Educating the Nation

By Anjum Altaf

The Single New Curriculum (SNC) is the latest big thing and, like many of the big things before, it will end with a whimper, losing air and falling limp leaving us to tot up the costs. But while it lasts it will yield a load of laughs much needed in these times marked by amazingly smart lockdowns, miraculously flattened curves, invisible deaths, and dire warnings.

The other day I watched a discussion in which one of the experts responsible for the SNC described in awe how the 400 members assembled for the task spent hours discussing the gargantuan problem of population explosion and how grades 1 to 5 students needed to be made aware of it. This profound conclusion was modified partly when members from Balochistan pointed out their small population, immense resources, and abject poverty. Grades 1 to 5 students might be too young to be introduced to the complexities of real life.

While these highly complex issues were being deliberated by the Committee, news trickled out that schools had ordered parents to purchase for their children only the Pakistani edition of the Biology textbook from which the chapter on Reproduction had been removed.

Students will now have to fathom the intricacies of the population explosion without the benefit of knowing reproduction. One can imagine the post-SNC generation growing up believing babies are brought into homes by storks and, by application of logic, assuming logic is part of the SNC, that the way to reduce the number of babies is to kill as many storks as possible. This is contingent on storks being allowed to be depicted in textbooks — 10,000 of which are under the strictest scrutiny — given that storks are not Muslim birds and hence not shariah compliant.

This lesson could be combined with one recommending the elimination of all birds since they have very little in their favour in the entire corpus of holy sayings and, worse yet, pose a hazard to PIA whose aircraft have the strange habit of colliding with stray avians and turning turtle. Exceptions would be made for the eagle, the bustard, and the owl. Children will memorize via the SNC that eagles rest on mountain peaks thereby posing no danger to PIA. Bustards inhabit deserts away from flight paths and are vital for luring petrodollars. And owls populate our garden by sitting on every branch; they never leave their perches lest they be poached by someone else.

Embarrassing issues might arise if children raised on the SNC ask their mothers why the wise ones are distributing five hens and one cock to every household when the cock is entirely useless and better replaced by another hen that would yield an additional egg. It would be a good to have a parent-teacher guide to the SNC so that they know what cock-and-bull story to give in response to ignorant questions if and when they arise.

Listening to the SNC discussion I was truly impressed by the passion to raise good children. The unstated but strong premise shining through was that good children would surely be intelligent by default, the primary ingredient of intelligence being goodness. Quite clearly, this high-level deliberation by the Committee did not include any recourse to evidence. I suppose most members, being products of the goodness infused by Zia ul Haq’s curriculum consider it the source of the undoubted brilliance that has elevated them to positions where they can now infuse yet another dose of goodness into the SNC.

One can only conclude that evidence-based thinking would not be part of the SNC and all necessary wisdom would be chosen for transfer into the brains of students by the all-knowing Committee of 400. Evidence-based thinking is needed when matters in doubt have to be resolved via experimentation. When doubts do not exist, scarce class time could be so much better utilized in learning the correct pronunciation of holy words to minimize the dangers of blasphemy whose rules need considerable further tightening.

I was also touched by the earnest request of the expert to at least commend the Committee of 400 for their good intentions — their hearts being in the right place wishing the best for the children of the country. I wondered if the Committee believed Zia ul Haq was not well-intentioned given the havoc wrought by all the good people produced by his curriculum. But, I forget, the Committee of 400 is evidence-proof. Asking it to conclude that education in goodness cannot make people good, let alone intelligent, is asking too much. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

People will be intelligent if they are taught to think and most intelligent people will be good if goodness ensures a decent life. But who needs intelligent people? Intelligence is for the birds that are to be eliminated.

This opinion was published in Pakistan Today on September 10, 2020 and is cross-posted here with the author’s permission. The writer is the author of Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Delhi 2019, Karachi 2020.

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