LONDON: Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has said that a national curriculum developed with the input of all stakeholders will be implemented across private and public schools as well as madressahs.
In a conversation with Dawn here on Thursday, Mr Mahmood hailed madressah reform as a historic step and said having a centralised curriculum across schools and seminaries would end social disparities which create problems in society.
“The English-speaking elite has perpetuated inequality and class-based educational apartheid,” he said. “A student going to a madressah has no chance of getting into a civil service exam. Why should 400,000 to 800,000 people determine the future of the country?”
The minister was in the United Kingdom to attend the Education World Forum 2020 seminar where government officials from across the world got together to debate the best practices in education.
In the past, Mr Mahmood courted controversy when a daily newspaper quoted him as saying that A and O levels would be scrapped in private schools once the national curriculum is formulated. However, he clarified to Dawn that the change would be optional.
Minister says things get done when institutions are on the same page
“The Cambridge, American and Baccalaureate systems will not be scrapped altogether. But they will become optional. There was scepticism in the beginning but now private schools are working with us. Elite schools have been sending their representatives to the national curriculum council meetings and they will adopt the national curriculum,” he said.
Mr Mahmood said the move to bring madressahs into the mainstream educational system will allow those students to apply for jobs like the rest of the graduates in the country.
“Right now, the only career open to madressah students is that of becoming a prayer leader. In four years, they will be taking matriculation and FA, FSC exams and they can have careers in the military, the police, or anywhere in the mainstream job market.”
Mr Mahmood lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan for taking the lead on the issue. He also said that Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa was involved in bringing the madressahs on board and that the military’s role in this step was necessary.
“Without a strong military, Pakistan would not survive. All institutions, including the military, being on the same page gets things done.”
Last year, Mr Mahmood told a newspaper that a group of top Islamic scholars of the country met Gen Bajwa to discuss the issue of madressah reforms. At the time, Mufti Naeem of Jamia Binoria had said that the army chief told the Ulema that he would personally ensure what the government was doing will not adversely affect the madressahs.
Mr Mahmood added that the question of civilian supremacy is a non-issue created by “fake liberals” and that people should focus on real issues of governance.
“Our reforms are not anti-madressah. This is something our liberals never acknowledge, the poorest of the poor go to the madressahs. There are 2.5 million students in 25,000 madressahs in Pakistan and for years they have been picking up the slack of what that the government was unable to deliver,” he said.
When pressed for details, the education minister said the national curriculum policy meetings were considering the very important question of the role of the English language. “English will be taught as a second language and will be part of the curriculum but the curriculum will not be in English. Some subjects will be taught in Urdu. My view is that Math and Science should be taught in English. Regional languages should also be taught. More than that, the curriculum will promote tolerance and we will also evaluate the role of citizen education.”
He appreciated the role of all stakeholders, including private schools, madressahs, provinces and the military.
“Students in madressahs want a change. There are many areas where the government and madressah can work together, for eg they need visas for foreign students and we can facilitate that. The response has been positive, we have opened one registration office in Lahore and there is an avalanche of registrations.
“Every madressah in the country will be registered and will be required to give data that is required in the form; anyone who violates the conditions through sectarianism or hate speech will not be allowed to function.”
He said that the initiative would be rolled out for primary schools by March/April 2021.
“Private schools shouldn’t be worried because the quality of the curriculum will be as good as any in the world. The blowback from madressahs is not the major concern for me, I am more concerned about the fuss that is created by private schools and their owners who are resistant to change,” he added.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2020