A uniformed curriculum?

Published: January 20, 2019
The writer is a political commentator for The Diplomat Magazine, LSE South Asia Center, and author

The writer is a political commentator for The Diplomat Magazine, LSE South Asia Center, and author

Earlier this year, Pakistan’s federal minister for education announced a Single National Certification System to address the country’s widening academic quality gap between public and private schools, and decreasing literacy levels. It proposes centralised curriculum as an instrument of academic unity — a move that is likely to give the federal government a central role in framing learning content and pedagogies for provinces, instead of guiding it. The implementation of such a policy in the post-devolution era, could prove challenging on many fronts.

Firstly, it discourages school curriculum from being personalised to the learning potential of each province. Just recently, the Punjab government introduced digitised textbooks in public schools. These textbooks cater to students between grades 5-12, readily equipped with over 13,000 video demonstrations, 500 deductive simulations, and thousands of animations — all intended to exact mathematical and scientific concepts to individual learning needs. Still in its pilot phase, the programme has installed ‘content servers’ across seven cities, which help to extract real-time feedback on learning outcomes — and median time — from student tablets. Thus, some initiative at the provincial level is evident.

Similar interventions, in the form of textbook development, are slowly taking root in Sindh. The Curriculum Advisory Committee’s recommendations on the 2006 syllabus for grades 1-12, has led to the development of revised textbooks in Sindhi, Urdu and English languages. Thus, interactive curriculum efforts in both provinces are a result of the autonomy decreed under the 18th amendment. A one-curriculum policy would not only disincentivise provinces from investing in ongoing interventions, but would also limit their effectiveness against the centre’s one-size-fits-all approach.

There is also the problem of “differing priorities” between provinces. In Balochistan, for instance, the biggest challenge to educational equity is not curriculum development, but school infrastructure. In K-P, there is also an ever-widening gap between primary and middle schools. This brings into question the province’s capacity to meet Article 25-A of the Constitution which ensures education for all children between ages five and 16.

Unless the distinct concerns of each province are factored in, it is unlikely that a single-curriculum policy would lead to a just, competitive and equitable education system. One must also remember how downplaying provincial dynamics has worked out in the past. In 2016, for instance, the development of Minimum Standards for Quality Education did little to correct a 3% graduation rate among public school students. Nor did it help narrow down a gender enrolment gap.

A more plausible approach would be to integrate curriculum design, self-assessment technologies and infrastructure development into one multipronged capacity-building effort. This way, provinces acquire the hardware needed to address academic challenges specific to their demographics, while retaining a fair degree of discretion in the process.

Interestingly, some of the leading education systems around the world have constituted ‘teacher growth models’ to deliver on organic curriculum and pedagogy reform efforts. Singapore, for instance, has deployed teachers’ language development centres (TLDCs), problem-based learning methods and strong mentorship cultures across public schools. Similarly, a remarkable surge in competitive education across South Korea, Estonia and Brazil, is a direct result of pedagogies given due emphasis in policy design.

Hence, the current government must look to integrate distinct provincial priorities, personalised curriculums, pedagogies and self-assessment interventions into one larger reform policy. It is difficult to construe single-standard curriculum especially, if the ultimate objective is to make the education system conducive to evolving — both for the students that comprise it and the teachers that drive its growth.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2019.

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