Pakistan’s recently implemented Single National Curriculum aims at shaping ideology—but lacks the mass support needed to reduce existing inequalities
In 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a National Curriculum Council to prepare a “single nation curriculum” (SNC) for all of Pakistan. Earlier this year, the SNC was finally launched in all provinces, except Sindh, from classes 1 to 5, with claims that it would “end disparity within the educational system” of the country as “all private and public schools along with madrassahs would be teaching the same curriculum.” Note: The second phase of the SNC is set to start in March 2022 for classes 6-8, with classes 9-12 being brought into the fold in 2023.
The SNC is supposed to create “one nation” in place of the variety of different identities shaped by the current hybrid English-medium, Urdu-medium school system. The creation of uniformity and presumed equality is understood to be a positive educative factor, which the prime minister says should be used to “shape” the Pakistani mind. The presumption is that it would lead to less dissension and more agreement in the country. No tract was published on the “creation” of a uniform mind, a precondition for the creation of utopia based on idealistic coercion proposed in Plato’s Republic and the Marxian experiment that fizzled out in the 20th century.
SNC, as a concept, is supposed to “provide a level playing field to everyone and opportunities but only when the outcomes are dependent on the same guidelines.” It was noted that “the 25,000 children who are registered through seminaries cannot apply for government jobs and not even for private as their education level is different from the students studying in private schools.” Unfortunately, since education is a provincial subject under the Constitution, it is presumed that all provinces will agree on the SNC at the present time and in times to come.
Teaching Maths in Urdu-medium schools
The compulsory subjects for grades 1 to 5, as announced in the SNC, are Urdu, English, Islamiat, General Knowledge and Mathematics; but from grade 1 to 12 the subject of Islamiat will give way to additional Religious Education for Minorities; and “English will be taught as a language rather than as a subject.” Thus, under the new curriculum, subjects of English, General Science, Mathematics, Social Sciences and General Knowledge would be compulsory whereas non-Muslim students will be able to read Religious Studies instead of Islamic Studies. “Under the SNC, 18 subjects will be taught in Urdu and 12 in English. Unbelievably, mathematics will be taught in English in all educational institutions till the fifth standard. Similarly, all books on Urdu, Pakistan Studies, Islamic Studies, and General Science, Social Sciences and General Knowledge will be read in Urdu.”
It surprises no one to discover that most schools have been unable to adopt the SNC. The government sector will no doubt submit most easily to what is clearly an “ideological” roadmap of education; but will it have the capacity to follow the guidelines even if the government miraculously improves the bedraggled state of the provincial-level schools run by the state? One observation in the press went like this: “Despite extensive planning to implement its flagship education policy, the SNC, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has by and large failed in this endeavor as state-run public schools are clueless over how to teach the new syllabus using their current capacity and resources; and there is resistance from madrassahs as well.”
A dismal education map
Let us look at the education map of Pakistan as it stands now: “According to the latest available Pakistan Education Statistics report, there are a total of 305,546 educational institutions operating in the country of which 202,106 (66 percent) are functioning in the public sector while 103,440 (34 percent) educational institutions are managed by the private sector. There are around 31,115 madrassahs as well. Schools wanting to teach from a textbook of their preference would have to get an NOC from state before being allowed to do so.”
No doubt compared to public schools, the private sector schools have felt the pain of what is coming in the dystopia of Pakistan. It was reported that “Aitchison College Lahore, Beaconhouse School System, City Schools System, Lahore Grammar School, Roots, Educators Army Public Schools & Colleges and others—are having difficulty incorporating the SNC into their respective syllabi. For the smaller classes 1-3, the abrupt change in teaching language from English to Urdu for Science and Social Studies (clubbed as one subject to be called ‘General Knowledge’), is proving to be a difficult transition.”
‘Equalizer’ of ideology
If it is the “equalizer” ideology based on the concept of Riyasat-e-Madina that stands behind the SNC’s intent to produce a “uniform mind,” then all the tools are available except that, unlike Marxism and its atheism, Pakistan’s ideology is based on religion. Whenever the Pakistani nation becomes united in its thinking, it is punished. Last time it was united in West Pakistan after the 1970 election the country broke apart. It was like Germans feeling the same way collectively under Hitler, or the Serbs under Milosevic. Nations seem to suffer when their minds become duplicates of a single doctrinal template. Under democracy, difference in thinking is basic; otherwise there would be no opposition in parliament. French magistrate De Tocqueville, on a tour of a newly freed United States, was put off by most Americans “thinking alike” because he thought it might make the country more despotic than democratic. Under President Bush, America “thought alike” on Iraq despite democracy.
A castle of uniform thinking
Section 123 of the Penal Code of Pakistan says: “Whoever within or without Pakistan with intent to influence or knowing it to be likely that he will influence any person or the whole or any section of the public, in a manner likely to be prejudicial to the safety (or ideology) of Pakistan, or to endanger the sovereignty of Pakistan in respect of all or any of the territories lying within its borders, shall by words, spoken or written by signs or visible representation (abuse Pakistan), condemn the creation of Pakistan by virtue of the Partition of India, which was effected on the fifteenth day of August 1947, or advocate the curtailment or abolition of the sovereignty of Pakistan in respect of all or any of the territories lying within its borders, whether by amalgamation with the territories of the neighboring States or otherwise, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
There is no doubt that the fundamental “equalizer” of the “two kinds of Pakistanis” created by the current hybrid system is going to be the ideology of Pakistan. Islam as religion is one thing but the creation of ideology out of it bestows on it the category that history remembers clearly. Alan Cassels says in his book Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World (1996): “The word ideologie came into use in the French revolutionary era in order to characterize the beliefs of certain anti-metaphysical philosophes who followed Locke and Condillac in contending that all knowledge derives from sensation.” The French Revolution was the dark underside of Enlightenment in Europe. Its ideology dealt in distortion and illusion, and thus deserved the title of false consciousness.
The shaping of ‘homo pakistanicus’
The PTI concern about the “split mind” of the “homo pakistanicus” springs from a sense of the “two systems” of education developed in Pakistan. The “English-medium” snob sets himself apart from the Urdu-medium schoolboy who has to suffer the unreformed Urdu script “with optional vowels” that can be learned by rote alone, and a medieval math that simply can’t express the essential concepts of today.
Pakistan’s nuclear physicist and educationist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy in his article “What are they teaching in Pakistan’s schools today?” (The News, June 11, 2000) pointed to some concepts prescribed in the course books: “Acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan. Demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of Allah. Make speeches on Jihad and Shahadat. Understand Hindu-Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan. India’s evil designs against Pakistan. Be safe from rumor-mongers who spread false news.”
The indoctrination of 123-A
He continues: “The year 1995, when this directive was framed, was the high-water mark of jihad, and the PPP was in power in Islamabad. Ms [Benazir] Bhutto of course was busy doing other things. She has admitted after 1997 that she was hardly in control of the state apparatus as prime minister. But the indoctrination of the citizen began much earlier in Pakistan’s history with an insertion in the Pakistan Penal Code of Section 123-A, which penalizes citizens violating the ideology of Pakistan (ideology being added in 1992 by Nawaz Sharif). What the ideology of Pakistan is was incrementally defined by General Zia and the right wing politicians to whom he bequeathed the state.
“With the help of the Council of Islamic Ideology, the Federal Shariat Court and the lower and higher judiciary, ideology graduated from being mainly Indophobic to generally xenophobic, as politicians spread the message that the economy had not collapsed because of their own misconduct but because of the assault on Pakistan’s sovereignty by such West-dominated multilateral institutions as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.”
Will the SNC create the “single mind” Prime Minister Imran Khan intends to produce? Since education is a provincial subject the SNC might not be implemented by Sindh in which case the English-medium school system will survive there in the pre-SNC shape. With the passage of time, the disparity of standards will show clearly and homo pakistanicus as intended by SNC would not be produced uniformly in all provinces. Indeed, it is possible that the other provinces might start sending their children to Sindh for better education if the fears put forth by educators and parents bear tragic fruit.