A lot has already been said about the Single National Curriculum (SNC). The education minister, writing in these pages on September 8, has stated: “we will continue to request for more comments and suggestions since that would help us refine our attempt at a single national curriculum.” Dear Minister, the suggestion is: stop the SNC in its tracks, cut the losses, and focus on other aspects of the educational agenda of the PTI that will lead to better results.
Prominent educationists in the country have elaborated the problems with the SNC in detail. Most important of these is that the SNC will not lead to uniform education across the country. Multiple systems of public schools, private (both low-cost and elite) schools, and madressahs will continue to function as before. Better schools will continue to add quality textbooks for their students, A-level and O-level systems will function as before, less resourceful schools will continue to lag behind in quality. Then why have the pretense of promoting uniform education when it will not be achieved with the introduction of the SNC?
The SNC will only promote “majoritarian religious nationalism” as has been stated by others. It will only achieve the religious indoctrination of future generations without meaningfully contributing to establishing a uniform system of education. So why pursue it?
Unless there is a uniform level of quality of teachers, school infrastructure, home environment, examination systems, pedagogical practices, school facilities, the SNC alone cannot deliver even if one had a good draft at hand. What the education ministry has produced does not have the seal of approval of prominent educationists in the country: Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr A H Nayyar, Dr Rubina Saigol, Dr Faisal Bari, Dr Baela Jamil, Dr Tariq Rehman, Dr Ayesha Razzaque, Neelum Hussain, and Dr Anjum Altaf amongst others.
The education ministry claims to have been vetted by 400 “experts”. Those 400 ‘experts’, even if they exist, seem to be more like education managers rather than education experts. That is why so many distinguished educationists have been criticizing the SNC since their input was not solicited in its formulation.
The education minister also stated that to generate a debate, they put the draft of the SNC on their website and they have been “greatly enlightened” by the quality of debate. The truth is that the debate started before the SNC was officially shared. The debate initiated on the leaked SNC and the ministry had no choice but to offer feeble rebuttals. They should just shelf the SNC for reasons that have been very well articulated in the public discourse.
Dr Baela Jamil has elaborated in a discussion that there are many schools in the country where there is one teacher teaching multiple grades. How can such paucity of human resources meaningfully deal with the heavy content of the SNC? According to ASER’s survey of the learning outcomes of 2018, class 5 children were asked to read class 2 level story in Urdu or regional languages and 44 percent of children could not read the story. Similar results were recorded after testing children in English and arithmetic. Why load the heavy cramming content for students through SNC that has been largely copied and pasted from other sources? Why not take the ground realities of the country into account?
The PTI government in its education framework over a year ago has identified four priority areas: decrease Out of School Children (OOSC); improve quality; enhance skills trainings; and bring about uniformity in education. All other three objectives of improving the quality, decreasing 22.8 million OOSC, and imparting skills training are more worthy than the SNC.
The education ministry would make a much more worthwhile contribution if it were to focus on the other three objectives. Take skills training, for example. Our economy suffers due to lack of skills training in our labour force despite the abundance of population. The ministry should think on the lines of introducing skills training as a separate stream from early in our regular education system.
A recent private write-up by physicist Dr Abdullah Sadiq pointed out the excellent “dual system” of education introducing skills training in Germany. I followed it up by looking at Cedefop, EU, 2007 publication. As Dr Sadiq notes, children in Germany can opt for any of three streams after their elementary (primary) schooling and two of those streams prepare them for vocational training and introduce apprenticeships for more practical experience during their schooling. The third stream leads to more academic teaching preparing students for university education.
However, the German “dual system” is concretized at the upper secondary level and roughly 53 percent of students train for acquiring a skill leading to occupation. They have continuing facilities for higher levels of skills training in later grades and there are also dedicated vocational training institutions to further hone the skills.
Japan, according to its education ministry website, has a similar system of introducing vocational training. At the upper secondary level; they teach general, specialized and integrated courses. Specialized courses impart vocational training in fields such as “agriculture, industry, commerce, fishery, home economics, nursing, science-mathematics, physical education, music, art, English language” amongst others.
By focusing on skills training, our education ministry will not only impart much-needed skills to our future human resource, it will also help bring out-of-school children to schools and successfully counter the major dips of drop-outs after primary and lower secondary levels in our present education system.
There are many other worthwhile endeavours that the education ministry can undertake even if it follows other objectives of its own educational framework. The SNC campaign is not going to improve education or bring about uniformity in education.