The single national curriculum is a long-debated subject, which has been part of the educational policy of all democratic and non-democratic governments since the country’s independence. This topic has recently come into the spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons.
The idea was recently put forward by the PTI government amid outcry over One Nation, One Syllabus. The Federal Minister of Education in the PTI government has been tasked with consulting stakeholders to build consensus. SNC was launched in 2021 and faced a backlash from civil society for wrongly portraying and stereotyping women, both in programs and graphic artwork. Former Federal Minister of Education, Mr. Shafqat Mehmood, had stated that the aim of SNC is to design learning methods first of class I to V then VI to VIII and later IX curricula and X will also be prepared. He clarified that the SNC should only set a fixed minimum standard for teaching and learning.
The SNC has received a number of allegations and criticisms that it does not meet the needs of both genders and all sections of society, contrary to what it was created to do.
It has become a hot topic of debate on social media and mainstream electronics. A number of NGOs working in the education sector and on gender equality have criticized the SNC for its patriarchal nature and pointed out that it does not focus on the needs of all stakeholders.
Children would virtually perceive that women are meant to be ruled in a house.
Right after the launch of the SNC, some images surfaced on social media showing women playing stereotypical roles and doing household chores. This has been one of the main objections against the SNC so far.
Many children’s books under the SNC showed images of women and girls which actually give the impression that women should only play stereotypical roles. At a time when the government and private sectors are working in collaboration with international bodies to promote and ensure gender equality and the empowerment of women, the SNC has emerged as the counter effort to this.
It sabotaged the idea of female empowerment and in its truest sense it was not seen as a welcome gesture by many segments of society.
The current CDS covers program guidelines for Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, and Grade 5. The subjects it covers include all compulsory subjects such as English, Urdu, History, Science, etc.
The actual controversy has been around English curriculum books, mostly about the 5th grade English book. If I start with its cover page, as shown below, the most discussed and widely circulated image has been this cover page. It shows a family of four, which includes a father, mother, son, and daughter. It shows that the son is on his father’s lap reading an English book, while the two are on a sofa, while the mother and her daughter are sitting on the floor. This image has become objectionable because many have framed it as if women are portrayed as inferior and men in a family setting are portrayed as superior.
This image set a bad example to society as a whole, and since it was aimed at children, it devalued women in a household. Children would virtually perceive that women are meant to be ruled in a house. This perception would initially seem smaller, but in the longer term, this thought would be reflected in their actions later in life. This, therefore, would foster a predominantly male mentality society. This mentality could lead to a society where women are oppressed. This mental exploitation has every possibility of taking deep root.
Another example is that of a poem (A Nation’s Strength) from the same English book 5th page no. 86. Where men are portrayed as nation builders and women are completely ignored. This careful selection of words has a big impact. Completely ignoring women is an act of great ignorance. This not only reflects the mindset of leaders and program designers, but also shows the level of sincerity that leaders have towards transforming our society into a sexist one.
And this is not the first time that this heinous intellectual crime has been committed several times in the past. A similar event occurred in the recent past when a home economics book showed a woman’s daily routine in a home setting, which showed that a girl or woman is expected to take care of cooking, cleaning and serving his family rather than making a career or working shoulder to shoulder with men. This demoralizing repetition of discouraging women from taking an active role in nation building is also a disgrace to lawmakers who have repeatedly claimed to protect women’s rights and promote the mantra of women’s empowerment.
This amounts not only to violating women’s rights, but also to clearly exploiting the authority bestowed upon the rulers by Pakistan’s constitution. After this critical analysis of CDS, I am justified in saying that despite some positives, CDS has failed to live up to the expectation of being an equitable and inclusive program for women. The SNC should be in line with the rights granted by the constitution of Pakistan to every citizen without discrimination as to gender, religion and social class of a citizen.
The author is deputy coordinator of the project (National Justice and Peace Commission)