A liver transplant for an alcoholic

Does the Single National Curriculum solve anything?

Last month, on the 16 August, the Prime Minister launched the first phase of the Single National Curriculum (SNC), which is supposed to ‘guide the youth of the nation in one direction to achieve success.’ It is said to be an important step towards providing the growing generation of Pakistanis an equal opportunity for a good quality education across the board.

This curriculum has apparently now been implemented from classes 1 to 5 across the country, except as yet in Sindh. It is planned to implement the SNC among the higher classes by stages. The directives that go with the SNC apparently include teaching certain subjects, including science, in Urdu.

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As with so many other initiatives in this country, this is a ‘virtuous’ idea, but a sadly impractical one, not one likely to survive the initial zeal of its initiators; it is an initiative that provides great press at first glance, but is certain to share the fate of sundry other initiatives stemming from the same source, rather like the gymnast who decided to swing impressively from vine to vine in the jungle, in the same way as he swung on ropes in the gym, only to find that vines growing in the wild were less hospitable than the ropes in his gym, so he immediately lost interest and looked around for other interests to push.

Just as sufferers of cirrhosis of the liver are never given a liver transplant if they continue to be alcoholic, the people of Pakistan are desperately in need of education, and a better one, but there is little point in going through the expense of putting a new one in place if it is almost certain to be rejected before long

The fact is that ‘equal opportunity’ is an unknown commodity in this country, where it seems to be the aim of most citizens to make sure that no such aberration gets off the ground. It is also a fact that simply plonking down a syllabus is not going to cut any ice. What we need, very badly, is an overhaul of the national brain, which seems to bank on inequality. Equality is not something our feudal systems and elitist society appreciate, nor something our begums look kindly upon. There is also the sad fact that equality, in Pakistan, where women are fighting for existence, invariably applies to men only.

It is unlikely that the private school system, which under the SNC is permitted to teach students extra material/books of their choice– but must also teach the SNC books, will take much notice of either that rule, or those books, always presuming that the SNC books are worth taking notice of. We cannot seriously imagine, that the parents of children who expect their progeny to gain admission in expensive universities will take the SNC seriously, or allow it to be used for very long, and we know who calls the shots. What is far more likely to happen is that since all schools are to be examined to ensure they are using the SNC, expensive private schools will teach it so as to ‘get it over with’, and then move on with their own system. The schools that do take the SNC seriously will become the ones to be mocked, and they would be the ones already suffering from that attitude. It will end up as the same gap with a few additions to contend with.

What with the disruptions due to the pandemic, the last thing children need is sudden changes, and further disruptions.

The good thing is that the SNC is to be implemented in all streams of education (Pubic, Private and Deeni Madaris); that latter is the best aspect of the whole venture.

The number of deeni madaris (religious seminaries/schools) in Pakistan rose sharply in the 1980s. These schools are particularly popular among the poorer segment of society, because in addition to providing literacy they also provide lodging, which includes food. These schools are the only option many parents have of providing a good meal and an education for their boys, a question of ‘one down, three more to go’, if they have four children to feed.

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These religious seminaries teach little beyond their version of religious studies, which judging by what is seen when you pass the open door for some of them involves much rocking backwards and forwards sitting cross-legged at a low table. Apparently, a few also teach logic, philosophy and mathematics, with the aim of furthering the understanding of said religious subjects. It also appears that most militant extremists once attended these schools, as indicated by the profile of suicide bombers. The SNC can therefore only be an improvement as far as the curriculum there goes.

Is the SNC really likely to close or narrow the gap between the various systems of education in this country? Wouldn’t it be a better option not to mess with the ‘better’ education wherever found, and improve what is taught elsewhere?

The English language is a factor at the crux of this issue. It is indisputable that so long as one segment of society is taught in English, and the other poorly taught and in Urdu, ne’er the twain shall meet. But is for example teaching science in Urdu a rational alternative? Tell me, what do you call a telephone in Urdu? Or is there a word for Sodium Nitrate? Or pertussis, or syncope? According to maulana google, syncope in urdu means ‘hum ahangi’, which is translated into English as ‘harmony’. But that is not at all what syncope means in English, it means fainting or losing consciousness. So how do we propose to teach this subject in Urdu?

I know we are proud of the fact that the first doctors, chemists and astronomers were Muslim, but there is no such thing as a ‘Muslim language’; in Pakistan Urdu is the national language, yet only a small percentage of Pakistanis actually speak it; and what is equally of note is that Urdu has not kept up with the developments in science.  Is there any point in teaching a subject in one language (that few people understand), loaded with words belonging to another?

What, moreover, do we do about those children who may have a single curriculum if they go to school, but who are unable to go to school, because they work? What do we do about people who employ children in their homes, factories and other businesses? What do we do about families that are unable to manage without the earnings of every single one of their members, and so their children work too instead of attending school, about parents who consider education to be overrated and a waste of time, about children who do not attend school because there is no school where they live?

Those are the issues to take care of before a thing such as the SNC can be implemented. It may have been set in place with the best will in the world, but that will tend not to last very long here. What do we do about this?

Just as sufferers of cirrhosis of the liver are never given a liver transplant if they continue to be alcoholic, the people of Pakistan are desperately in need of education, and a better one, but there is little point in going through the expense of putting a new one in place if it is almost certain to be rejected before long.

Rabia Ahmed
The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/

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