Driven by faith, madrasas affirm that life and the universe are absolutely divine phenomena.

The discrepancies between the tripartite system of public, private and madrassa education are, in fact, contested terrains of ideology and outcome, not a difference of class and medium of instructions as usually perceived.

The teaching methods and curriculum adopted by each genre manifests their distinctive outlook towards life, language, ethnicity and national character.

Variations within and ethnonationalism prescriptions about “what education needs to be” differentiate them further.Private schooling, precisely, follows a naturalist-cum-liberalist philosophy of teaching and learning. In this system, children are supposed to apprehend their physical universe as an objective, empirical and logical phenomena. Patterns and trends are discovered in the psycho-social and cultural world on similar grounds–turning them into quasi-scientific subjects. The very propensity helps students succeed in whichever field of life they choose in future.

The English language serves as a source of knowledge and effective instrument of instruction. It also works as a marker of class identity. Beyond Pakistan and the region, they open up children to multiple continents and a range of people around the world.

National unity, cohesive identity, exclusion, otherization, patriotism and submission to the will of centralised authority is what the public schools, by and large, attempt to instil in the minds of young learners. Sciences are taught tacitly as fictitious, superimposed and alien sets of subjects to be crammed to get through. The teachers’ orientation towards logic and empiricism is quite limited. Islam and the socioreligious notion of Pakistan are intertwined while Urdu is revered as an ideology-imbued medium of instruction. Patriotism and Muslim identity runs through as a central thrust in social studies.

The English language serves as a source of knowledge and effective instrument of instruction. It also works as a marker of class identity. Beyond Pakistan and the region, they open up children to multiple continents and a range of people around the world

Driven by faith, madrasas, on the other hand, affirm that life and universe are absolutely divine phenomena. Submitting oneself to the will of God and gearing up for the eternal life, hereafter, underlies the sole purpose of education. Knowing one’s faith, its ritual and obligations are the acmes of a child’s upbringing. Social and scientific manifestations are predetermined by an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God. Arabic is upheld as a sacred language that every child must acquire. Alternatively, laden with Persian and Arabic lexicons, Urdu is potential enough to register and communicate the message. Islamizing Pakistan, rather installing Islamic theocracy, is the best answer to our social, economic and political problems, the system asserts.

Time and again, Prime Minister and Minister for Education kept stressing for ‘uniform’ and ‘quality’ education before and after assuming power. Intentionally or inadvertently, “uniformity” appears to be emphasized more than “quality.”

Admirably, if they really intend to eliminate discrimination and create equality of opportunity through uniform education, the creation of “one mind, one nation and one worldview,” through the concurrent curriculum, is already a failed venture. Perhaps, there is no need for that. Quality standardisation is one thing and singular curriculum another.

Post 18th amendment, realising the idea is even harder. In a bid to unify curriculum and enhance quality and skills, the National Education Policy Framework (NEPF) introduced in November 2018, embeds several conceptual and technical problems and misjudgments though all that is not off track.

In spite of developing centralized curriculum cum examination standards, National Curriculum Council, Interprovincial Education Ministerial Committee and Inter-Board Committee of Chairmen should focus more on a uniform public school teaching, learning and performance standards. Save respecting a broader outline and key themes, as done by eminent private schools, textbook choice and production should be deregulated. Let the provinces make their own choices, nevertheless, under a larger national framework.

Poorer learning is the outcome of poorer quality of instruction, the teachers’ limited knowledge of her subject and their inadequate pedagogical skills. Recruiting an adequate number of subject specialists, teachers’ education (not training), particularly in sciences, mathematics and English might result in quality outcomes. A teacher must keep learning the change and following interactive learning techniques and methodologies. Creative and engaged teachers work, simultaneously, as researchers too. The praxis-based, student-centred and problem-solving instructional approach works magic with students’ scholarship. In that manner, they are better prepared to solve problems – be they scientific, technological or socio-political in nature.

Modern technology, as acknowledged by NEPF too, can not only expedite students and teachers’ access to educational content but may also help assess their level of learning without a bias. By high-quality instruction and customization, it can enhance teachers’ knowledge, skills and capabilities. As apostles of social progress, inspiring and motivating teachers alone can let students evolve their optimum potential, individual strength and diversified capacities. In so-called uniform education, accommodating informal and non-formal schools and, adult and dropped-out, special and even exceptionally intelligent children becomes challenging. Beyond basics, tigers, dolphins and horses all need not climb on a tree.

Advocated by NEPF, multilingual proficiency might be a good idea but unless mathematics and sciences are taught in English with the transformed school environment, children will fail to pick-up or many of them will stumble with a sudden shift in the medium of instruction. The National Education Assessment System must be capacitated to share policy insights about students’ learning processes and outcomes across various systems. As practised by several developed countries, there is nothing wrong with having multiple examination boards, so far as minimum assessment and quality standards are respected.

Abolishing their self-standardized obsolete system of syllabi and exams, all the madrasas operating under Wafaq-ul-Madaris and Tanzeem-ul-Madaris should be merged into the standard public education system. Historically proven, no synthesis is possible between religious and modern education. Also, the question remains do we want to create herds through education or intelligent, efficient and distinctive individuals? Inducing herd psychology and behaviour should be discouraged as much as possible. All the madrasa students should be assessed by the same boards and examination standards that are entitled to assess public schools. Infrastructure, access, quality, equipment and material supply, however, needs improvement across the board.

To sum up, naturalist and liberalist ideology and approach of education need to be internalized and advocated by our policy pundits. Education should function as the nervous system of a society. Uniform education may not cater to the needs, aptitudes and capabilities of all individuals. Peace, pacifism and fraternity as the spirit of social sciences can build and unify a nation better than hate, otherization and glorification of war and belligerence. Overly patriotic curriculum tends to teach students false history, false politics and false economics. Sciences need to be taught in an objective, empirical and logical manner without a wink of interference of one’s creed or conviction. Business and managerial studies should promote international bureaucratic, mercantile and economic principles.

Civility, democracy and citizenship education is far superior to producing prejudiced and parochial Lilliputians in the country. Why not turn children coherent to the world and the nature to generate forward-looking humanity. Let children be connected to the present in relation to the past and future of their region and the globe.

The writer is based in Islamabad and heads the Institute of Development Research and Corresponding Capabilities (IDRAC)