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Disparity remains.

Byline: Yasmin Ashraf

ON March 3, 2012, my Grade 4 students received the news that the Punjab chief minister was scheduled to inaugurate the widening of the service road which lay parallel to Westridge and the Peshawar Road, Rawalpindi. The proposed road was supposed to cut through the green belt. The report upset the students and a plan was immediately made to save the green belt.

The students along with their teachers prepared placards and marched towards Choor Chowk in costumes that looked like tree stumps without branches or leaves. The little enthusiasts very consciously took the longer route turning on to the main road to draw the attention of passers-by. Within half an hour, they were protesting at Choor Chowk with banners and placards. One of the banners read: 'We will all have to sit in the thinking chairs and RETHINK.' It so happened that the chief minister decided not to show up that day. Dejected, the students had to head back to school.

I can quote scores of similar instances at the school which were a direct result of a humane curriculum that I took 17 years to design. Sadly, all that has become a thing of the past. A notification has now been sent to parents informing them that we would no longer be following the school's curriculum as someone has decreed for the winds to blow in a certain direction or else - and we've decided to comply.

The purpose of writing this article is not to lament my surrender. Instead, it is to point out that the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board books do exactly the opposite of the intended outcome of the Single National Curriculum (SNC). The 'stakeholders' are still waiting for the approval of books by other publishers. But the PCTB seems to have outdone them; the publishers as of today are still waiting for approval. As a result, most schools are left with no alternative but to use the PCTB-prescribed books.

Books that categorise worms as reptiles can surely not be described as being of a high standard.

The PCTB books refute the claims made by the education ministry. The books seem to come apart at the seams - both in terms of the quality of the paper and the quality of the content. The ministry uses the slogan 'one nation one curriculum' and claims that the SNC minimises disparity in education. This is a very naive assumption, as the so-called private stakeholders have already started looking for ways to get around these books.

The education minister himself offered the solution. He said that private schools and seminaries could teach students extra materials of their choice. The question is whether government and low-cost private schools will be able to afford the extra materials. They cannot. As these schools cater to a vast majority of the population, the 'disparity'which the prime minister is aiming to minimise will still remain. The 'stakeholders' and the PCTB have left them in the lurch. The reason behind the delays in approving the alternative textbooks seems to be to ensure the imbalance between the haves and have-nots.

The content of the PCTB books instils disparity instead of bridging it. Let's try and correlate just one aim of the SNC to the content in the Waqfiyat-i-Aama books which is to 'identify the feelings of people in different situations; identify and recognise the disagreements/conflicts that occur at home, in school, and in the local community'.

The Waqfiyat-i-Aama books seem to do the opposite. For example, 'Mera Khandan aur Meray Dost' in WA Book-1 describes a typical family comprising of 'Ami', 'Abu', 'Dada', 'Dadi' etc. How about introducing the idea of acceptance and the diversity of families, that it's OK to belong to a family that doesn't comply with the notion of a standard family?

Chapter 6 'Hamara Illaqa' shows a bungalow as someone's home. But the reader of this chapter may be someone who lives in a single-room house, or someone who shares a large room with 20 other children in an orphanage. What about the 60-square-foot houses of people living below the poverty line? Their bathrooms and kitchens are 'encroachments' extending into the streets which our municipal committees are so eager to remove. Showing one such house would develop empathy instead of Sara's house (on page 26) which is as big as the adjacent park sprawling across several kanals.

Chapter 9, 'Mera School', was supposed to inculcate 'diversity and coexistence'. It talks about students from different parts of the country who speak different languages and about a foreigner classmate. The mention of a foreigner at the school again suggests an elite school in complete contrast to what the reader of this chapter would be going to. On top of that, girls as young as five are shown in the books wearing dupattas, projecting a certain image.

Stereotyped notions of family, mohalla, school, girls etc leads to restricted thinking. The world is moving away from standardised testing but the ministry has warned that they would introduce board exams; another threatening measure to ensure schools adopt state-approved-books.

Additionally, the topic of Islam and minorities doesn't seem to find a place in the SNC's Islamiat outcomes. Ignoring such an important topic doesn't seem to help bridge the gap, while excessive religious content in itself can create the idea of 'us and them' which is not desirable.

Further, the science books have been dealt with illogically and contain inaccurate information. Books that categorise worms as reptiles can surely not be described as being of a high standard. These will result in standards plummeting rather than being brought up to par with private schools that can afford to use extra materials of their choice. We are in fact ensuring that the disparity remains by insisting that schools use only books approved by the authorities. This would mean pushing the unprivileged majority of Pakistan further down the abyss. The last nail in the coffin has been driven.
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Author:Yasmin Ashraf
Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Sep 10, 2021
Words:989
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