KARACHI: The single national curriculum and religious education was on everyone’s mind during the webinar organised by the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) titled ‘Curriculum textbooks and the rise of mandated religion in our educational system’, here on Friday.

Speaking about Quranic studies and religious instruction in the uniform curriculum that the government is working on currently, Mamoonah Yaseen, deputy director, curriculum sciences at the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board, said the Ulema Board engaged to look into it, will not be sent every book for review. “They will be sent things only related to religion. There will be further committees to look into other matters and make our textbooks suitable for 21st century education,” she said.

Ulema Board ‘will be sent things only related to religion; there will be committees to make textbooks suitable for 21st century education’

Physicist, author and consultant Dr A.H. Nayyar said he found the religious instruction in the new curriculum that the government is working on rather “cumbersome” for students. “The madressahs were already teaching to their students the prescribed government school course other than giving them religious education. So following science, mathematics, etc, won’t be that big an issue for them maybe. But the other school students will have trouble studying religion in depth. For instance, at primary level students also must study hadith in Arabic with meaning,” he pointed out.

He also said that other than adding a complicated religious syllabus, the single national curriculum looks like the old curriculum of 2006.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, said that he can see lots of gaps, too, in the new class one to five curricula. But he said he has also noticed the goodwill of the curriculum designers and how they want to include all religions in the course.

Senior academic Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy said that by the grace of God, Muslims have been reading the Holy Quran since childhood so religious instruction is ingrained in us. “But here we have so many people without skill, without scientific education, and we are debating Quranic education, which we are getting already,” he said.

Dr Riaz Sheikh, dean of Faculty of Social Sciences and Education at Szabist, said that curriculum on the basis of religion will discourage critical discourse in society and religious minorities will face more isolation. “A centralised curriculum is the negation of the 18th Amendment and provincial autonomy,” he said.

Seasoned senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa said that studying religion should be a part of basic education but here we are not even sure how to and in what medium of language we are to impart basic education to the five to 16 years age group. “In the present scenario, I can only ask why our standard of education is so low? Also, if we teach religion in our educational institutions to make good human beings, then why is our society going down, why do we see so much corruption and crime?” she said.

Baela Raza Jamil, who heads ITA, said that parents desire for their children to read the Quran with meaning. “But here when we were carrying out our surveys to know the level of education among students of various classes, we found out that they are not even at the reading and writing level expected in a certain class in normal education. Our epic tragedy is our learning tragedy,” she said.

Jurist and law professor retired Justice Nasira Iqbal said that it is the work that goes into coming up with good results regarding a fine curriculum that really matters. “In the Quran, God has said that He has made us all different to work together in your own unique way towards good,” she said.

The webinar was moderated by education researcher and adviser Aanya Niaz.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2020