Why a Single National Curriculum is Dangerous

SNC seems an attempt to open doors for taking back space from provinces, writes Farhatullah Babar

Why a Single National Curriculum is Dangerous
The federal government’s desire to reduce inequality in education is laudable, but is a single national curriculum (SNC) the correct route towards this noble cause?

No doubt there are differences in quality of education, particularly between religious seminaries and mainstream schools on one hand, and between public and private sector schools on the other. This differences needs to be reduced. But are these differences a function of the curriculum?

No matter what curriculum is adopted, the inequality between 22 million out of school children and those enrolled will not disappear.

No matter what the curriculum, the inequality in quality of education will not end as long there are inequalities in teaching methods and evaluation criteria between various academic institutions.

Reducing inequality is a function of enrolling all the out of school children and improving the physical infrastructure of academic institutions. Inequality in education will not end as long as there are schools under trees, with no boundary walls, no drinking water and no toilets.

Reducing inequality requires improving the human capital by way of teachers’ training, providing internet access and improving teaching and evaluation methods. It also requires that physically and mentally challenged children - constituting a significant portion of a young population - are also integrated.

It is claimed that single national curriculum is required so that seminary students also have access to quality mainstream education. This is a laudable objective but was this issue not addressed in 2006 on providing these students with access to modern mainstream education? Why not pursue the guidelines adopted in the 2006 policy and why this insistence on single national curriculum?

Education is a provincial subject and the provinces alone have the right to determine issues in education, including curriculum. The very words “single national” in the SNC seems intended to legitimise assault on provinces. Words and phrases matter. Why call it a ‘single national curriculum’ if the stated objective is to reduce inequity in educational facilities and infrastructure?

SNC seems an attempt to open doors for taking back space from provinces. It aims at imposing a single national narrative dominated by security, religion and a high dose of piety. It is a recipe for promoting a narrative of nationalism that rejects plurality of ideas and diversities of cultures. Such imposition by the federation seem intended to create justification for suppressing alternative voices be that of the youth in ex tribal areas, in Balochistan or are gender and faith based.

Religious subjects are already taught in mainstream educational institutions. The SNC however opens the door for the seminary teachers to enter mainstream educational institutions to teach these subjects. It is well known that majority of the education of seminary students is grounded in sectarianism. Imagine the consequences of two or three seminary teachers trained and educated in sectarian education entering the present educational institutions.

The backdoor entry of seminary teachers into mainstream educational institutions may be the dream of some people but it will be a nightmare for the country. It is something that even Zia did not do. It is poison.

Let us also not forget the experimentation in the past with uniformity when the state tried to impose uniform national language, uniform national narrative and uniform political discourse on the people in early days of independence, in the 1950s and 1960s.

By imposing uniformity, the state not only imposed Urdu on Bengalis but also imposed ‘parity’ formula to given equal political weight to the majority East Pakistan with the minority West Pakistan. The result was the language riots and the breakup of the country. Centrists would be well advised to not repeat the mistakes made in the past. Diversity of thought, of religion, of cultures, of languages is the soul of a federal structure. Crushing it will crush the soul of the state and society.

Nature also does not force uniformity in ideological issues. If God wanted everyone to be following the same faith, there would not have been so many religions. The injunction against coercion in matters of faith and religion speaks a lot against enforcing uniformity. It would be worthwhile to also recall Holy Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) profound saying, “The differences of opinion (ikhtilaf) among the learned men of my community are an outcome of divine grace (rahma).” The differences of opinion and thought are the basis of all human progress.

It is wrong to frame the debate on education around a single national curriculum. If at all, it may be framed around the minimum standards of quality education, quality teachers and quality infrastructure. And this debate can best be conducted on the platform of Council of Common Interest (CCI) with each province even striving to excel the minimum standards of quality education.

We have heroes at the national level as well as at the provincial and local levels. If a province also mentioned its heroes in the curriculum why should the federation feel threatened? Two days ago, August 12 marked the 73rd anniversary of massacre in Babbra, Charsadda when nearly 700 people were mowed down for violating Section 144. Heavens will not fall down, nor federation undermined, if perspectives on the incident were also taught in the schools in the province.

The writer is a former senator