There is no disagreement on the fact that all children are equal and that they should be provided quality education irrespective of their background. Article 25-A of the constitution also mandates it for the governments to provide free and quality education to all children between the age of 5 and 16 years. Given this obligation, the government has introduced a single national curriculum through which it aims to address various socioeconomic woes of Pakistan by providing equity education.
To underscore the importance of SNC, it is imperative to understand the education system in Pakistan. Education setup in Pakistan has three divergent streams, namely, public, private and madrassah education, where the different syllabus is being taught. In such a setting, madrassah graduates are at a significant disadvantage when compared to their counterparts from elite private institutions. This issue has also been pointed out by the honourable Prime Minister on the floor of National Assembly. The government aims to remove this disparity by providing equity education and equal opportunities for upward social mobility. SNC will also improve the social cohesion and national integration in this otherwise divided nation.
Single National Curriculum can be a harbinger of prosperity by bringing an end to social injustice and overcoming the class divide. At the moment, the curriculum of different quality is being taught in various provinces. As a result, students from Balochistan, Interior Sindh and South Punjab are unable to compete at the national level. They do not get quality jobs due to which the economic conditions of their families deteriorate in the face of rising inflation. On the other hand, students from privileged backgrounds have an edge. They land better jobs and earn more than their fellows from marginalized communities. This income disparity increases the class divide. Therefore, by providing quality and equity education to all the students, SNC can overcome this class divide.
Similarly, a single national curriculum can be fundamental in building a strong nation by instilling a sense of acceptance and inclusion by providing equal opportunities, creating a level playing field and developing a holistic understanding of contemporary challenges. Skill development is an important component of the SNC. This will equip our youth with the requisite skills to actively play their part in the economic development of the country. Experts like Faisal Bari, Baela Anjum and Raza Rumi have also endorsed it as a great initiative by the government to build a strong, cohesive, and integrated nation. They have also raised some concerns as well.
The foremost of them is a belief that it is against the spirit of diversity and UN human rights charter to which Pakistan is a party. A-35 of UN Charter states that everyone has the right to study whatever he/she wishes to. The SNC might deprive the students of this basic right. Students from various regions of the country have local literature incorporated into their books which keeps the traditions alive. Similarly, they also read about their local folk tales and local heroes. Experts believe that SNC will pose a threat to this diversity in the country.
Similarly, the experts have raised questions about the inclusion of religious content. There are two most important aspects of this issue. One, there is an only single interpretation of the religion however the policymakers forgot to note that there exist various schools of thought in the country and this might create problems like the one manifested in a press conference by one school of thought right after the SNC was made public. Another issue is of excessive inclusion of the religious content in the recently revealed primary school curriculum. Academics believe that this is too much for young and unripe minds and that they will not be able to cope up with this.
Moreover, other structural and methodological problems like huge student-teacher ratio and lack of basic infrastructure and necessities are also part of the problem. In 2019, in a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, the Education Minister of Sindh, Sardar Ali Shah revealed that out of 49103 schools in Sindh, 37795 lack even the basic necessities and infrastructure. Not only this, 12000 schools do not have any teachers.
One should also note that after the 18th constitutional amendment, education is a provincial subject. Although the Federal Education Minister, Shafqat Mehmood claims that this has been formulated in consensus with all the provinces and federal territories, Sindh Education Minister, Saeed Ghani has raised concerns. Therefore, keeping in mind the polarization and political rivalry of over country, it is safe to say that this will increase problems, not in the very far future.
However, by taking various steps like opening the SNC for public debate and addressing the concerns raised by the academics, a viable solution can be carved out. Increasing the education budget to bring it at par with international standards and developing the necessary infrastructure and providing basic facilities can also accelerate the implementation process. Introducing minimum learning standards and adopting an outcome-based approach can also prove critical in this regard. Javed Hassan has rightly pointed out that this is an important first step towards equitable education in Pakistan and trials and criticisms along the way shall be plentiful. Still, the government must not be deterred from moving forward as the single national curriculum can be an answer to the socioeconomic woes of Pakistan if it is implemented in true letter and spirit.