Posts Tagged ‘Single New Curriculum’

A Better Way to Teach

October 2, 2020

By Anjum Altaf

The Single National Curriculum has some very laudable objectives including raising good human beings and promoting inclusiveness and tolerance. It has decided on a methodology to achieve these aims. For the sake of discussion, I am suggesting an alternative to the proposed methodology.

The chosen methodology leans heavily on religion as the vehicle for raising good human beings. Muslim children will be introduced to Ahadees, Ayaat and Quaranic injunctions in support of habits that include speaking the truth, respecting one’s elders, being kind to fellow humans and animals; and of beliefs that all citizens have an equal standing in society regardless of religion, ethnicity, language, gender and colour.

Muslim children will be learning these good things by memorizing the relevant Ahadees, Ayaat, and Quranic injunctions and will be tested on them. While Muslim children are attending the class on their religion, all non-Muslim students would leave and go to segregated classes, separate for all religions, where they would be taught exactly the same good habits drawing from their own scriptures.

Religion can be a very good vehicle for teaching these basic lessons but dividing children, who might otherwise be very close friends, into separate groups every day may not be the best of ideas. Young children would inevitably ask why some of them have to leave the class and would have to be told that it is so because they are different. The consciousness of difference would be ingrained from day one. The aim of inclusiveness would be compromised and that of tolerance would be strained.

Could exactly the same goals be achieved without sacrificing inclusion and incurring the negative psychic costs of physical separation? How about experimenting with the following alternative: All children stay together and learn together. This is possible because all controversial material has already been sensibly removed from the SNC. Thus, if the lesson is about speaking the truth, the relevant messages from all religions can be listed on the blackboard. Similarly for lessons pertaining to respecting elders, treating others with kindness, etc.

(This would also resolve the awkward problem of not knowing where to send the child who subscribes to the category now allowed on the Pakistani passport — ‘no specific religion.’ Imagine the cruel fate of a child ‘outed’ in such a manner.)

It is hard to imagine that any religion would have messages contrary to the essential traits of good conduct. It would be a huge gain if by going though such a collective exercise children learn in a convivial environment about other religions and also that all religions emphasise similar good things — they are different roads leading to the same destination.

These collective exercises could be extended by exploring what the places of worship of different religions look like, on what date the new year begins for different religions and how it is celebrated, what are the different rituals at birth, marriage, death, etc. At a certain stage students can be taken on visits to different places of worship and encouraged to engage with the caretakers to satisfy their queries.

Such an approach would encourage curiosity, prompt students to ask questions, and promote mutual understanding in a positive and not an artificial manner. It would also obviate the need to memorize anything. Anyone who has been close to education knows that memorization, especially of material that cannot be imagined, is detrimental in every way. It stunts the intellectual development of children. In particular, memorizing religious injunctions cannot make people good. Had that been the case our clerics would have been the paragons of virtue but they are just as good or bad as anyone else. 

Good habits pertain not just to conduct. Good mental habits are equally important and they cannot be inculcated by memorization. In fact excessive memorization of normative content dulls mental capacity by taking away agency and replacing behaviour based on intelligence by that based on fear of punishment. And why persist with a failed approach when Pakistan’s position on the Corruption Index shows that the fear of God has ceased to deliver good behaviour with the most blatant violators being its leaders who have performed endless umrahs.

Educationists who have kept up with the subject also know that children learn in very different ways — some respond more to aural stimuli, others to visual cues, and yet others to tactile inputs. Some love to put things together, others to take them apart. If allowed the freedom, children gravitate to what excites them most. Instead of regimenting all children into a standard format and boring most of them to tears, the first few years are the time when a teacher observes and groups children by how they learn best. Once their learning ability is unleashed they progress much faster than children raised in the equivalent of chicken coops or cattle stalls.

Let us have faith in our children and give them a chance to develop into intelligent human beings leading fulfilling lives. Yes, they will ask questions but what kind of an adult is afraid of questions children might ask?

This opinion was published in The News on October 1, 2020 and is cross-posted here with the author’s permission. The writer was dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS. 

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The Political Economy of the SNC

September 6, 2020

By Anjum Altaf

As an educationist, I am appalled by the Single National Curriculum. As a Pakistani, I am disappointed but not surprised. I have articulated my reservations in a series of opinions. They have to do with the process (non-transparent and non-participatory, excluding the principal stakeholders) and the pedagogy (old-fashioned, privileging memorization over thinking). But it is equally important to explore why the SNC has taken this particular form.

I was discussing the SNC with a successful, well-educated executive and asked if she would put a child she was responsible for, say a grandchild, into a school teaching from the SNC. Absolutely not, she said without a moment’s hesitation and with a shudder of dread. I asked if, in her opinion, any senior bureaucrat in grades 20, 21, or 22 would enrol a grandchild in a SNC school. Absolutely not, she said again. She was less sure of politicians — they are such a motley bunch, she said.

This does need a survey to nail down comprehensively but I am reasonably confident how the results would come out. Successful people want their children to be successful and they know the education that can deliver achievement privileges thinking and not memorization. It is no surprise that the successful people have made sure the main plank of the SNC — equality across schools — has been consigned to the dust bin. They can now breathe easy that the O/A Levels and the IB schools shall remain undisturbed.

I don’t have any quarrel with such an attitude that is an outright rejection of the SNC. But the question that follows is why the successful don’t agitate for a similar quality of education for all children, not just their own? After all, every child is a citizen with equal rights entitled to the same set of opportunities guaranteed by the state.

It is not a given that education for poor children has to be poor in quality. Retired Chief Justice Jawwad Khawaja and his wife run the Harsukh school for children from villages around their home. They have enough confidence in the Harsukh curriculum to enroll their own grandchildren in the same school.

The only plausible explanation for the SNC is that Pakistan is not one nation but two — that of the rulers and of the ruled. The rulers need to learn how to think in order to lead while the ruled need to memorize the lessons of obedience in order to be good and contented followers. The more so, for the rulers are not rulers because of any exceptional talent or achievement on a level playing field but because they have inherited the mantle in a milieu in which all competition is effectively crippled.

A more frightening thought is the following: Forty percent of children below five in Pakistan are stunted, among the highest percentages in the world. This fact has been known to the state for decades and nothing has been done to redress it. Is the SNC then designed for children who are already doomed and cannot handle anything that requires creative thinking?

Or, is the SNC designed for the poor to further cripple the remaining competition and to mould them into pliant followers? This might also explain why people who come up with these kinds of educational programmes never ever consult those for whom the programmes are intended. They decide for them, which, in reality, means that the designs are intended to maximize the privilege of those with the power to decide.

This denial of participation is particularly striking in a country that professes Islam, a religion with such a heavy emphasis on consultation especially of those for whom something is being decided. How does one explain such an un-Islamic practice in an Islamic country except by questioning the sincerity of the Islamic pretensions of its rulers?

My suggestion to the Minister for Education is to live up to the Islamic ideal and engage in a broad-based consultation with citizens. The Minister might want to assemble the leading members of his team and engage in an in-depth debate with a set of leading experts like Pervez Hoodbhoy, AH Nayyar, Tariq Rahman, Rubina Saigol, and Zubeida Mustafa. The debates would be held in all the major district towns of the country spread over a period of twelve months with the audience comprised predominantly of parents whose children are to be the beneficiaries of the SNC. 

I wouldn’t presume to know where the parents would come out at the end but, at the very least, their silence should not be passed off as approval. It is patently unjust to decide something so momentous for others without a sincere consultation. Avoiding such a debate and rushing ahead with a show of force is a sign of weakness that undermines both the democratic and the Islamic credentials of the government.

In closing, an apt couplet from Ghalib (not all memorization is bad but no one imposed it on me before I could understand what it meant):

kyuuN nah chiikhuuN kih yaad karte haiN / miri aavaaz gar nahiiN aati
why would I not scream because I am remembered / only when my voice is not heard

This opinion appeared in The News on September 4, 2020 and is cross-posted here with the author’s permission. The writer is a former dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS.

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