Earlier this month, the PTI-led federal government started the new academic session 2021-22 of the primary classes in all the public schools from August 2. As per the Single National Curriculum, private publishers are only allowed to develop textbooks aligned with Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) prescribed by SNC. A board will oversee that there is no anti-Pakistan, anti-religion or any other controversial content in the books.
As per the ministry’s plan, next year, SNC-based books will be introduced for grades sixth to eighth and in 2023, the SNC will be introduced for grades nine to twelve. Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood said, “At the start of the academic year 2021, we will introduce the uniform education system across the country at the primary level. Then, in April 2022, we will introduce the uniform education system for classes 6 to 8 and in the final stage at the start of the academic year 2023 we will introduce the system for classes 9 to 12.”
The SNC will be focused more on uniting the different educational bodies which exist in Pakistan, namely, the English medium schools, the public schools and the madrassas. It was introduced in line with the promise that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) made of implementing a uniform education system after coming into power after the 2018 elections. The SNC was an attempt to end the war that has existed between private colleges and public colleges in terms of quality education, extra-curricular activities, the gulf between the cost of education, and the facilities for the students. The primary goal; however, is to induce a modicum of equality between the students studying in seminaries and those of the elite private schools as far as the curriculum is concerned.
However, many schools have gone on ahead without the implementation of the SNC. Private schools have as of yet have not even received the booklist and they had to start the schools with their old syllabus. Earlier, the private schools held protests before the start of the new academic year as they did not receive any material from the government according to the SNC. Not only is there a failure from the government itself to properly implement the SNC but there has been a critical lack of engagement with the real and genuine problems that our education systems face.
The SNC was brought in to bring all students on equal footing – no matter where you are from or where you study, you would get the same standard of education. Sounds good. On paper. In real life, that means providing resources that the government has not. As the name itself implies, this is just a curriculum – the dire need of students for better classrooms, better teachers, and better counselling services has absolutely not been touched.
There is a world out there – in small towns and remote areas – where the SNC debate is irrelevant. For millions – the estimates range from 18 to 22 million – of school-age children out of school, the first step is to provide access. Content, while critical and important, only matters if there is a school. Unfortunately, Pakistan ranks highly among the countries with the greatest number of children who are out of school. Understanding the circumstances of Pakistan’s public education, here is what the government should really focus on: there needs to be frequent and better training for the teachers. At best, public sector teachers receive three days of training a year. To truly bring a change, we would need about ten times that.
Then, public schools still lack essential facilities such as furniture, water supply, toilets, etc. The situation continues to be so in spite of receiving donations for the infrastructural improvement of schools from several countries. Rigorous auditing of where these funds go is badly needed.
Moreover, the textbooks provided by the state are of abysmal quality, both in content as well as in presentation. Pakistani textbook boards have repeatedly proved unable to provide good-quality learning material. Another flaw of the new curriculum is that the coursebooks are written by similar authors, which reduces the diversity of ideas. The SNC also does not offer separate plans for minorities or children of other faiths, forcing them to follow the same religious content that is taught to Muslim student
In short, the government should have invested more in trying to bring the 2.5 million out-of-school children back to adequate educational institutions. In September 2017, out of the 1,67,131 students who passed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC), only about 60,000 were able to find admission to the government colleges. This means that the rest — a staggering 1,07,131 — had to move towards the expensive private institutions or home-based colleges.
Lest we counter this, the SNC remains just ink and paper.