KARACHI: The Single National Curriculum is superficial, serves an agenda, with fake consensus, that will erase all ethic identities and regional languages and turn out to become a holy disaster. This is what can be concluded from the webinar on ‘Single National Curriculum 2020: Apprehensions and Concerns’ organised by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences on Saturday.
The webinar was moderated by Prof Dr Riaz Sheikh, dean of social sciences and education at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist). He spoke about the problems that came up when making the curriculum and how he was criticised during his presentation a few years ago for showing practising Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, etc, with their places of worship in a course book that they were designing for junior classes. “Today’s webinar is also organised to see how contents of the curriculum can be changed and the problems expected from it in the coming days,” he said, before he set the ball rolling for the discussion.
Physicist and social activist Prof Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy said the world looks down upon the Pakistani education system and rightly so. “Here those who have attended school are just like those who have never attended school. In fact, those who have not gone to school are better because they are street smart and understand money matters better than the ones who passed out of school without learning anything,” he said.
‘Those who have not gone to school understand money matters better than the ones who pass out of school without learning anything’
“Most of our workforce abroad comprises labourers. In fact, those doing labourious work and those with petty jobs amount to 97 per cent. Our doctors and other technocrats make up only three per cent. Most of the well-educated Pakistanis living abroad are doctors, there are hardly any Pakistani engineers there. We teach the same subjects in our school as are taught in any other country’s schools but our way of teaching is flawed so that only a few exceptionally bright students are able to get ahead. The rest lag behind. We see the same thing in our universities too,” he said.
“So our education system has kept us behind. We develop very little software as compared to India or Bangladesh even though our populations are almost the same. Prime Minister Imran Khan used to say that we will make up for the lagging behind in education here. But it cannot be done by just coming up with a uniform curriculum. Curriculum is only one component, there is also the type of schools, type of teaching, exams, etc, which also matter here,” he said.
“Out here rote learning is given preference bringing up a huge difference between the students who go to public schools and those who follow the Cambridge and Oxford boards. Now that there is a single curriculum, we notice that there is no major difference between the way subjects such as Urdu, English, Mathematics, etc, are taught in public schools and madressahs. The only big difference that has become clear is in the subject of Islamiat where the students have to learn hadith and different prayers for different occasions. How is a child to cope? Well, of course, through rote learning,” he said.
“So the changes are only the public school children as the madressah students are good at rote learning. But how is our education system going to improve with all this rote learning?” he said.
Physicist and freelance consultant Dr A.H. Nayyar added to this by pointing out that the step of making Islamiat more complicated for students will make the madressah education system mainstream. “Our education ministers were under the impression that madressahs didn’t teach anything other than Islamiat but the truth is that they also have contemporary subjects under which come Urdu, English, Mathematics, etc. So when they called over the ulema at the National Curriculum Council the ulema easily agreed to teach these subjects in maderessahs which they were doing already. But here it was thought that since they listened there we should also balance the subject of Islamiat and make it more like how they want it in our public schools,” he said.
“There are some three million children who get madressah education here and some 25 million children who attend other schools. We are going to spoil the education system of those 25 million for a handful of three million students,” he said.
He said madressah education is complicated because they work with a missionary zeal. “They want to preserve their education. They believe in the education which prepares them for the world hereafter, which is the spiritual world. They want to produce a strong clergy to understand the doctrines and rituals of Islam as they want to prepare imams to guide other Muslims, which is perfectly understandable. But every public school child doesn’t need that kind of complicated and difficult training. He or she may not even be cut out for it,” he reasoned.
Independent researcher in social development Dr Rubina Saigol looked at the Single National Curriculum in the political sphere. “It looks like a way to roll back the 18th Amendment,” she said, adding that there have been many education policies presented by previous governments over the years most of which were not implemented.
“The Commission on National Education,1959, also known as the Sharif Commission after its chairman S.M. Sharif, was a policy which tried to make people forget about their ethnic identity through education. It was a kind of psychic violence though which the people were to shed or erase their culture to eliminate diversity. It looks like we are going that way again,” she said, adding that it was followed years later by another policy, that of Ziaul Haq, where Islamisation covered everything. There was talk of jihad in textbooks along with the glorification of weapons and tanks and war martyrs,” she said, adding that it continued till very recently until 2002 at least.
Senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa said she was informed upon her inquiry from a senior member of the National Curriculum Council that language and medium of instruction will not be an issue with the single national curriculum and private schools too will teach the same course in provincial and regional languages. “But I learned later that there is still a massive confusion regarding the mediums of instruction in the single national curriculum. What has been going on so far will continue to go on,” she said.
“It is the need of early learners to be taught in their mother tongue otherwise they fail to grasp or comprehend their lessons. When a child doesn’t understand his or her lessons he or she will go for rote learning then. Rote learning kills critical thinking in students,” she said, adding that she was also invited to give her input at the National Curriculum Council meeting recently but when she spoke she was not even heard. “I was informed that they couldn’t hear me even though my microphone was turned on,” she said.
The executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, Peter Jacob, said that he was also present at the same National Curriculum Council meeting though not heard just like the senior journalist. “I have to ask if the process of preparing a single curriculum was participatory? Was the advice of the educational experts being called to give their input even heard? They called us but didn’t listen to us. So many people who are said to have been consulted in bringing about this curriculum were not consulted even though their names are mentioned,” he said.
“So we have not reached a common consensus on this as opposed to what is being said,” he added.
“Today, we are seeing extremism coming in the way of construction of a Hindu temple, today we are seeing extremists murdering people in courts of law. Instead of fixing the rising extremism here, we might make it worse with the simple curriculum if it is allowed to be implemented like it is now. The class one to class five curriculum is to be implemented by April 2021. We still have time to explain to the government our fears that are coming up in policy analysis,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2020