We have another opportunity to take a close look at the unique National Curriculum which was implemented for Years 1-5 in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2021 and is scheduled to be extended to Year 12 by 2023.
A country is shaped by the capabilities and worldview of its majority who, in Pakistan, have graduated from its public schools. School education is therefore a decisive proposition.
It is disappointing that even serious critics of the CDS are calling, in the name of realism, for minimal changes limited to adapting the CDS to be more equitable and inclusive with revised learning outcomes. This misses the fact that the SNC is seriously deficient – it is pedagogically flawed, age inappropriate and with very poor quality content. These defects cannot be overcome by marginal adaptations.
Let’s take a few examples. Pre-1 math in all public schools, no matter how remote, is taught in English, a foreign language, contrary to best teaching practice. No convincing reason has been put forward to justify this decision, which makes it impossible for disadvantaged children unfamiliar with the language to understand the material.
Each number in pre-1 math is introduced with an English verse that is incomprehensible to a five-year-old encountering the language for the first time. The verse introducing the number 4 reads: “Four friends who are very great / Together they achieve everything / Day and night they worked hard / Pakistan’s success is their court.”
The vocabulary (words like reach and yard) is well above the level of a five-year-old who doesn’t know English. But the verse makes no sense – it doesn’t even mean anything. What do students expect from it? Can a curriculum littered with such examples be taken seriously?
There are also conceptual absurdities to contend with. Zero, arguably the most important digit in the numeral system, is introduced as follows: “Zero means nothing at all, / That’s why it’s called zero.” It is simply wrong. The number is not called zero because it means nothing at all – the name is derived from “sifr” which turned into cypher before ending in zero in English. In other languages it has quite different names, like “shunya” in Hindi.
And the message itself, that zero means nothing at all, is grossly misleading – just adding a few zeros to a number should make its value obvious. Too many Pakistani students are hampered by such poor conceptual foundations; they can “solve” problems without understanding what they are doing.
Consider other dimensions of the CNS. Parents were repeatedly told with pride that it was introducing students to critical thinking and creative writing for the first time. For a reality check, check out these examples from the Grade 4 English textbook. The first critical reflection exercise on page 6 includes the following: “How old was Hazrat Ali? [ra] to accept Islam? The first creative writing exercise on page 12 asks the student to write a paragraph about Hazrat Muhammad [pbuh] In your notebook.”
The authors of these manuals claim high qualifications. Do they really not know what critical thinking and creative writing mean, or do they want the faculties of public school children to remain confined to memorizing facts? Either way, the SNC is discredited.
Keep in mind that the last two examples are from a 4th grade course for teaching English. They might be appropriate in a textbook for Islamiat, but even there they would encourage memorization and would not serve the purpose of teaching critical thinking or creative writing. But how is the content relevant to teaching English?
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. They reflect the SNC’s intent to make children virtuous via an overdose of morality. How does this premise square with the evidence after 40 years of injecting morality into the program by Ziaul Haq? The nation is no longer moral while being much more intolerant and violent.
Three-quarters of Pakistan’s population are under 40 and have had no education other than the Zia variant. Leaders who use abusive language come from elite schools. The mob involved in the Sialkot lynching came from public schools. The cultists who cannot separate fact from fiction and who have reduced politics to a primitive state are products of the same program. What will the products educated under the CDS, which goes far beyond Zia interventions, look like?
Pakistan is moving towards Afghanistan unless the citizens take the position now that they did not in the days of Ziaul Haq. No one is safe in a bubble floating in a sea of intolerance and violence. We are all passengers of the same boat which will swim or sink together.
CDS implementation should be suspended immediately and the whole package evaluated by a body of independent experts. Our children need to be protected from this ruthless attempt to crush the flowering of spirits with the ability to demand accountability for what our leaders of various stripes are doing to the country.
The author is the author of “Plain Truths About Primary Education in Pakistan and Single National Curriculum: A Review of Pre-1 Model Textbooks”, both published by Folio Books in 2022.