The progress and development of any country rely upon the quality of its education system. The nation that compromises on its educational standards can never keep pace with the contemporary advancing world. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, has categorically warned the newborn nation about the importance of education, saying “Education is a matter of life and death to our nation. The world is moving so fast that if we do not educate ourselves we will not only be left behind but also be no more.” As education had never been made a priority, thus, Pakistan is falling a long way behind different nations in all the development indicators. However, the introduction of the Single National Curriculum in Pakistan to revive the flawed education system is heartening. Moreover, the uniform education system will also eradicate a number of social evils.
The Structure of the Education System of Pakistan
The education system of Pakistan is divided into three broad categories; private, public, and madrassah systems. The individuals from the lower class of the society generally get education from madrassas owing to poverty, the public sector belongs to the middle class or the lower middle class, while the upper-middle class and the upper class (also known as ‘the elite class’) opt private sector institutions for the education because of the quality of education imparted in top private educational institutes of the country. This division in the education system leads to further division and disparity in the socio-economic status of people. Thus, Pakistani society is deeply ridden with class disparities which further result in many social and economic issues.
Single National Curriculum (SNC)
Against this backdrop, the present government has set out to reform the education system of Pakistan in order to put Pakistan on the right track. Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has rightly underscored that the poor education system is the root cause of all the socio-economic issues in Pakistan. In order to reform the education system, the PTI government has introduced the Single National Curriculum (SNC) to be implemented across the length and breadth of the country. Once implemented, all the existing tiers of education in Pakistan will be mainstreamed in the uniform curriculum, and individuals from all the classes of society would be able to obtain a uniform education. Madrassahs will be mainstreamed in the new education system. All the contemporary subjects would be taught in madrassahs and their students will appear in the board exams. According to the curriculum development team, some 35,000 seminaries will get registered as schools.
Objectives of the ‘Single National Curriculum’
According to the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, the aims and objectives of the ‘Single National Curriculum’ are to ensure that all children have equal opportunities for high-quality education and for upward social mobility in Pakistan. This will ensure social cohesion and national integration. Tolerance for diversity in Pakistan would be achieved by teaching students respect for different cultures and religions. The culture of rote memorization would be jettisoned and the focus would be laid on inculcating critical and creative thinking. Students would be taught the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The uniform curriculum will ensure a level playing field for all. In short, the PTI government has set out to meet the ambitious targets in order to do away with the class-ridden Pakistani society that would ultimately end the menace of economic disparities in the long run.
Challenges in the Implementation of the Single National Curriculum
The viability of the Single National Curriculum is a vexed topic. Critics highlight a plethora of challenges in the way of these educational reforms in Pakistan. It is often argued that the attempt to mainstream madrassahs is not new. In the 70s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto moved to formalize madrassahs. The move faced strong opposition. After that, the Islamisation drive made during the Zia regime highly radicalized madrassas that led to militancy and sectarianism. During his era, Pervez Musharraf endeavored to scale those trends back by endeavoring to present model madrassas. Only three out of a hundred madrassas got enrolled under this project, where the students were acquainted with contemporary subjects. But this project too fizzled out. Even under SNC, reforming, and mainstreaming the education system of madrassah would not be an easy task. It is destined to face criticism and opposition by religious parties.
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In addition, the addition of Islamiat in the new educational program from grade 1 under with its hefty ideas requiring the learning of the texts and Nazras will affect the learning capabilities of kids, as likewise brought up in the ASER report.
Little or No choice for Minorities
Another structural challenge that comes with the implementation of a uniform curriculum is that the students belonging to the minorities would also be dealing with Islamiat subject (not by choice, but by compulsion) at the primary level, on the grounds that a lion’s share of schools in Pakistan does not provide course choices. Ultimately, it would negate Pakistan’s commitment to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Dearth of Trained Teachers
The government has taken initiative, concerned departments have structured the policies of SNC, and the new curriculum is being formalized. After the implementation of the uniform curriculum, the onus of achieving all the ambitious goals associated with SNC would be on the shoulders of the teachers. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of trained teachers, especially at the primary and secondary levels in Pakistan. If the teachers failed to fulfill their responsibility, all the goals and objectives would remain unachieved. There is a dire need to train the teachers first. The vocational training programs should be organized at all levels before the implementation of the Single National Curriculum across the country.
The objectives associated with the ‘Single National Curriculum’ could be achieved only when (i) all the out-of-school children are brought to schools, (ii) the gender disparity in education is minimized or brought to end, (iii) all the basic infrastructural requirements are made available in the schools, (iv) teachers are held accountable for their negligence or undue absenteeism, (v) books, pencils, uniforms, and transport facilities are provided to children, and (vi) the article 25-A of the constitution is implemented in letter and spirit. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s weak economy does not allow for these steps to be taken. Thus, budgetary constraints are a serious impediment in the way.
Possible Central-Provincial Disharmony
The ‘Single National Curriculum Framework’ is formulated after bringing all the stakeholders on one page. It is believed that the center and all the provinces see eye-to-eye on the subject. After the 18th amendment to the constitution of Pakistan, the subject of ‘education’ has been devolved to the provinces. Now, the provincial governments are fully authorized to reform the education system of their provinces as per their requirements and needs. Ergo, the possibility of disharmony between the center and the provinces on the subject of SNC in the future cannot be ruled out.
For the ‘Single National Curriculum’ to become viable, the government must work on structural shortcomings like making choices of subjects available at all levels for minorities, training the teachers, bringing all the out-of-school children to school, etc. In this regard, special attention must be paid to female education. The societal obstructions placed in the way to education for girls must be removed. Moreover, more budgets should be allocated to the educational sector. Also, corrupt practices or white-collar crimes must be curbed to make SNC viable. The religious parties and religious scholars of the country must be brought on one page for reforms in madrassahs.
The introduction of the ‘Single National Curriculum’ by the government is a welcomed step. For a society like Pakistan, it will prove to be a panacea for all socio-economic problems. It is heartening to see that the long-neglected education sector has finally caught the attention of the authorities. With the reformed education system and the resulted classless society; Pakistan would soon start making strides towards betterment, development, and progress.