The Single National Curriculum (SNC) was introduced in 2020 in Pakistan with the aim of providing all children “a fair and equal opportunity to receive high quality education.” The SNC attempts to bridge the social gaps between children through a common curriculum, medium of instruction, and mode of assessment. Therefore, on the surface level, the SNC seems to be the right step in terms of inclusivity for children. However, the highly Islamic nature of the SNC, and the fact that the Islamic Muttahida Ulema Board (MUB) had a major role in the review of the curriculum, means that the SNC creates greater disparity for religious minorities in Pakistan.
Before I start discussing the SNC and how it could impact religious minorities, let’s have a look at an example close to us. Each enrollment period at LUMS, we see posts on LDF about how students from non-Islamic faiths are force-enrolled in Islamic Studies. For each enrollment, they have to email the RO and go through the long process of wavering off the Islamic Studies requirement. If one of the most ‘inclusive’ universities in Pakistan treats religious minorities like this, what would happen under the SNC to religious minority students?
The SNC derives itself from the “teachings of Quran and Sunnah.” While Islamiat has been compulsory in the Pakistani curriculum for decades now, with non-Muslim students having the option to opt out, this new curriculum integrates Quranic material into other subjects, including English, Social Studies, History, etc., removing the opportunity for non-Muslim students to opt out. Therefore, for non-Muslim students, they have to constantly go through the content that disregards their religious beliefs, portraying only one Sunni-Islamic narrative to be the righteous one. Moreover, the illustrations in most SNC books support the Islamic notion that women must cover their heads. This adds to the non-stop discrimination that religious minorities face in Pakistan, where along with the constant physical threats, their children are now forced into a ‘learning’ environment that creates a clash between what they learn at home and what they learn in school. Upon backlash, the government proposed that non-Muslim students leave the classroom in case of Islamic teaching. However, this further widens the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim students, with religious minorities not getting the same opportunities as their counterparts.
Therefore, in an attempt to appease Islamic groups in Pakistan, the SNC has only increased intolerance towards religious minorities. When children are taught and shown that religious minorities are different and not worthy of the same treatment as Muslims, where are future generations headed in terms of religious tolerance?