Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday in the National Assembly that his government will implement a Single National Curriculum that will be uniformly taught in “English medium, public schools and madressahs [seminaries]” in April 2021.
Addressing the National Assembly of Pakistan, Imran Khan said that his government is set to replace the “apartheid education system” with a uniform curriculum. He also lauded the Education Minister of Pakistan, Mr Mehmood, for his efforts in developing the Single National Curriculum.
Khan said that three education systems are operating in Pakistan: English medium schools, public schools and madressahs. He said that there was no political will in the past governments to implement educational reforms in the country, and, therefore, no attempts were made. He said that the education minister had held lengthy consultations with the private schools and other stakeholders in the educational sector for the implementation of a uniform national curriculum.
The prime minister said that there is need to bring forth the 2.5 million students in madressahs across the country. He said that the clerics employed in these madressahs have been consulted to teach contemporary subjects to the students to enable them to compete with society and assimilate in it. A uniform national curriculum was a central agenda in Khan’s 2018 election manifesto.
The education minister of Pakistan told Dawn that the uniform curriculum for the primary level has been prepared and the ministry was in the process of finalizing the books. He said these books will be taught in the private sector, public schools and madressahs across Pakistan in 2021. He said that the uniform curriculum aims to provide equal educational opportunities to the students of Pakistan.
Mr Mehmood said that the government will do the necessary legislation to make all the institutions bound to teach the Single National Curriculum textbooks.
As the PTI-led government enumerates the advantages of a uniform national curriculum, others deem it as an attempt to inflict unrepairable damage on the education system of Pakistan – a conflation of system changes that exceed even those implemented by the extremist of General Ziaul Haq.
Experts argue that the idea of a national curriculum seems morally attractive, but in reality, it is lethal. They opine that the learning differentials do not stem from the diverse curricula – the secular subject, after all, cover the same facts, regardless of the varying textbooks – but from the faulty teaching methods and unreliable criteria used for the evaluation of the students, not from the diverse curriculums.
They consider this initiative as an attempt to Islamize the educational system of Pakistan: under the SNC, the schools will impose rote learning that exceeds even those of the madressahs. The religiously under-educated normal teachers will be replaced by the more narrow-minded ‘holy men’ – hafiz’s and qaris – from the madressahs. The experts are apprehensive of its effect on the ambience of open questioning and critical thinking in the educational institutions.
According to the experts, PTI’s initiative falsely assumes that a hefty dose of piety and prodigious religious knowledge would somehow erase the difference between the education of the high-end elite universities and that of vastly under-equipped public institutions. An honest endeavour to raise the educational standards of Pakistan would require the equalizing of the school infrastructure, employment of well-trained teachers and impartial provision of technical facilities.
Single National Curriculum harbours a rosy illusion that the madressahs and modern world schools can be brought to the same page – a Panglossian delusion vilified constantly through the centuries of war between faith and science. Modern education is secular: it requires painstaking observation and careful experiments, and it is open to scrutiny. Madressahs, in contrast, adopt a more spiritual worldview – they aim to equip their pupils for the netherworld by indoctrinating them with rigid, immovable dogmas that provide little or no room for scepticism and critical thinking. Modern and religious education are like oil and water, one expert wrote, they don’t mix, no matter how rigorously shaken.
Experts argue that the SNC seeks to infiltrate the education system with religious dogmatism. In the ‘80s, the extremist regime of Ziaul Haq sought to Islamize education by an array of religious rules – to get a university job, for instance, the applicants were bound to name all the wives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and to read difficult quranic verses and inscrutable prayers, like Dua-i-qunoot. The students were somewhat freer, they could secure a degree without these. Today, the option is closed, as the students cannot acquire an educational degree without learning the holy Quran.
The experts have urged the Pakistani provinces to exercise their power under the 18th amendment and vehemently oppose the potentially lethal initiative of the PTI government. The implementation of the Single National Curriculum will thrust Pakistan’s already abysmal educational system in a downward spiral – essentially lowering it far below than that of the Arab countries. To truly move ahead in education, Pakistan must seek an honest and up-to-date measure, instead of fettering the education system in an array of religious shackles, the experts conclude.