Pathways for reform

Published September 17, 2021
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

THERE are many issues with the Single National Curriculum (SNC) that have been highlighted by many people across many fora in recent months. Starting from the legality of a single curriculum post 18th Amendment and why we need a ‘single’ curriculum as opposed to a ‘minimum standards’ curriculum, even if the aim is equal opportunity, to issues with increased religious content in Islamiat as well as other subjects, every aspect has been talked about.

The process through which the curriculum was made has also been questioned. The books that have come out of the process have been criticised extensively regarding issues of gender inequality, stereotyping, religious content, language issues and even poor printing quality. The process of the approval of books as well as the process through which the SNC is being implemented, or forced down everyone’s throat, has also been criticised.

Initially, the government response to all this was to push back by saying critics were taking things out of context, were criticising issues that were present even in the previous national curricula (though here the question is that if there were problems with the previous curricula, should the SNC not have fixed those), and were cherry-picking evidence.

Read: The much-touted single national curriculum is more of a leap backward than a step forward

Then the officials started saying that those critiquing the SNC were the ‘privileged’ classes and ‘mafias’ and people with a ‘slave mentality’ who were enthralled by the West and the importance of the English language. While this too begs the question that even if someone is ‘privileged’ how does their criticism become less important or valid, that is a different issue. Clearly, the state was not willing to engage with what the critics were saying.

Has the government collated all the feedback regarding the SNC?

The tone has changed a little recently. It has become more placatory. Though there is no engagement with the larger issues of ‘single’ versus ‘minimum’ and/or the 18th Amendment issue, we have heard statements that have acknowledged that the SNC and the books that have been written under it are not perfect, that there is room for improvement, and that the curriculum and the books are ‘living documents’ and will be revised periodically in light of the feedback. Is this a political move to take the wind out of the sails of the critics and their criticism or a genuine offer for dialogue? Only time will tell, but if the history of policymaking and policy reform holds any lessons for the critics there seems to be little to feel good about.

The government has been saying that even in the making of the current SNC documents and textbooks they consulted ‘extensively’ with experts. It is said more than ‘400’ experts, local and foreign, were consulted and their comments and feedback were taken and addressed. This begs the question why we still have such a flawed document and why, even as the books are being sent to schools and the new SNC and books are coming into effect, there is so much criticism already there.

It also raises the interesting question of what ‘consulting’ experts and ‘addressing’ their comments means. If you get comments from an expert on an issue is that ‘consultation’? If you get comments but do not even read them and/or do not see how things might need to change to respond to comments, does that still mean the comments of experts have been ‘addressed’? The Ministry of Education website at least does not really give any details of what the expert inputs were, how they were collated and how they were addressed in the original process. In fact, I doubt if the ‘experts’ were told how their inputs had been treated.

But beyond the groups of experts, people have been writing on the SNC for a while now. Has the government collated all the feedback that is being published, and worked out how they are going to address it?

Even now the government has said they are listening, but they have not said how they are listening. They have not said to what and to whom they are listening. They have not mentioned any process through which reforms are going to be carried out and critique is going to be brought to the attention of the relevant policy officials. They have not announced any formal process and/or way in which people can provide feedback and their inputs. They have not announced any way through which people will get to know if their inputs have been heard and/or have been responded to. How can there be ‘dialogue’ in such a situation?

Some people have mentioned that they have been invited to stakeholder consultation or a stakeholder feedback meeting. But who is deciding who is being invited? How is it being decided? More importantly, how are ‘stakeholder’ meetings a meaningful way of having this dialogue and taking feedback? How will people know if their point of view has been heard even if it has been recorded through a stakeholder meeting? Usually ‘stakeholder’ meetings are held just to show that people were consulted and were heard even when there is no intention to engage and no intention to incorporate the feedback. What are the government’s aims in this case?

The Ministry of Education is also now working on grades 6-8 and, possibly, grades 9-12 curriculum. What process changes are they bringing in, in light of the experience from the SNC exercise at the primary level, to ensure much better inputs from and much broader participation of different stakeholders? If it is acknowledged that the last process led to a product that ‘could have been better’ how is the current process being changed to make sure that future products are better? We have not heard anything about this as yet from the ministry.

If the government is serious about having proper consultation and feedback loop, it has to announce a credible, transparent process through which it engages and works through the feedback. But this is something that is still awaited. Short of that, talk of improving the SNC and textbooks is just that: talk.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2021



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