and the Punjab government had created Punjab Curriculum Authority, under an Act of the Punjab Assembly in 2012, to review and update curriculum from Class-I to XII.

The PCA had reviewed and upgraded curriculum following a competitive process among authors and private publishers. However, an internal tussle based on vested interests led the abolition of the PCA. The Punjab governor had promulgated an ordinance, which has now been tabled as Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Bill 2014 in the Punjab Assembly. The bill has been referred to the PA Standing Committee on Education for debate.

The prime minister’s Oct 30 order says the HEC should coordinate with academics, universities and textbook publishers to develop grade appropriate material including fables, stories, essays, speeches, teaching guides, teacher training material, activities, extra-curricular activities, examinations and other relevant interventions for all classes from the earliest years to the university level, for public and private institutions – for discussion and adoption by the federal and provincial governments for the next academic year.

The prime minister’s order also elaborates the task saying that amendments shall include chapters aimed at promoting the appreciation of the vital necessity of constitutional democracy for Pakistan’s progress and identity; deepen the understanding of the merits of the constitutional democratic process and pluralism in international and national context.

He wishes the updated curriculum should strengthen the knowledge base of students to comprehensively counter the common misunderstandings surrounding constitutional democracy and enhance critical appreciation of modes of accountability within the constitutional process like judicial oversight, media, freedom of speech, right to information, elections etc.

Commenting on the objectives, the academics say the federal government itself has not implemented the Right To Information Act in its jurisdiction before asking provinces to educate younger lot on the subject matter.

Former Punjab University faculty of education dean and federal ministry of education’s advisory committee member, Prof Dr Hafiz Muhammad Iqbal, says the HEC cannot perform the task of amending curriculum at schools level because neither it comes in its mandate nor it has relevant expertise.

Prof Iqbal, however, says the PML-N manifesto did refer to the establishment of a National Curriculum Council (NCC), which has been approved unanimously by the inter-provincial education ministers’ conference held recently. He says the prospective NCC will be the relevant body to act upon prime minister’s order.

Punjab School Education Department Secretary Abdul Jabbar Shaheen and Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Chairman Nawazish Ali preferred to keep mum about the subject despite calls and short messages sent to them.

The HEC has awarded “W” category, the highest rank, to the Virtual University of Pakistan under an assessment released by its Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), a body working to monitor the standard of higher education in Pakistan.

The VU has earned the honour after its Quality Enhancement Cell met 94.6 per cent of the quality benchmarks in terms of research, faculty development, industry-academia linkages, academic freedom, ensuring standardised syllabi across all sections of a course, streamlining processes across campuses according to international standards and ensuring compliance of HEC guidelines.

Meanwhile, the VU has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Gujranwala Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) to promote academia-industry linkages that would facilitate the advancement and innovation in industry and education sectors.

Virtual University Rector Dr Naveed A Malik and GCCI President Khwaja Khalid Hassan have signed the MoU. Both organisations have agreed to enhance mutual collaboration in online training and development for capacity building of industrial workers and to assist in placement and training of students. GCCI will assist in identification of companies that may be interested to get benefit from VU, whereas the varsity will provide solutions to industry’s problems by research and development.

The Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (Tevta) in collaboration with National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) will offer free of cost three-month short courses to train the youth of rural areas of Muzaffargarh, Layyah and Rajanpur in various trades.

Tevta Chairman Irfan Qaiser Sheikh and NRSP, Punjab, Director Iqbal Ahmed Raja have signed a memorandum of understanding to train some 450 students in 20 months.

The NRSP will support to strengthen training curricula, enhance instructor capabilities and increase the training facilities of selected Tevta institutes. It will also provide Rs100 per day to each trainee during the course to meet the transportation and food expenditures. The Tevta will provide infrastructure for smooth conduct of courses in the three selected districts. The authority will also provide master trainers to impart vocational skills and completion certificates.

THE Bestway Foundation has donated Rs50 million for the extension of the Forman Christian College’s Business and Social Sciences building.

Recognising the contribution, FCC Rector Dr James Tebbe last week presented a shield to Bestway Group’s founder and chairman Sir Anwar Pervez OBE HPk. Dr Tebbe says the extension will allow the programmes housed in the building to increase student enrollment as well as the number of degree specialisations, contributing to the education of future business leaders as well as producing responsible citizens of Pakistan. An additional Rs100 million has also been pledged by the UBL for extension of the building. – mansoormalik173@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2014