The email message from the Australian immigration department brought the Pakistani family satisfaction as well as worries at the same time. The couple was satisfied that there was a positive development regarding their immigration process. The family, hailing from Lahore originally, was going to get Permanent Resident status in Australia after two years if they relocate to a small city under the Australian government policy. But it was a matter of grave concern for Naveed Asghar and Saima Naveed that they would have to leave the current city of their residence, Melbourne, and move to a small city of Toowoomba in another state, Queensland.
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second-most populous city in Australia and Oceania. It has a population of approximately 5 million people, while the town, Toowoomba, where they were asked to move, is a regional city with a small population of only 113,000 dwellers. The distance between the two cities is 1,315 kilometres.
The main cause of concern for the parents was potential disturbance in the education process of their children: Musa Naveed in grade 5, Zainab in grade 3 and Fatima in grade 1. The siblings had just taken their half-yearly exams, and joining a new school in a far-off small city of a different state midyear would definitely affect their class lessons and learning, believed the couple.
However, a meeting with the school principal in Melbourne removed all their apprehensions.
There would be no change in the syllabus of all three at all, the principal assured the couple. In fact, there was the same syllabi in schools throughout the country, whether they were situated in big cities or small villages, the parents were told.
To their pleasant surprise, the couple was informed that there would even be no disparity in the length of syllabus covered in all schools throughout Australia at a particular period in time. That means Musa, Zainab and Fatima will be starting the next chapters of their books in a Toowoomba school where they had left their lessons in their Melbourne one.
The parents came to know that schools all across Australia were linked through the education department’s info-tech programme. Similar syllabus and annual schedule for course coverage was required for all schools across the country to facilitate students as well as parents.
Australia is not the only country in the world where same syllabus is employed in schools across the country. There are dozens of others. In the Republic of Korea, there is a strongly prescribed national curriculum and all its details are determined by the Ministry of Education (MoE). In Japan, too, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture prescribes guidelines for curriculum and authorises textbooks in elementary and secondary schools. Throughout the country, the school year begins in April and ends the following March.
A Muslim-majority country Malaysia, recently visited by Prime Minister Imran Khan, has also evolved a common curriculum and common system of education. All schools, whether private or public, have to abide by the contents and curriculum approved by the MoE. All of them operate on the semester system and the school calendar begins simultaneously throughout Malaysia in the first week of December.
In Sri Lanka, an important country in the region, there is a common national curriculum, at least from class 1 to 11, and the school year lasts from January to December in the entire island.
Such countries and school systems could be an example to follow when Prime Minister Imran Khan and Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training, National History and Literary Heritage Shafqat Mahmood talk of the same syllabus in schools across Pakistan.
Educationists believe that it is good for the nation that the newly installed federal government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led ruling alliance also wants to implement a same syllabus policy throughout the country. The idea of a uniform syllabus in the country is not new or unique one. In a speech in 1961, Ayub Khan emphasised the need “to undergo similar educational curricula… the standard of values becomes common and from that cohesion emerges national feeling.”
A report on national education and uniform curricula, commonly known as the Sharif Report, 1959, fused the concepts of nationhood and citizenship with those of religion and patriotism by declaring that “the importance of creating a spirit of nationhood in all Pakistani citizens cannot be overemphasised.”
However, no long-term planning has ever been made to introduce and implement a uniform syllabus. In 2003, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Pakistan published a report, which recommended major structural reforms and the establishment of a National Education Advisory Board to centralise curriculum development and carry out regular revisions.
Under the fresh initiative, Prime Minister Imran Khan attended a briefing in the last week of November 2018, and ordered for establishment of a National Curriculum Council for creating consensus among all stakeholders on a uniform standard of education across the country.
The premier was told that the National Education Policy Framework (NEPF) was being devised to bring uniformity in the existing fragmented and apartheid-like system of education. “The objective is to create a nation and to put in place a system which is fair and produces Pakistanis,” the meeting was told.
Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood is upbeat about implementing the uniform curriculum police in due course of time. In a talk with Cutting Edge after a TV talk show in Islamabad recently, he said that the National Education Policy Framework was being formulated to ensure that all children have a fair and equal opportunity to receive high quality education in order to achieve their full potential.
He said that the Ministry of Education was in the process of framing a uniform education policy in consultation with the private educational institutions, across the country. The minister disclosed that initially uniform curriculum of four to five subjects would be enforced for private and public sector institutions across the country while private institutions would be permitted to introduce three to four subjects of their choice under the new education policy.
Shafqat Mahmood said that a uniform education system was implemented in a multi-cultural society like China, adding that the PTI government would also introduce education reforms to achieve the same targets. He said that currently three kinds of educational systems exist in the country, including madrasa system, private schools system or English medium and public sectors schools adding that unfortunately they all had different syllabi.
The minister asked if we have ever considered why we, as Pakistanis, do not agree or stand united even on the national issues. He said that there is one major reason for it: there is no uniform education system in the country with clear and defined national goals and requirements. The fall of Dhaka in 1971 was a reflection of this aberration.
The minister stressed that if the nation really wanted to settle incendiary and urgent issues, including sectarianism, political and social dichotomy, the widening gap between the poor and the rich, and lack of national consensus over various socio-political and economic issues in the country and wanted to avoid a polarised society, we would have to formulate a uniform national education policy.
Shafqat Mahmood share with Cutting Edge that wide disparity has been witnessed in the system of examinations and school calendars, being followed by each network of schools. All schools promote distinct cultures and inculcate different habits and manners in their students. Students entering into society with their divergent outlooks are sources of disunity in the country and our country is increasingly becoming fragmented with each passing day, regretted the minister.
It’s also a welcome move that the All Pakistan Private Schools Welfare Association has backed the government initiative to enforce a uniform education syllabus in all public and private educational institutions in the country. The association’s president said in a press statement that Pakistan was facing problems created by regional, sectarian, extremist and linguistic tendencies, and the federal government must introduce a curriculum that could strengthen national cohesion, promote moderation and modernisation and inculcate the spirit of tolerance in the future generations of Pakistan.