Pakistan appears to be more of a laboratory obsessed with experiments of all sorts: political, economic, social, foreign policy. The county’s chequered history is replete with such unfounded trials in areas of vital significance. This is evident from the policy inconsistencies the country has witnessed in all arenas ever since its inception. The country is now all set to experiment with the curriculum without taking critical appraisal of the deep malaise haunting the very fabric of country’s educational system.
The recent introduction of Single National Curriculum (SNC) has opened a new debate among academics and educationists in the country. While some hail it as a recipe to do away with the existing educational apartheid in country and thus turn out to be an integrating force, others see to it as a threat to national diversity. The support for the SNC originates from sheer optimism and utopianism. A uniform education system is believed to promote equalitarianism and provide a level playing field for all and sundry. The opposition to the SNC, on the other hand, is rooted in socio-cultural, structural and constitutional reasons.
In its most realistic sense, SNC is too cosmetic an initiative to redress the systemic and structural malaise dwarfing the educational standard. A recent report from the Brookings Institution has pointed out that SNC is but a pretext of reform sans necessary transformation. Similar to its questionable educational outcomes and falling short on core structural anomalies, the implementation and consistency of the same is perhaps more questionable. Policies hardly survive the change in government in Pakistan.
The SNC is direly short of providing a holistic solution to the dwindling quality of education in the country. Those behind the idea appear obsessed with bringing national integration through curriculum rather than fixing the core educational mess.
Moreover, in what ways does the intent behind introducing SNC differ from when similar experiments were launched in the past? Isn’t the experiment going to meet the same fate as the reforms introduced by Bhutto, Zia, Ayub and Musharaf? Another question that looms is: how would a uniform curriculum be received in a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-linguistic society like ours?
As of now, there are more questions than pragmatic answers.
First and foremost, would the single curriculum be able to do away with the intriguing structural flaws in the education system? Is it merely the non-uniform curriculum that is behind the dwindling education standards in the country? Does a uniform curriculum guarantee uniform education for the rich and the poor alike? Would the new curriculum be helpful in eliminating the socio-economic constraints that keep a large segment of population from getting education? What panacea does the single curriculum offer in the context of enrolling 22.8 million out-of-school children considering the fact that it requires as many new schools and teachers as existing today? Would the new curriculum help root out the structural anomalies lying at the very core of the education system? What does the uniform curriculum offer on issues like lack of teacher training, absenteeism and dearth of basic necessities and services in schools like potable water, furniture, washrooms, teaching materials, etc? What about the infrastructural paucity — the shabby buildings and open-sky schools? What role can the SNC play regarding meagre educational budgetary allocation? Is it the lack of a uniform curriculum alone that holds Pakistan’s universities from ranking among top institutions of Asia, let alone of the world?
Some more questions that need to be focussed on are: Why has our educational system failed in producing scholars and academics of international stature? What holds our students from realising their innate intellectual potential and attain self-actualisation? How long will our educational institutions rely on books published by other countries? How long will we see our PhD theses and academic projects plagiarised? What prevents us from developing a state-of-the-art research methodology and instil research culture? How can we stop practices discouraging creativity, originality, ingenuity and vision? What bars the exalted art of critical thinking? What’s the reason behind the underperformance of our graduates on core vocational and educational metrics?
These queries are but bitter facts that question the utility of the SNC. Though central to educational activities, a curriculum isn’t the all-encompassing necessity of a standard educational system.