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EDITORIAL: You’d expect the decision of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) to resume full-time normal classes in schools across the country to be welcomed by parents and students alike; considering how education has been one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic so far. The privileged few, in this country as elsewhere, have been able to continue their classes online, but for the vast majority that is without internet connections, or enough computers for the number of school-going children at home, it’s been a very different one year. A lot of schools have had to simply shut down because of financial pressures, so there’s also a large number of students who would not have classrooms to go back to even now that the moratorium has been lifted.

There have even been reports, in a number of countries including Pakistan, of a direct link between school closures and an increase in child labour as well as child abuse and child prostitution; all of which make sense once you consider the alarming levels of poverty that have been exacerbated by the pandemic in some of the more downtrodden parts of the world. Therefore, opening schools once again is good news for everybody; parents, students and teachers alike. Hopefully, this won’t be like the last two times when the ban had to be re-imposed after a few short days that saw infections spike once again. And parents were left fuming, rightly so, that they had to pay for books and uniforms each time for just a few days of use.

Yet, welcome though the reopening of schools is, there’s now a new worry that is nagging parents. The last year or so when schools were closed was also the time that the government, quite unilaterally, pushed through its very controversial Single National Curriculum (SNC) which the law now mandates all public and private schools to adhere to. And the fact that something so important has been undertaken on such a large-scale with practically zero input from the most important stakeholders, especially since a lot of them find a lot of it impractical if not downright objectionable, is not sitting well with parents who are quite naturally beginning to worry about their children’s future job prospects.

According to the latest official directive, private schools have the option to teach courses in addition to the SNC, while government schools have no choice in the matter. That’s led to a lot of confusion with a number of prominent private schools still uncertain about which path to take; to the point that a few have advised students against purchasing their schoolbooks just yet. There’s also something to be said about the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) government in Sindh flatly refusing to have anything to do with SNC, which means the national curriculum isn’t quite national in the true sense.

There is the feeling that the government is rushing this matter through in order to score political points more than anything else. While there can be no doubt that the entire education sector needs a very serious overhaul, or that a cohesive curriculum is direly needed, such things can’t be shoved down the entire nation’s throats without any input from the people that are experts in them or people that stand to be affected the most by them. Surely, it would have been better to iron out any differences and concerns before taking the plunge because problems that arise now will be far more difficult to contain.

It is unfortunate that the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government has a penchant for going it alone, so to speak, whether the issue of the day is appointing a new NAB (National Accountability Bureau) chairman, deciding whether or not to use electronic voting machines (EVMs), or even figuring out what children should study in their schools. Previously, it gave the impression that it doesn’t like consulting with the opposition no matter how serious a matter comes up. But now it’s becoming clear that it has the same attitude towards all stakeholders, regardless of the nature of the issue at hand. Needless to say, of course, that such tactics do not make for a very healthy democracy. It is, therefore, the government’s attitude more than anything else that has now made education controversial as well.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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