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National Curriculum of Pakistan- a great leap backwards?

In August last year, the then prime minister Imran Khan had launched the SNC at the primary level, saying the initiative will end disparity in society and provide equal opportunities to all students to excel. The Federal Education Ministry of current government PML(N) has decided to rename the Single National Curriculum (SNC) as National Curriculum of Pakistan (NCP). Federal Education Minster Rana Tanveer Hussain mentioned the reason for this change saying, ‘The word ‘single’ caused confusion and excluded the diversity of education’.

The government believes the enforcement of this national curriculum will bridge the widening gap between various systems of education in the country. The question is, will it be able to tackle the existing educational inequalities in Pakistan? In fact, it is more of a

leap backward than a step forward. Instead of improving standards in public-sector educational institutions and madrassahs in order to bring them at par with elite schools, the National curriculum or (SNC) does the opposite.


A major reason for prevailing inequality in the education system has been the deteriorating standard in our public-sector schools. The basic problem with our education system, as one leading expert points out, is that our books are ‘frozen in history’ and are regressive. There has not been any effort to change them. The new curriculum has reinforced the retrogressive content. So controversial are the new textbooks that the government found itself denying that even those related to science subjects had to be approved by the ulema board.


The move has made the NCP controversial even before its implementation. It is not the use of local languages as the medium of instruction in the elementary classes but it is the content of the prescribed textbooks that is problematic. In fact, the courses appear to reinforce a closed mindset and have nothing to do with the requirements of a modern education system. The implementation of the SNC will further downgrade the educational system. Increased focus on faith and narrow nationalism won’t produce an enlightened mind required to keep pace with the modern world. It can fuel bigotry that is not in short supply in society anyway.


According to some media reports, those reviewing the science textbooks objected to a picture of Sir Isaac Newton without a dupatta to cover what they perhaps took to be a woman’s long hair. A similar attitude was seen when the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board confiscated a book that included Malala Yousafzai among Pakistan’s heroes. Can the youngest Nobel Prize laureate whose work for girl education has been recognized internationally not be mentioned in our textbooks? And the less said the better about our history books.


The curriculum more or less fails to promote and include gender equality, religious minorities and cultural diversity. Women Action Forum released a statement, condemning the NCP as "based on ideological imperatives rather than pedagogical ones and will seed society with divisive thinking." The cover of the Grade 5 English textbook depicts a father and son studying on a sofa, while the mother and daughter study on the floor. Both the mother and daughter are also covering their heads with a hijab and most of the covers of the textbooks show even young girls donning the hijab. In the same textbook, women leaders are cited as "supporters of men." Girls and women are also mainly depicted as mothers, daughters, wives and teachers. They are not included in acts of play or exercise. Only boys are seen playing and exercising, while girls are included in images where they are mere bystanders.

These stereotypical depictions exist because no gender or intersectional lens has been utilized in the design of the books. Books that are meant to shape young minds and need to have a consistent theme and tone interwoven into the curriculum, the NCP is lacking that. If a gender lens was applied at the design, we would definitely have very different messages and learning. Due to the lack of an inclusive perspective, the NCP does not reflect the "rich diversity" of Pakistan, especially when it comes to the multiplicity of women's experiences.

While the national curriculum is in principle a good step towards unifying the younger generation, it is not enough as a strategy to bridge the existing inequalities within the education system of Pakistan. The government needs to invest more in the education sector and not rely only on a limited number of policies and strategies to overcome educational disparities. One cannot agree more that the educational apartheid must be eliminated and all citizens must have access to quality education. That can only be done by reforming our state education system. The problem cannot be resolved by a retrogressive curriculum.

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A key issue with SNC is erasure. Pakistan is a nation made of various different peoples, with a rich cultural heritage and a host of languages and religions. It is virtually impossible to design a single, "one-size-fits-all" curriculum without a loss of diversity. Unfortunately, this is not the first time for the state to employ erasure for an attempted unity. The state-constructed identity of a Pakistani has always been: opposite of India, which leads to an erasure and disowning of a) all Hindus and b) cultural norms like wearing a saree. Even in the events leading up to 1971, a reason for the discrimination of East Pakistanis was that they were different from the state's construction of the ideal Pakistani,…

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I would like to add to the limitations of the single national curriculum. The SNC does not explore the cultural variety of Pakistan's many provinces, instead focusing on the great overarching heroes. A better strategy would have been to incorporate local heroes from the province's culture so that the youngsters could relate more deeply. Balochistan's youngsters, like children from other provinces, should learn about their tales and heroes. Then, to foster unity and tolerance for variety, national-level debate tournaments involving participants from various regions describing their heroes and cultures may have been organized.

SNC seems to be an effort to open opportunities for provinces to reclaim space. It seeks to impose a unified national narrative characterized by security, religion, and…

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Thank you for this post, national curriculums have been debated since they have been implemented all over the world but one essential point to keep in mind is that you cannot bring the whole country to one level. We have multiple identities in our country, getting them to to agree to one leader is a hassle and one nation curriculum is another whole issue. Though it looks like they are trying to make a more unified country with brotherhood at its core but in reality we are removing so many values and brainwashing our country to one perspective at hand.

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Adding to your post, I think when it comes to Single national curriculums, there is always a stated and an unstated reality associated with them.

The stated reality is that this is a measure to unify the youth, provide equal access and opportunity, and to lesser the gaps between society.

The unstated reality is that many countries, throughout history, have tried to implement such a curriculum, and it has always failed to achieve such an objective. And so, one must ask whether this idea is any good in the first place for this goal. The answer to that question lies in the observation that these curriculums do not really have this objective in the first place. SNCs always come during…

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The idea of SNC theorizes ensuring a level-playing field for all in the country and defining a national character for the people, it is actually a state-engineered experiment that is being persistently applied to young minds in schools for a long time through with little success. Among them is the claim that madrassas will be brought within the ambit of formal schooling in the wake of an agreement reached between the Ministry of Education and the federation of religious seminaries that comprises five major boards of madrassas representing different schools of thought. The fruit of mixing religion with national psyche through textbooks is evident from incidents like mob lynching at university campuses and glorification of killing in the name of…

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