No one will deny the importance of having a single, unified and comprehensive curriculum for all levels of education which can foster and forge togetherness within the definition of a nation. On the other hand, there is also an inherent danger of controversy, should it not be representative of all sections of the country.
Most national curriculums relate to basic school education. In the UK for example, the national curriculum is a set of subject and standards used by primary and secondary schools. It covers what subject is taught and the standard that must be achieved.
In Pakistan, we have in place The National Curriculum Framework, (NCF) under the aegis of the Planning Commission. They have produced a 101-page document that contains what subjects can be taught and how the books on a particular subject are to be designed, both content and presentation wise.
On page 45 of the NCF, there is a definition of a textbook; “a book about a particular subject that is used in the study of that subject especially in a school.” The document also makes a half- hearted attempt on what quality of individuals we as a nation wish to produce.
In response to a query on what is the best time to educate a child, Bertrand Russel responded, “a hundred years before he/she is born”. I am certain he was not being facetious. That is the kind of planning nations have to do for the future. The policy makers should know that today’s five-year-old child will be the fortunate one in 2047 to celebrate our centenary of Independence. The children of today will be in command, but how are we preparing them? If we continue having outdated thoughts and being narrow minded and intolerant, we will end up producing an army of the incompetent.
The underlying objective is to provide equal opportunity to all strata of the society so that they receive similar quality of education. In attempting to do so, we have to raise the bar of those who are lower on the rung of the ladder of quality education.
For classes between standard 1-5, there is no provision for the subject of Computer Studies. In villages there are no computer labs, hence the subject cannot be taught or is considered required. City schools based on their choice can offer Computer Studies, but there is no uniformity of the curriculum. In this day and age, even the infant knows which icon to press on his/her parents’ smartphones, for watching a cartoon of their choice. Instead of doing more than distributing laptops, policy makers must demand allocation of funds for building computer labs in smaller cities and villages. This surprisingly is not part of the national curriculum. The world is moving towards newer computer languages like Python etc. When will we train our youth in technology?
The subjects of History and Geography, as standalone areas of study have been introduced post the 5th standard. On average, a child is about 12 years of age by the time they reach the 6-7th class; imagine if the child has no idea of geography or a sense of history.
The guidelines for a textbook start with a reminder that the book must remain aligned with the ideology and philosophy of the nation. We all know that our ideology and way of life is Islam. So why should there be this insistence to include it as the first chapter in the science or English language textbook?
The NCF document under 4.6.iv, says “… there is a strong need to maintain alignment and similarity among all provinces/ areas as far as textbooks as learning tools are concerned, including its development, review, approval and delivery.” We are already witnessing disputes in the implementation of the national curriculum. Sindh has outrightly rejected it; KPK uses different texts for their books, and there is also some opposition brewing in parts of Punjab. Education should not have been delivered to the provincial government, which has a narrow perspective. The education of the nation should be a subject of responsibility for the Federal Government. Education is far too serious a business to be left to the uneducated government officials.
The NCF document 4.7 (iii) defines the role and responsibility of stakeholders in textbook development. The writer, editor, illustrator and reviewers’ responsibility is all inclusive. Each province is to have their own reviewers and their quality is provincial responsibility. No book can be published until reviewed, followed by external review, from where it will go to the Ilma Board and then to the Ministry of Education.
It is said that a reviewer asked a publisher why Ladybird books have characters named Peter and Jane; why can’t we replace it with Pervez and Jamila? I am dreading when my grandchildren would be singing a nursery rhyme that goes “Pervez and Jamila went up the hill to fetch a bucket of water.” Even acceptance of this wouldn’t be without controversy. It will be asked what is the relationship between Pervez and Jamila?
In a similar example, the book that raised objections was a basic one about human anatomy. The illustrations were criticized on the basis of the characters being under dressed with just shorts and the lack of a shirt.
As Woody Allen said, “My problems all started with my early education. I went to a school for mentally disturbed teachers.”
The writer is a banker and freelance contributor.