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Pakistan

The Single National Curriculum: bridging gaps, or amplifying it?

• The SNC lacks a visible implementation plan, say critics, incongruent with the diverse cognitive & linguistic ground realities of Pakistan • A democratic & diverse committee of 400 experts was formed from all over Pakistan in collaboration with AKU Institute of Education & Cambridge to establish umbrella learning objectives for all students in Pakistan, respond authorities • Formal vocational programs to be institutionalized at the elementary level to pull children to school, experts advise
Updated 24 Aug 2020

Of many of the country’s woes, the divided educational landscape has served to be one of the prominent systemic issues that urgently requires an overhaul to bring meaningful changes. While many former elected officials have addressed parts of it, the ruling party of Pakistan, the PTI, aspires to be the first to improve the four essential components of a good education system – the nisaab, kitaab, ustaad and assessment (curriculum, books, teachers and assessment) by introducing the much debated Single National Curriculum on August 13. As a part of its four-pronged strategy to achieve equitable education system, the National Curriculum Committee formed a uniform curriculum for students belonging to all strands of the education system from Kindergarten to Grade V as a stepping stone into repairing the broken system. While the first phase was to finalize the learning objectives for the primary education system, it is expected that a curriculum will be devised by the National Curriculum Council for elementary and secondary levels by March 31, 2021 and March 31, 2022 respectively.

Four-pronged strategy of the ruling party PTI to develop an equitable education system in Pakistan
Four-pronged strategy of the ruling party PTI to develop an equitable education system in Pakistan

While many have hailed this as a step in the right direction, critics have called the curriculum an apathetic and ideologically motivated move with no implementation strategy. In order to investigate whether the SNC is congruent with or detached from the ground realities of Pakistan, Brecorder interviewed NCC members and multiple experts from the field of education in the following order:

  1. Dr. Mariam Chughtai, Assistant Professor at LUMS School of Education, PhD Education from Harvard and member of NCC for Social Studies curriculum for Grade I to V
  2. Dr. Faisal Bari, Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and Assistant Professor of Economics at LUMS
  3. Mr. Abdus Sami, expert on Education Policy and Planning with 25 years of experience in this field across Pakistan, and presently leading Education Sector Plan Development in Balochistan
  4. Dr. Fatima Rehan Dar, Director of Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Innovation Iqra University Karachi, and PhD Education
  5. Ms. Nadia Naviwala, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, Author ‘Why Can’t Pakistani Children Read?’ and ‘Pakistan’s Education Crisis: The Real Story’
  6. Mr. Muhammad Rafique Tahir, Joint Educational Advisor (NCC), Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, Islamabad
  7. Mr. Abid Gill, Lead for Reforms in Non-Formal Education in Pakistan with 20 years of experience, former member of National Reform Committee on Education.
A total of 8 subjects have been finalised for primary schooling
A total of 8 subjects have been finalised for primary schooling

How was the SNC created?

The timeline for creating the SNC, starting from developing a policy framework since 2018 and ending at publishing textbooks in November 2020. Source: Mr. Muhammad Rafique Tahir
The timeline for creating the SNC, starting from developing a policy framework since 2018 and ending at publishing textbooks in November 2020. Source: Mr. Muhammad Rafique Tahir

Mr. Tahir, Joint Educational Advisor (NCC) in the Federal Ministry of Education and Professional Training, walked Brecorder through the highlights of the SNC development process that was presented to the public on August 13.

Step 1: Creating the National Curriculum Framework: Catching Up With New Tides

“It took us 2 years to craft a National Curriculum Framework and a supplementary value education document that is inclusive of the model school systems around the world, the ground realities of Pakistan and the changes that have taken place in 14 years since the last curriculum was launched. We conducted a comparative analysis between Pakistan’s curriculum and that of Singapore while revising old documents. We expanded the analysis to school systems in Europe and Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Singapore) followed by our collaboration with Cambridge.”

The ruling party celebrates the uniformity of the SNC in a trifurcated educational landscape. Source: Single National Curriculum Framework
The ruling party celebrates the uniformity of the SNC in a trifurcated educational landscape. Source: Single National Curriculum Framework

Step 1(a): Incorporating Revision Notes and Using SDG 4 and Article 25-A

“We worked on the revision notes given to us by experts from within and outside of Pakistan based on the strength of the justification they provided. One of the key driving forces of our curriculum has been SDG 4 which ensures inclusive, mandatory education for all children between the ages of 5 to 16 in Pakistan.”

UNDP delineated many goals among which Sustainable Development Goal 4 emphasizes quality education for every child globally.
UNDP delineated many goals among which Sustainable Development Goal 4 emphasizes quality education for every child globally.

Article 25a of the Constitution of Pakistan clearly states that every child shall be provided free and mandatory primary and elementary education.
Article 25a of the Constitution of Pakistan clearly states that every child shall be provided free and mandatory primary and elementary education.

Step 2: Creating a democratic National Curriculum Committee to develop the curriculum, teacher training programs and assessment frameworks

“We involved 400 diverse agents in the process of deliberating and crafting the curriculum. Private schools like Beaconhouse School System, provincial authorities, public school and madariss representatives were called on to devise a curriculum for each of the 8 subjects. We put out advertisements in the newspaper to call any eligible expert to help us with the process of developing not just the curriculum at present, but also help us identify and improve the weak points in teacher training programs and assessment frameworks. Finally, along with Cambridge, we engaged with 22 experts from Aga Khan University Institute of Education to deliberate and revise the curriculum.”

Excerpt of the criteria of forming the NCC from the Policy Framework. Source: Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training
Excerpt of the criteria of forming the NCC from the Policy Framework. Source: Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training

Step 3 and 4: Sharing the Zero Draft with the relevant authorities on provincial and organizational levels

• October 29, 2019 – Zero Draft shared with relevant representatives from all 4 provinces, Gilgit Baltistan, Kashmir, Cantt and Garrison, Cambridge and Aga Khan Institute of Education, private and public schools. They were given till January 15 to respond with revision notes using scientific instruments explaining why they wish to make a particular amendment

Step 5: Provincial and Federal 4-day workshops to deliberate and finalize the curriculum for each subject

“We started a 4 day provincial workshop for 8 committees per subject to discuss the contents and give their input. After receiving everyone’s input, we consolidated our curriculum and received appraise from Cambridge for our Maths, Science and English curriculum. From February 11 to February 14, we conducted nation’s first 4 day national curriculum meeting with 70 experts. The federal ministry had a role of a coordinator. By the end of it, the Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood walked in each committee room and ensured that everyone was in agreement and had signed the document. All documents for Early Childhood Education, English, Islamiat, Urdu, Science, Social Studies, Maths and General Knowledge were finalized.”

Step 6-8: Editing and Sequencing for the Final Copy of the SNC

• May 22, a final soft and hard copy was sent to 46 members of NCC, all provinces and GB and AJK • July 21, final feedback from private, public institutions, madressahs, Cantt and Garrison incorporated • August 13, National Assembly approved of the SNC

Step 9: Textbooks using the learning objectives delineated in the SNC

“The textbooks will be published by November 15. Anyone who wishes to write a text book is welcome to do so using the learning objectives and guidelines we have delineated in the SNC and a model textbook in Urdu.”

Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood on when the SNC will be implemented

What changed: shifting from rote learning to activity based curricula

Ms. Naviwala, author of Why Can’t Pakistani Children Read, illustrates the long standing issue of children being made to rote learn instead of developing their conceptual understanding of the subject. She comments, “In poor schools, teaching is by rote. You are not taught to take ownership. You are taught to listen to authority and do things for reasons you don’t understand. This relationship is going to be replicated through the child’s life. If you want to get rid of the class divide in Pakistan, you need to get rid of the hidden curriculum (how you learn instead of what you learn)”.

Source: “Why Can’t Pakistani Children Read”, Wilson Center
Source: “Why Can’t Pakistani Children Read”, Wilson Center

She explains, “As per the Pakistan Education Statistics 2017, 85 % of children are enrolling in pre-primary education (kindergarten). They spend their days being drilled in song. They learn spelling by rote instead of learning the concept of a letter with a sound. In a visit to a government school in Peshawar, children were chanting 'alif madha se aam.' But when I pointed to 'alif madha' and asked a child what it was, it prompted her to chant 'alif madha se aam.' She didn't understand that alif madha was a letter and it has the sound 'aa'".

A recent report by International Common Assessment of Numeracy (ICAN) found that only 32.3% of the children of Class 2-3 could perform a set of basic foundational numeracy tasks, though the statistics improved with class progression with almost 96% of all enrolled students in Class 9 being able to perform these tasks. ASER National Report 2018 also states that more than 50% of children in Pakistan are not literate in English, Urdu or even their local vernacular. Mr. Abdus Sami suggests the exclusionary approach adopted by the state, which is now further being cemented by the advent of a uniform curriculum, is what leads to children dropping out after primary education and acts as an impediment to a child’s conceptual understanding.

Mr. Tahir Rafique responds to these concerns by stating, “We see and recognize the issues concerning rote learning. The goal is to eliminate rote-learning and instil simple methods for the teachers to engage with the students through activity-based methods. For instance, children should not be learning a ‘T for Tree’ from a book, they should be taken to the school ground to show them a tree. AGKU is currently conducting research on existing teaching modules and the challenges all across the nation. We will use their finding to train our teachers to completely shift to an activity-based model that keeps a child engaged”.

However, Dr. Dar cannot point towards any major changes in the curricula, especially for English. She states, "The English curriculum is practically the same as that of the 2006 curriculum, except they have added a progress chart". Mr. Sami feels the activity based curriculum is far from reality, "The general knowledge activities are not practical. Anyone who has been to a public school might understand how impractical the following activities are. These schools hardly have access to electricity".

The activities suggested in the General Knowledge curriculum do not acknowledge that most children are from poor backgrounds. Neither the schools nor the children have access to computers or the internet. Mr. Sami comments that in his fieldwork, he has come across most children from public schools who come to school on an empty stomach as they cannot afford food. He asks, "How will these students share food or bring toys?"
The activities suggested in the General Knowledge curriculum do not acknowledge that most children are from poor backgrounds. Neither the schools nor the children have access to computers or the internet. Mr. Sami comments that in his fieldwork, he has come across most children from public schools who come to school on an empty stomach as they cannot afford food. He asks, "How will these students share food or bring toys?"

Instructional strategies for teachers in Social Studies cirruculum, page 1
Instructional strategies for teachers in Social Studies cirruculum, page 1
Instructional strategies emphasize discussions and posing questions to get students thinking. This essentially replaces rote-learning methods which adversely affect critical thinking abilities of the students
Instructional strategies emphasize discussions and posing questions to get students thinking. This essentially replaces rote-learning methods which adversely affect critical thinking abilities of the students
Instructional strategies advocate role-playing and interactive methods of teaching so students can directly take control of and participate in their learning. This marks a shift from a historically passive role of students to becoming more pro-active and engaging in ways that suit the students instead of the teachers
Instructional strategies advocate role-playing and interactive methods of teaching so students can directly take control of and participate in their learning. This marks a shift from a historically passive role of students to becoming more pro-active and engaging in ways that suit the students instead of the teachers
Instructional strategies require students to work in collective groups
Instructional strategies require students to work in collective groups
Instructional strategies bring students in as peers. By teaching their fellows what they have learnt in small groups, they demonstrate their understanding of the topics being studied and exhibit weak points for teachers to work on
Instructional strategies bring students in as peers. By teaching their fellows what they have learnt in small groups, they demonstrate their understanding of the topics being studied and exhibit weak points for teachers to work on
Instructional strategies demand teachers revise their methods of teaching and update their knowledge and skills using the recommended resources
Instructional strategies demand teachers revise their methods of teaching and update their knowledge and skills using the recommended resources

Digitising education: Internet for rural areas, Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir?

Source: ASER Pakistan 2019
Source: ASER Pakistan 2019

The new curriculum relies heavily on interactive activities, often demanding the students to look up videos of say railways for reference and conceptual development. While the urban areas can afford such facilities, the curriculum is not accounting for the ground-reality of many schools in rural areas of Pakistan along with GB and Kashmir where there is no access to internet or computer.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published figures on the availability of the internet in these regions in 2018. While a faction of the entire population of rural areas, GB and Kashmir had access to the internet or computer or both, the mainstream lacks such facilities. For the majority, the curriculum becomes redundant as they cannot engage in activity-based learning. Will the teachers revert to teaching by rote or will there be an implementation plan followed by an ambitious declaration of the SNC?

Source: ASER Pakistan 2018
Source: ASER Pakistan 2018
Source: ASER Pakistan 2018
Source: ASER Pakistan 2018
Source: ASER Pakistan 2018
Source: ASER Pakistan 2018

Mr. Tahir responds, "We are aware and deeply sympathise with the students who don't have access to the internet to perform their educational tasks. Within a few months, internet will be available throughout the nation. PM Imran Khan gave a detailed briefing on this topic and there will be some good news soon”.

Are the teachers ready for the challenge?

While historically teacher absenteeism has been a key concern, in the past 8 years enormous work has been done to institute biometric systems and create portals monitored by the Ministry of Education and Training on a daily basis to ensure that public school teachers show up in class. “Now there are no ghost schools or ghost teachers, maybe a few in rural Sindh but this issue was thoroughly addressed by the last government”, states Dr. Bari, “What they are teaching in class and the quality of their teaching cannot be tangibly monitored though. In Punjab alone, we have 400,000 teachers in the public sector. Across Pakistan, 2 million teachers have been employed across all schools. We have to manage teachers through incentives, monetary and non-monetary benefits like respect and honour”.

Yet there remains a learning crisis in Pakistan due to the prevalence of a multi-grade school system i.e. less than 2 teachers teach all six classes often in an enclosed space of 2 rooms. Ms. Naviwala laments the utopian scope of the SNC, “How are you going to achieve all of this? The curriculum is not designed for multi-grade realities. In reality, most students have 2 teachers to teach all 6 grades all 8 subjects, and sometimes one does not even show up”. Mr. Abdus Sami adds, “The reality is in Balochistan alone, 57% schools are single teaching schools and 80% multi-grade. How can 2 teachers carry the burden of educating 6 groups of children? Can they teach all aspects of the ambitious curriculum to these children successfully?” Dr. Dar asks, "Do the teachers belonging to diverse school types have the patience to deal with children who struggle with pronouncing the right words in English? The system is mostly punitive instead of assistive that serves to demotivate and intimidate a young child".

Dr. Chughtai agrees that something needs to be done, “The best way to ensure quality education is to have quality teachers. Teacher training programs have proved to be ineffective and are essentially paid vacations. Studies suggest our teachers have showed no difference in professional development. For one-third of the salary, a low-feed private school teacher comes on time and performs better if compared to a public school teacher who has job security”.

Source: ASER Pakistan
Source: ASER Pakistan

Mr. Rafique concedes, “No matter how good a curriculum is, if a teacher is of poor quality we can add no value. This is why we are creating an excellent Teaching Training Module in collaboration with AGKU, LUMS and provincial experts”. He counters the issue of shortage of teachers by stating that, “In the past 6 years, we have inducted excellent qualified teachers. In Punjab alone, 120,000 instructors have been hired, 98% of whom have been merit-based. To fill the gap, we are going to have a teaching training module to separate teachers from the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ method and focus on developing an analytical understanding of the concept. We have increased the salaries of public sector teachers to incentivize them to perform better”. He also condemns corporal punishment which is banned in Islamabad since 2002, "We understand how grave this issue is and we are planning on taking strict steps to curb this issue".

A uniform curriculum for diverse cognitive needs of children in Pakistan?

Critics believe the student learning objectives need not be uniform to bring meaningful change, instead focus should be diverted towards establishing minimum standards of education within the educational landscape. Dr. Bari comments, “Our education system is divided because our society is divided. We cannot control for factors like geography, class and cultural background of a child but what we can control for is the opportunity set for every child. We need to ensure there is a minimum standard of education across all types of schooling systems in Pakistan, that is what Article 25(a) promises. If it is a floor curriculum, how is it removing the difference between the unique schooling systems in Pakistan? If it is single, even then it is not effective to remove the barriers. Empirically speaking, a single national curriculum cannot remove the divides in the system. There is no causality between a national curriculum and improving the quality of education. It is one small factor in a larger context to deliver quality education”.

Empirically speaking, a single national curriculum cannot remove the divides in the system. There is no causality between a national curriculum and improving the quality of education. It is one small factor in a larger context to deliver quality education.

He adds, “The right instrument is to improve the quality. Even within any one system, there is a lot of variation driven by other factors. You cannot eliminate variation, let alone by curriculum. For instance, any child taking matriculation whether they are rich or poor have the same books. Yet there is a disparity in opportunities. Additionally, the difference in the curriculum in O’levels and matric is not that much. The books however are vastly different. The style of teaching is yet another factor that is drastically unique for each examination type. They are even tested on different abilities.” Dr. Dar agrees, "In the case of centralized curriculum of Beaconhouse School system and City School system, the curriculum is translated very differently for Lahore than it is for Sahiwal or Sukkur. This is because the ground realities are very different. The SNC will meet the same fate".

Recent statements made by the Federal Minister to eliminate GSCE and A'levels from Pakistan stirred anxieties within factions who can afford quality education. These statements were retracted and it was ensured the idea is to pushing low-performing students up instead of pulling well-performing students down.

Many question whether the ambitious curriculum even accounts for the cognitive limitations of the children during the drafting process. Dr. Dar exclaims, “Mental development is like a building block. One concept is built on the other. Cognitive development matches your physical development. Has the committee accounted for the attention span and cognitive development stage of children enrolled between grade 1 and 5? It is too ambitious and seems like they want to cram linguistic skills along with social studies and religious studies within the minds of the kids. A child is cognitively not ready to accept certain concepts.”

Mr. Rafique Tahir debunks this critique by stating the NCC was in fact criticised by Cambridge as the SNC prepares students for 110 working days out of a total of 280 so neither the children nor the teachers would be overburdened. "We want our children to keep up with global tides, but we also want to give them time to get there", he says.

Skipping steps: the missing case of scheme of studies & special-needs children

What is missing is a scheme of studies or a need-assessment report – a research-based document that relies on empirical data to state how many hours a child would need to finish the learning objectives and what his/her attention span is. “The scheme of studies is sequencing of syllabus designing. How can a KGS kid study the same thing as someone in Sukkur who speaks a different tongue and is not endowed with the same benefits as the privileged”, questions Dr. Dar. “The scheme of studies comes prior to curriculum. It states how many hours a child would need or what his or her attention span is. This is research based. It accounts for local conditions like if a child cannot attend school during harvesting season. We don’t adjust our vacations around their limitations but we expect them to leave harvesting season for education. The curriculum is out of reality. If you are not measuring what you are doing, how do you know where you are going? The needs-assessment is missing”, exclaims Mr. Sami.

Mr. Tahir responds by reiterating that 400 experts were hand-picked for the task of developing a uniform curriculum. "It was a democratic process, we deliberately chose diverse experts in the field of education, both theory and practice, and relied on their experience to carve a pathway for us. These experts have seen the ground-reality".

Source: ASER Pakistan 2019
Source: ASER Pakistan 2019

Interestingly, the SNC is silent on the issue of neuro-diverse or special needs children that learn slowly and differently from regular children. Critics question the comprehensive nature of a national curriculum that remains mum on such a critical issue. Mr. Tahir acknowledges the issue, "Inclusive education is very close to my heart and my field of expertise. We currently have a great team devising the right curriculum for inclusive education". He hails the efforts being made by the Ministry of Federal Education, "We currently have a big committee led by the renowned Dr. Abdul Hamid (Dean Punjab University Special Education) and Dr. Humaira Aziz (Head of Department of Special Needs, University of Karachi) charging and leading this cause. Currently, they are working on the curriculum for Grade 6 to 8 for special needs children. We hope to see a more inclusive curriculum".

Language to be taught as a skill, not a subject but what of medium of instruction?

Source: ASER Pakistan 2019
Source: ASER Pakistan 2019

Studies have shown that children develop a conceptual understanding of their surroundings through a language that is frequently spoken around them, usually their mother tongue. As homes are the primary socialising agents, the mother tongue becomes a pivotal tool for children to understand the world around them. It is imperative for schools to continue to build on this conceptual development process instead of halting it by imposing foreign languages on children. Once a child has a strong grasp of one language, he or she can transit the learned concepts to a different language easily. The prerequisite is mastery in one language, that ideally is the local vernacular. The SNC is centred around Urdu and English and leaves the task of translating model books and medium of instruction to provinces. Is that an effective strategy?

Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood clarifies that children enrolled in primary schools may be taught in the language they speak. This is a culturally and linguistically inclusive step that ensures children retain and resonate with what they study in class.

Mr. Sami comments, "You cannot ignore the role of a mother tongue in a child’s educational process. This is how children understand the world in their formative years. You cannot make a curriculum insensitive to the linguistic backgrounds of children and say it is a blank that will be filled later by the provinces”. Ms. Naviwala adds, "Is the criteria of a Pakistani an Urdu speaking Muslim? That clearly has not worked since 1947. It has been perpetuated by our own insistence on uniformity. We have to work out a relationship to diversity. While we may not be religiously diverse, we are very ethnically diverse. Our policy will erase that diversity".

You cannot make a curriculum insensitive to the linguistic backgrounds of children and say it is a blank that will be filled later by the provinces

While the SNC decides the umbrella student learning objectives for all students within Pakistan, articles 28 and 251 grant provinces the right to preserve their local vernacular and choose to make it their medium of instruction. However, Urdu and English must be taught even if it is being done in the local vernacular. Mr. Sami comments, "The curriculum is insensitive to the cognitive, cultural and linguistic realities of students in Pakistan. If you teach a child his or her mother tongue is inferior, the child will not learn it".

Education is the sole responsibility of the provinces. According to Mr. Rafique Tahir, the education budget has increased exponentially in the last few years and many new teachers have been hired on merit. He believes the provinces should be equipped to deal with the monumental task of enforcing the SNC
Education is the sole responsibility of the provinces. According to Mr. Rafique Tahir, the education budget has increased exponentially in the last few years and many new teachers have been hired on merit. He believes the provinces should be equipped to deal with the monumental task of enforcing the SNC

The Constitution protects the rights of the provinces to preserve their local dialects
The Constitution protects the rights of the provinces to preserve their local dialects

This article emphasises the significance of teaching Urdu but ensures that any province that wishes to teach, promote or use the local vernacular is welcome to do so
This article emphasises the significance of teaching Urdu but ensures that any province that wishes to teach, promote or use the local vernacular is welcome to do so

Dr. Chughtai, "We care that the children learn the alphabets. Whether they learn it as A for Apple and B for Bat or as A for Allah and B for Ballah (bat), it is up to the provinces and the local teachers". Ms. Naviwala contests this as she believes that learning the sounds of letters is more important than learning their names.

Dr. Dar complains, "Language is complicated. There has to be sequencing of listening, speaking, reading, and writing learning before they move on to lexical skills and grammars. They have crammed it all in the first grade". Mr. Sami adds, "Let’s first learn how to crawl, then we can walk and run. We develop these high ideals but we don’t see SNC will do exactly the opposite than what it claims to do; it will create further divides as it will push students out". He goes on to suggest that, "You need children to read, write and think in a good education. If they can do this in one language, they can transfer those skills and transit with ease in another language. Children belonging to grade 1 do not have the cognitive ability to see a script as a mechanical process, it is more natural. The first three years should be focused on one language and other languages should be reserved either for oral purpose or later".

Mr. Sami further states, "A curriculum framework document should have fully gone into the details of language issues in Pakistan and guided its implementation. If you look at India’s national curriculum of 2005, it gives a detailed guide on how to address the national issue. They research on every language including Urdu and Nepali through the government body, Institute of Indian Languages. They research on the speed of acquisition of languages. That is the correct approach”.

Mr. Tahir concedes that imposing an alien language on the students impedes their conceptual development of the world due to which he reiterates Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood's tweet that the provinces can translate the model text books in their local languages as they have the constitutional autonomy to do so. He acknowledges the blunder KP government made by converting all of its schools to English-medium that is now shifting back to Urdu-medium. “We made a national committee to address the issue of medium of instruction issue, headed by Ex-Senator Javed Jabbar. Top linguistics were hired in the committee. In June, we had a conference on the issue and there was a consensus that in early grades children will be taught in their mother tongue and Urdu. We also decided that to translate technical terms from English to Urdu in Science textbooks so the child can transit the concept to the official language”, he clarified.

Is the SNC ideological and exclusionary?

The SNC Policy framework explains that the education system in Pakistan should be inspired by the Islamic ideology and nationalistic values that espouse unity
The SNC Policy framework explains that the education system in Pakistan should be inspired by the Islamic ideology and nationalistic values that espouse unity

The SNC Policy Framework delineates its goals for education
The SNC Policy Framework delineates its goals for education

Many have strongly opposed the ideological nature of the SNC that propagates a majoritarian sentiment through advocating a singular set of islamic values and ideals, and promoting nationalistic ideals to emphasize unity. Dr. Bari comments, "As a Pakistani, our identity is centered around religion and patriotism. Any time these come under attack, our identity comes under attack. The state comes back by controlling the narrative and ensuring the narrative remains unitary and mainstream. They are not concerned about maths being taught differently, they are concerned about islamiat and social studies. Any time there is a tussle between the federation and the provinces, we see a narrative control by those running the state by controlling what our religious and national values are".

The Islamiat curriculum delineates the vision and goals it has for its students. While most points talk about the Islamic values and knowledge, point 8 emphasising nationalism by stating "Love for one's country, prayers for the safety of Pakistan, protection of different opinions and efforts made for the nation"
The Islamiat curriculum delineates the vision and goals it has for its students. While most points talk about the Islamic values and knowledge, point 8 emphasising nationalism by stating "Love for one's country, prayers for the safety of Pakistan, protection of different opinions and efforts made for the nation"

The SNC initiative is not a standalone step to take back control of the narrative. The passing of Tahhafuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam bill (later opposed by the Punjab Assembly) and banning 100 books in Punjab seem to be coming from the same insecure "hybrid" civil-military regime that seeks to take back control of how the upcoming generation thinks. "If you give an inch, you have actually given a mile. Dissent to the SNC is being seen as dissent to centralization and majoritarianism", says Dr. Bari.

In addition to listening, speaking, reading and writing, the English curriculum emphasises ethnical and moral development of its students
In addition to listening, speaking, reading and writing, the English curriculum emphasises ethnical and moral development of its students

Having studied the existing educational infrastructure carefully, Ms. Naviwala shares the existing textbook for English being taught to fifth-graders in Punjab to illustrate just how religiously and nationalistically ideological the textbooks of seemingly neutral subjects like English are.

The existing English textbook being taught in Punjab for Grade V
The existing English textbook being taught in Punjab for Grade V
The Table of Contents for the textbook points out that the first chapter is on the Life of the Prophet (pbuh) and the fifth chapter is on the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah
The Table of Contents for the textbook points out that the first chapter is on the Life of the Prophet (pbuh) and the fifth chapter is on the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah
The opening chapter of the Grade V English textbook is an excerpt from the Last Messenger's life on how he dealt with idol-worshippers
The opening chapter of the Grade V English textbook is an excerpt from the Last Messenger's life on how he dealt with idol-worshippers
The fifth chapter of the Grave V English textbook in Punjab is on the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his struggle on Pakistan
The fifth chapter of the Grave V English textbook in Punjab is on the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his struggle on Pakistan

“The language textbooks are religious and ideological. During my fieldwork, I asked the teacher why this is the case, she claimed that the content is important to develop the ethical and moral compass of the child”, comments Ms. Naviwala. While this might be a great initiative for Muslim children, what of the children of the minority who are being made to study Islamic excerpts in their textbooks? This move violates article 22 of the Constitution that exempts minorities from "receiving any religious instruction which is other than of their own".

Article 22 of the Constitution protects minorities from forcibly being made to read any religious text that is not aligned with their religious theology and from discrimination based on religious differences
Article 22 of the Constitution protects minorities from forcibly being made to read any religious text that is not aligned with their religious theology and from discrimination based on religious differences

Mr. Tahir regrets the existing structure and agrees this violates the codes stated by the Constitution. He also clarifies that this move was not made during the ruling party's tenure but has existed since the rule of the last government. He explains that the current government respects the religious sensibilities of all factions and hence has introduced Religious Studies for the first time in the history of Pakistan. He claims, "We have separated Religious Studies and Islamiat for the first time in 73 years in Pakistan. We used to teach ethics before, but now we are focusing on being more inclusive".

Dr. Chughtai comments on the inclusive nature of the Islamiat curriculum, "For Islamiat, the diversity includes regional diversity and schools of thought. The primary 5 schools of thought include Deobandi, Salafii, Ehl e Tashi, Rabta Madaris and Barelvi. As a result, the curriculum you have is first and foremost democratically made. Secondly, the curriculum is inclusive. Where you are teaching Islam and Hadith, you are also teaching Sufism. That is a first. The 1980s curriculum by Zia was orthodox and conservative; it relied on this Arabized version of Islam and it marginalized any sect that was not Sunni. On the other hand, Musharraf's Enlightened Moderation era replaced the term ‘Muslim’ with citizen. It taught a lot about peace and tolerance but it overemphasized the unorthodox side of Islam".

Dr. Chughtai also addresses the anxieties surrounding the recitation of the Quran by reiterating the NCC is fully operating within the confines of the Constitution. "Recitation of the Quran and memorizing ahadith is now a component of the curriculum. While that is true, half truth is a lie. The 2006 curriculum also emphasized reading of the Quran. The kids are now learning of sufism. The ahadith is for daily application. All political parties signed an act of Parliament in 2017 saying that the recitation of Quran will be taught to all students. Several decades before, all the way to the Objectives Resolution, the inseparability of Islam and state was established. Democratic or dictatorial regimes have all agreed that religion will be a part of curriculum. When we question why we need to educate our kids Islam, we are challenging the constitution”, she states.

Democratic or dictatorial regimes have all agreed that religion will be a part of curriculum. When we question why we need to educate our kids Islam, we are challenging the constitution

Dr. Chughtai shifts the focus to the inclusive curriculum of Social Studies. “The social studies curriculum teaches about ancient civilisations, not just Indus valley civilization. Children learn there were different types of people. We are people of this land and today our religion of choice is Islam", she says, "When we teach about Ashoka and Buddha – both non-Muslims, we are actively preaching diversity and tolerance. This curriculum has been the first of its kind where it is acknowledging religiously diverse figures. The text books have to be congruent with the curriculum".

The Social Studies curriculum highlights the roles of minorities and ancient non-Muslim figures that played a pivotal role in developing the region
The Social Studies curriculum highlights the roles of minorities and ancient non-Muslim figures that played a pivotal role in developing the region

Addressing out-of-school children: the need for vocational degrees along with literacy

Ms. Naviwala and Mr. Sami state that Pakistan witnesses the highest number of enrolment (85 %) in pre-primary education sector. Children tend to drop out after they either realise the education has little to no value to their family's vocational profession or they feel intimidated by the curriculum or the corporal punishment. Other factors like gender also play a role but come second to the aforementioned reasons. Around 67 % remain enrolled till elementary school. Mr. Gill provides a detailed analysis on the reality of out-of-school children and how the system has failed them. He also comments on the SNC failing to address these children in its entirety.

Children, though enrolling in big numbers for primary schooling, eventually drop out at elementary level as the system does not facilitate their needs
Children, though enrolling in big numbers for primary schooling, eventually drop out at elementary level as the system does not facilitate their needs

"The government data suggests 22.8 million are out-of-school. This data is 2 years old and the basis of this data is 1998 population census. It is important to understand there are many more out-of-school children", he begins, "Our constitution says every child has a right to education from 5 to 16, which can be broken down in 5 to 9 years old (22 % of the total out-of-school children) and the 10 to 16 year old (77.8 % of the total out-of-school children). The government is putting in effort to bring these out-of-school children back to school by bolstering the infrastructure by adding more teachers, rooms, textbooks which might influence 5 million out-of-school children. We need to develop a different curriculum to address their distrust of the system and to teach the bigger chunk of out-of-school children the required vocational skills. Children from rural backgrounds, refugees, disaster-striken areas, girls and simply those uninterested, there are many reasons for exclusion".

In a shocking revelation, Mr. Gill shed light on the astounding arithmetic skills of the out-of-school children, "We did an action based research in Karachi on 10 – 16 year out-of-school children in collaboration with AKU Institute of Education Development. When we started non-formal education intervention, the results were astounding, the arithmetic skills of these children were better than their counterparts enrolled in schools. These children buy and sell things on a daily. If we negate what they already know, they will not have any interest. We need formal education to add value to their life. The current system is very rigid and offers them nothing of value".

Mr. Gill suggests that the SNC must acknowledge those children that work closely with their families and will continue to do so their entire lives. Instead of forcing them to be literate alone, the state must introduce vocational training programs so education adds value by not just building literacy rates but also developing their existing skills. "We need to pull these children into school by incentivising them with what they seek to learn instead of pushing them into an alien system that reaps no practical benefit for these children. We need to step outside the boundary of the school", he claims.

One step forward, two steps back, many to go

British intervention in the education system in the subcontinent (primarily switching schools from being tax-revenue-receiving to tax-giving) to centralise control of resources is one of the primary reasons Pakistan continues to suffer a trifurcated educational system today. Not only did the nation inherit a centralised and a divided system, education was later used by many dictatorial leaders to ideologically influence the masses to strengthen control. 73 years after Partition, Pakistan continues to struggle to not just provide quality education to its children but also incentivise children to go to school. While the SNC has many problems, in some ways it serves to bring an incremental change by digitising the system to better track changes and shifting to an interactive method of learning to eradicate rote-learning and possibly corporal punishment. While critics have valid grievances regarding an artificial notion of imposed uniformity that serves a nationalistic and religious ideology, one must assess indicators like student learning, quality of teachers, textbook content and assessment style to better gauge developments and progress within the realm of education in Pakistan. By collaborating with revered institutes like AKU and Cambridge, and claiming to appoint 400 experts from diverse ethnic and educational backgrounds in Pakistan, the SNC (conditional on being inclusive and backed by implementation) might incrementally reap positive results. It is equally important to appreciate that the advent of SNC has been a catalyst for the on-going national discourse on education, causing many experts that were not included in the NCC to criticise and pose the right questions, some of which Brecorder unearthed in this story, while holding the authorities accountable and answerable.