Our education system has unfairness in its roots: minister

Updated 15 Oct 2020

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Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood speaks at the conference at a local hotel on Wednesday.—APP
Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood speaks at the conference at a local hotel on Wednesday.—APP

KARACHI: “In over 70 years, we could only create islands of standard education in our country. But we couldn’t spread this education to our entire country. It is just scattered here and there,” said Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood.

He was speaking at the Second Education Summit on ‘Digital disruption: innovative pedagogies, redefining curriculum and leadership’ organised by the Pakistan Academic Consortium (PAC) at a local hotel here on Wednesday.

“Education teaches one to understand the world but here you put a product of an elite school and a product of a government school before each other and they won’t even get each other’s viewpoints. We are seeing the impact of our education systems in our society,” he said.

“There is English as our official language and our corporate language so it is seen as the language which gets you places. But only the elite schools are producing people who are comfortable with English. It is widening the cracks in our society. Our education system has unfairness in its roots. Changing our education system is not that simple therefore, but I am happy that at least we have started talking about it due to the Single National Curriculum,” he said.

Govt wants to introduce Single National Curriculum from April

“Educationists agree to teach in the language which the child can decipher, especially from ages one to five. But here in our country we speak many languages. So the most common medium of instruction is to be the most common usage language, which is Urdu or English. Then our surveys show that private schools are shocked at our considering Urdu as the medium of instruction. They sell their education on the basis of this language because English in this country is not just a language, it is a class. Parents want their children to be successful in life by knowing this language. So we have resistance from the parents as well as private schools to let the medium of education be English,” he pointed out.

‘Introducing Single National Curriculum not easy’

“Another issue with the Single National Curriculum is how to roll it out,” he said. “I don’t see curriculum as a static thing. It will have continuous updates as knowledge builds and advances. It will continue to evolve. We want to roll out the curriculum in April but we are being told to first make it a pilot project. But we don’t want to delay it,” he said.

The federal minister also said that assessment was an instrument for judging the curriculum. “All in all, introducing the Single National Curriculum is not an easy thing to do. It is a very big thing and achieving big is not easy. So we look forward to feedback from educationists and other experts as it is after all a work in progress,” he said.

Earlier, notable speakers, educationists and government representatives examined the notion of having a Single National Curriculum.

“A uniform education system is the need when equality for all makes sense,” said PAC founder Nasir R. Zaidi during his welcome address.

During his keynote speech, Dr Shehzad Jeeva, chairman, Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) and director of the Aga Khan University Examination Board, said that Covid-19 had deprived the plans, aspirations and hopes of educationists.

“Some 188 countries closed their schools while trying to cope with the pandemic putting 1.6 billion children out of school,” he said. “How to insure continuity of education is a challenge for us all. What it comes to is access, fairness, equity and inclusivity.”

“The aim is to build a consensus in the education landscape of Pakistan. We were able to get access to education to 15 million children while 23 million are still out of school,” he said.

Former vice chancellor of the Sindh Madressatul Islam University Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh traced the history of the subcontinent till the time of the British rule when the Parsi community built their education institutions as did the Christians and the Muslims too founded a few schools.

“After the partition of 1947, we inherited all these education systems where quality was stressed upon more than quantity,” he said. “At that time, we only had two universities here but now we have more than 200 universities. And we have not been able to maintain the quality standard.

“We have a fragmented society with compartments. It has education at its base. We have four different education systems developing contradictory mindsets,” he said.

Teachers’ Development Centre director Abbas Hussain diverted attention to Zoom fatigue. “When a child is physically present in school for several hours he or she is not constantly studying. He or she is doing many things including dreaming and bunking class. But in online classes he or she is only considered present when taking an active part and concentrating,” he said.

Panel discussion

A panel discussion on ‘Transforming education in Pakistan through Single National Curriculum’, moderated by PAC’s Luna Panjwani had experts pondering over the outcome of intruding a uniform curriculum.

SZABIST president Shahnaz Wazir Ali said that the single curriculum was a question occupying the mind of all involved in education for a number of years now.

“At this time it responds to removing inequity, reducing disparity and making the ground level for all, and have equality of knowledge at every class level be [they] children at a public school, a private school or a madressah,” she said, adding that the assessment and exam system also be uniform.

Oxford University Press managing director Arshad Hussain said that the real challenge was of implementing the curriculum. “It involves teachers training, textbooks, etc, so it usually takes about two to three years to settle in. But here we are told that it will be brought in by April. And we still are not sure about the medium of instruction,” he said.

Dr Fatima Rehan Dar, Dr Fauzia Shameem and others also spoke.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020