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EDITORIAL: Last Tuesday, the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) had issued a notification withdrawing draft manuscripts of Islamiat textbooks/supplementary reading material for middle schools and grade-IX, based on the Single National Curriculum (SNC) introduced by the then PTI government.

But two days later, the Board cancelled its own notification “with immediate effect” after PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi used it for political point-scoring, accusing in a tweet the new Punjab government of stopping the implementation of SNC and “education on Seerat un Nabi (SAW) to please their ‘foreign master’”, adding “they [his party] would stand against this anti-religion step and would foil this conspiracy.”

Most likely, Elahi did not know what was in the manuscripts taken back; or that, as claimed by Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz in a press release, that the notification to that effect was actually issued on April 26 on the watch of the previous provincial government of which Q League was a coalition partner. In any event, CM Hamza did not need to react the way he did to the allegation. Ordering an investigation into the mater, he vowed to take strict action against those found responsible for it.

Press reports, however, suggest it was a well-considered decision made earlier this month at a meeting of provincial Education Department officials, who were of the view that one of the PTI government’s stated reasons for creating the SNC was to bring the madressah (seminary) students into the mainstream of education, but it was making schools look more and more like madressahs — a concern shared by a vast section of civil society. In fact, the then federal education minister, Shafqat Mehmood, had spent a lot of time trying to convince the representatives of madressah boards of different schools of thought to include mainstream subjects in their curriculums, but the other stakeholders were not taken into confidence. Their apprehensions were ignored and the new syllabi containing a heavy religious content were foisted not only on all public and private schools in PTI-ruled Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was also made mandatory for the post-graduate level students to take a 50 marks course in Islamic studies. Religious matter was incorporated in science subjects as well. While people in those two provinces had no choice but to embrace the SNC, the Sindh government had refused to adopt it. Voicing a common concern, Chairman of All Private Schools Management Association, Sindh, Syed Tariq Shah had averred that SNC could not be accepted without amendment as SNC books had a high amount of religious content. He had explained his stance saying that “in subjects like science, which are based on experimentation and reasoning, not particular beliefs, this cannot be accepted.” (No one, of course, has any objection to imparting religious education to students, but to the way it is used everywhere).

Education ministry officials in Punjab, apparently, had similar considerations when they asked the PCTB to withdraw Islamiat textbooks for secondary school classes as well as grade-IX. Unfortunately, instead of standing his ground in support of those who knew better how to create a balance in learning outcomes, CM Hamza Shehbaz has decided to cave in to an opponent’s threat to politicise the issue.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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