EDITORIAL: The Single National Curriculum (SNC) is going to be neither as single nor as national in its implementation as it is in its description because the Sindh government has reservations about it and would not be implementing it in the second largest province of the country. Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood seems confident enough that Sindh will eventually fall in line, but till it does it can do as it wishes with the SNC because under the constitution, education is a provincial subject. So even if Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of the common curriculum somehow breaking the shackles of slavery and achieving unity in diversity and all that is brought to life, that particular ‘Naya Pakistan’ will have to leave Sindh out of it, at least for the time being. In fact, the education minister’s threat that all schools, public and private, would have to adopt the new curriculum or face stern action also turns out to be a pretty empty one, since the provinces are free to choose on their own. It’s just that three of them have either PTI or PTI-allied governments, but that still doesn’t mean that the education ministry can twist their arms all the way from Islamabad.
So the takeoff could, and really should, have been smoother. All they had to do was give important stakeholders a little more say in such important matters than they are in the habit of seeking. But that’s still not to say that it is quite an achievement and it shows, more than anything else, that the government’s thinking is correct. Sometimes, though, it’s not what you do that matters as much as how you do it. And this seems one of those times. As things stand, there two education systems running in the country; Matriculation and O- and A-Levels, and in the former there is one federal board, various provincial boards, and even one private board of education and essentially it is the function of these boards to devise the curriculum. Yet while it’s one thing to solve this problem by introducing a uniform curriculum, it’s quite another to stitch one together in a hurry, without taking too many concerned parties on board, and shoving it down everyone’s throats even as academics and teachers raise a number of red flags around it.
The content of some of the courses that all students in the country are supposed to learn to become better educated Pakistanis, for example, is already leaving a little to be desired. Why, they should explain, have they clubbed science together with social studies for junior classes, while part of the reason for the entire exercise was to raise students better equipped to survive and thrive in the modern world; and understanding science as a niche subject right from the beginning is an essential part of such training? Minorities have been told to walk away with special subjects concerning each one of them without much consultation either. All in all it seems, well-intentioned though it clearly is, a policy matter rushed through the pipeline to meet perhaps a party deadline for some sort of well-calculated political point-scoring.
The government clearly knows well enough that this is the first time that an issue so important as education curriculum has ever been given high-level thought in this country; not the least because the education minister kept mentioning this fact in his speech. So it must also realise that this task is labourious and time consuming, and demands serious attention to detail, that it’s at best a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But that is precisely why it is so important to do it right the first time. And that is where the ruling party might have got a little ahead of itself. If a standard education policy risks creating more confusion than it can bring efficiency to the system, or even wasting a few generations while the people at the top, who might or might not win the next election, experiment with the results till they get it right, then it is only worth a whole nation’s future when it has been properly thought through. And that’s a long process.
The good thing about SNC is that it pushes the ball forward on a very important issue. But perhaps the not-so-good thing is that it seems to have been put together in undue haste for no reason at all.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021