THE debate on the Single National Curriculum (SNC) is ongoing. As a parent and a product of our education system, I have some concerns and thoughts.
My first concern about the SNC is that some of our most qualified, knowledgeable, respected and experienced academics were not part of the SNC development team. Some of these academics have devoted all their lives towards better education. The SNC should have taken advantage of the experience of people like Dr Anjum Altaf, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ms Zubeida Mustafa.
And though I don’t doubt their intentions, some of those leading SNC efforts have not been in academia for years, and this concerns me a great deal. We need, and this need has never been greater, all possible experience and prudence to plan how to educate our children at this point.
My second worry is that forming such a large group — the SNC team consists of 400 people — was not the best way to come up with a good solution to such a complex problem. According to studies by notable team effectiveness researcher Richard Hackman, the team size should not exceed single digits. The necessary increase in communication in such a large group undermines productivity.
We need all possible experience to plan our children’s education.
It also raises questions such as: how did such a large group work? How was the input from all members taken? How did such a group deliberate that input? How were decisions made? What, according to this group, are the failures of our education system? Where can I and other people find such information?
My third concern is that the education debate thus far excludes any meaningful discussion on how we should teach our children science and technology. In this era, when drones are employed to deliver groceries, robots are developed to perform intricate surgeries, and artificial intelligence (AI) is used to fight disease, how is the SNC going to prepare our children?
With respect to AI, computer programming will play a central role. I do not think the SNC has issued any guidelines about how best to teach our children how to programme. Even many of our expensive private schools are clueless about how to introduce programming to students, or which programming language should be taught first. Also, they are unsure how children should be introduced to deeper programming concepts over time. The problem is worse in public schools. When children in public schools are introduced to programming books or tutorials in English, it confuses them. How the SNC will handle this remains to be seen.
Further, given our ever-fragile economic situation, our educational system should not only produce consumers of science and technology tools (eg drones, robots, and programming languages) it should also create makers of them. Yes, the minimum our education system can do for our children is to teach them to use technology tools well. But the best it can do for our children is to teach them how to create these tools. That is where the fun and opportunities for upward mobility lie. Without a great foundation in science, problem-solving and communication skills, one cannot make complex technology tools. It is important that this solid foundation is laid out in schools.
How is the SNC going to ensure that this foundation is built? How is it going to ensure that students do not cram, but develop the intuition behind concepts in science and technology? To deliver this intuition, good teachers are needed. How is the SNC going to ensure good teachers teach our children?
Moreover, designers of the curriculum consider it important to teach morals. I wonder why they do not consider the way the ancients taught morals, using the works of Cicero, Seneca and Aesop. Such works, if taught well, can influence children to remember the virtuous lessons contained and live by them. Making such works accessible in Urdu would be a notable contribution. It would be a demanding task indeed, but the SNC can address it.
SNC experts should also seek input from children, because should we not all lose sleep over the fact that our children detest school? They mostly go to school not in a happy mood but in a sad and sullen one. This should change. They deserve better. Sometimes children can offer amazing insights. But for that, you have to ask them.
The SNC team could consult parents too. More than anyone, parents are the ones who want to fix for their children all mistakes and faults that parents believe hindered their own lives. By getting their input, the SNC could discover solutions, or at least enrich their understanding of the problems.
Lastly, the SNC team should aim to create a curriculum that fosters good knowledge. For it is good knowledge that leads to good actions. And good societies come into being because of good actions by the masses. It will be highly unjust if we fail posterity in their quest for good knowledge.
The writer is an author and an entrepreneur.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2020