Debates on the Single National Curriculum (SNC) are once again in full swing, with panels defending SNC religiously and criticism falling on deaf ears. A quick Google search can reveal that it is hard to come across any written piece so far that hails or defends SNC in its entirety. From educationists to linguists and other stakeholders, many people have scrutinised different aspects of SNC, highlighted its flaws and problematized its objectives as unrealistic. With the books of grade 1 to 5 published, social media timelines are flooded afresh with the snapshots of book covers and lessons, along with comments that are at variance with the nature of its content.
Let’s step aside and give the benefit of doubt to all those responsible for the formulation and designing of SNC and assume it to be a bid to address the longstanding issue of education inequality in Pakistan. A question arises: is a unified curriculum alone enough to pave the long path towards the much-needed equity in education? The answer is no!
Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s scholarship, acknowledgment of cultural diversity and equal distribution of resources – known as recognitive and redistributive justice – are indispensable for closing the gap in education in Pakistan. The immediate solution to the question of disparity is not only looking into ‘What is being taught?’, but rather ‘Who is being taught?’ and ‘How are they taught?’. For, these are more essential questions which could help in mending the dilapidated foundations of equality in education.
A more reasonable thing to do would have been the assessment of the distribution and availability of resources across the schools of the country. What intended change can a unified curriculum possibly bring in ‘one-room schools’ that are poor of basic necessities and are assigned with a teacher or two to teach every subject?
Embracing the diverse cultures and indigenous languages and realigning them with the educational policies is the recognitive justice that Fraser considers intrinsic to the genuine efforts of bringing equity in education. SNC was an opportunity to make local languages part of the language-in-education policies by introducing them as medium of instruction or as additional compulsory subjects at least. It is neither a new idea, nor too much to ask for, because in 1953, UNESCO stated that the child’s home language is unquestionably the best medium for teaching. But, apparently, this benign neglect in the form of silently passing over the indigenous languages is no different than overt exclusion, because, in any case, language endangerment and speech communities losing cultural vitality shall be the ultimate outcome. Now that being the case, most of the target population, whose cultural knowledge is not aligned or linked with the curriculum and their languages again steered clear of, would find SNC yet another political gimmick.
Anchoring on the redistributive dimension of Fraser’s notion of justice, prior to designing a curriculum, a more reasonable thing to do would have been the assessment of the distribution and availability of resources across the schools of the country. What intended change can a unified curriculum possibly bring in ‘one-room schools’ that are poor of basic necessities and are assigned with a teacher or two to teach every subject? In 2018, the number of students per teacher in primary education was 44.08, which is almost twice the average of the world (Source: UNESCO). To shift the burden of liberating education of disparities, through a curriculum, to the shoulders of the existing unequipped teachers is mockery of equity.
According to UNICEF’s Pakistan Education Statistics (2016-17), 54% of children in Balochistan, 31% in FATA and 30% in Gilgit-Baltistan are out of school in primary education. Looking at the percentage of out of school children, efforts to ensure students’ attendance should precede the matter of what to be taught in the classrooms, because without addressing the factors that contribute to the numbers of school dropouts and absenteeism, even a perfect curriculum would be ineffective in empty classrooms.
‘One nation, one curriculum’ being its keel, it might not be wrong to say that SNC is showcased as a panacea to inequity in education. If this is the case, then it is pertinent to mention that the gap is too big to be bridged by just a curriculum, for bringing madrassahs and government schools at par with the elite-private schools of the country would take more than just a unified curriculum. By realigning the structures of distribution and recognition, the redistribution of the resources to the under-resourced and the proper representation of the under-represented communities are the only promising steps towards equity in education. The journey towards equality in education might be a long one, but taking right steps in the right direction is a must if we want to be there as nation someday.
The writer teaches linguistics at Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering & Management Sciences (BUITEMS)