SNC and unanswered questions

The progress and development of any country depends upon the quality of its educational system. A state that is not committed to its educational standards will never be able to keep up with today’s modern world of advancement. Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had emphatically warned the fledgling nation about the importance of education, saying, “Education is a matter of life and death to our nation.”
The Single National Curriculum (SNC) is one such vision. It outlines a single system of education for everyone in terms of curriculum, teaching, medium of instruction and a common evaluation platform so that all children of the state have a fair and equal chance of gaining quality education. The new curriculum will be introduced in three phases. This year in March it was introduced for grades 1-5. Next year the SNC will be expanded to grades 6-8 and the following year to grades 9-12. So far, only the province of Punjab has approved the SNC.
However, the question arises as to whether the unified curriculum be successful in reducing this inequality of educational standards that has existed for over a period of time. While reviewing the SNC in detail, critics have pointed multiple challenges on the path of these educational reforms in Pakistan. Earlier this year in March, 140 human rights activists, parents and educators signed an open letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The state curriculum, the signatories wrote, removes the right of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children.
It further adds that Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory, insists that states respect the freedom of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in accordance with their own convictions. Despite the government’s commitment to promoting quality education, many parents with school going children fear that the new curriculum may stunt their children’s intellectual growth rather than stimulate it.
Secondly, Article 22 of the Constitution of Pakistan protects the rights of minorities and states that ‘no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction if such instruction relates to a religion other than his or her own’. Yet, Peter Jacob, a Lahore-based public policy expert and a team of educationalist, found that 9% of the content in the SNC Class 3 English textbook was in grave violation of Article 22 of the Constitution.
The violations seem to worsen as the child ages. Teachers found that 23% of the Class 4 English textbook and 21.42% of the Class 5 textbook similarly violated Article 22. Most of them are concepts or beliefs that non-Muslim children are unlikely to be familiar with and, by their constitutionally guaranteed rights, should not be required to know them. 
Moreover, after the implementation of the SNC, it would be incumbent on teachers to achieve any ambitious goals. Presently, there is a shortage of qualified teachers, especially at primary and secondary levels in Pakistan. If teachers fail to live up to their responsibilities, all goals and objectives of SNC would remain unfulfilled. Hence, there is an urgent need to train teachers first through vocational training programmes. 
Similarly, it is also important to realise that the goals associated with SNC could only be achieved when all out-of-school children are in school, the gender disparity in education is minimised, making choices of subjects available at all levels for minorities is given, teachers are trained and basic infrastructure requirements available in schools are met and Article 25-A of the constitution is implemented in true letter and spirit. At the same time, special attention should also be paid to the education of women. Societal barriers that hinder girls’ education must be removed. In addition, more budgets should be allocated to the education sector.
The goal of SNC is aimed at eradicating education apartheid. However, apartheid in education is likely to be eliminated through the introduction of a single national education system rather than a single national school curriculum. Inequality between rich and poor will stay the same as no attention will be given to improving the general condition of schools. Students from elite and poor backgrounds will undoubtedly study the same curriculum, but under very different conditions, which increases the differences between the two social classes.

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