Imran Khan has been accused of bowing to religious extremists in Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi
Imran Khan could well return to power in Pakistan, and the US must be prepared to deal with him. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

While Pakistan’s schools and universities remained aloof and untouched by any education-reform policy, their teaching to a great extent became purely traditional and formal, and they were rapidly losing touch with real life. It has been a long-standing vision of the current prime minister, Imran Khan, to provide a strong theoretical framework for how to introduce a uniform national curriculum. Thus for the first time in Pakistan, a uniform national curriculum has begun to take a modern shape, with the addition of education on values and character-building.

The new uniform national curriculum will overhaul the country’s education system, and will put special emphasis on teaching values and character-building of the society. The major components of this emphasis will be critical thinking, citizenship, innovation and use of technology. Once the uniform curriculum is introduced, it will allow madrassa students to get the same education as offered by the private and public educational institutes.

There has been a demise in the quantity and quality of education in Pakistan, and of social accessibility to it, for many years. The division of Pakistani society into privileged and underprivileged makes the implementation of a uniform national curriculum an event of obvious importance.

Previous governments also gave thought to implementing changes in educational policies but they bowed down against the pressure from the elite class and they have been blamed for extinguishing the prospects of reforms even though such reforms were discussed in parliament.

The government plans to implement this reform next month, and provided it is launched as promised, this will end the decades-old disparities among different educational systems in the country. Children in every province, in cities as well as rural areas, across gender and across socioeconomic status will study the same things at more or less the same time and will be tested in the same way.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood says the key targets of the comprehensive plan is to end the inconsistencies among the public and private schools and madrassas.

Arguably, education as a whole has suffered. What is remarkable is that the current government has considered reforming educational uniformity when the Pakistani elite are already reacting against the idea. Resistance and opposition sentiments seen among the elite class against the educational reforms merely expose their conviction that uniform learning is a dangerous thing in the hands of the lower social class, seminaries and madrassas.

The government sees uniformity as a way to address issues of equity. The problem is that a uniform curriculum, however it is implemented, may not reduce disparities.

Children have different socio-economic backgrounds, and they come from different households where parents have different levels of education. They have different endowments, they have different language skills, they come from different cultural and religious backgrounds, and they live in very different geographical environments. The same curriculum, the same books and even the same examinations will not reduce disparities. In fact, it could even increase disparities.

Since education began, there has always been much debate about what children need to learn and how they should be taught. It is quite clear that the current government of Pakistan is looking more at conformity/uniformity rather than creativity and diversity. The new national curriculum and assessment initiatives are an example of this, as is the constant push toward trying to improve equity.

Equity issues have to be addressed while remaining within the framework of the diversity of circumstances, needs, abilities and ambitions of children. A uniform curriculum may not do anything here. In fact, to the contrary, it may exacerbate some of these equity issues.

Countries need creative, entrepreneurial talents, able to create value for others. A country’s education system is an effective machine that could instill what the government wants students to learn, and it seems the proposed revolutionary plan is not nurturing creativity. This may result in Pakistan having a population with similar skills on a narrow spectrum.

Revolutionary educational reform is about to change the face of Pakistan. It will finally force the state to take seriously the provision of education, because industry will require much more than limited reading skills acquired through a moral catechism. However, progress in establishing a new education system in Pakistan could prove to be a perilous pursuit.

Dr Fawad Kaiser is a professor, Fellowship Diplomate of the American Board of Psychotherapists, and a member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists. He is currently a consultant forensic psychiatrist in the UK.