Lahore (AsiaNews) - Pakistan has become a "Muslim-only state, where minorities" do not have equal rights. " It is therefore important to rethink the school curriculum so that schools can promote the inheritance left by founder Ali Jinnah and "educate children on human rights and equality before the law." So says Mgr. Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore (Punjab) and former chairman of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, who highlights the failure to date of the government to achieve its objectives.
The prelate states that "education is seen as an antidote" to other problems, but if you do not solve the tragedy of poverty and do not guarantee equal access for all to the right to education, the country will never emerge from the current crisis. He adds that some Catholic schools have initiated innovative methods of instruction that ensure optimal results, but lack of funds could lead to the closure of many institutions. He calls for greater collaboration between Christians and Muslims, where until now "there has been no real cooperation and relations between different institutions."
Below an AsiaNews interview with Msgr. Lawrence John Saldanha:
Your Excellence, 2011 is The Year of Education in Pakistan. More than terrorism, extremism, economy, is education really the “major” issue the country has to face?
Certainly, education is seen as the antidote to the other issues like extremism, terrorism, etc. Pakistan is very low in literacy. It ranks 166th out of 177 countries. Only a sound education system can bring Pakistan out of its present crisis. It is true that extremism and terrorism flourish where there is little education. But poverty is also the main problem, and most people are too poor and see no future . The radical militants have taken control of the streets and oppose any moderate or liberal view of Islam. They are opposed to female education and have destroyed 356 schools in the northern province of Pakhtoon Kha. Last year 22 lady teachers were killed in the province of Baluchistan.
The great floods of 2010 damaged 7820 schools and 4935 became shelters for the homeless. This has had a serious impact on education in Sindh and south Punjab. The more liberal minded are silent and afraid to voice their views. Even teachers are very careful what they say.
So to celebrate 2011 as Year of Education in a country where over 50% are under the age of 15 is a good thing. But there seems little hope that any big impact will come in the field of education.
And the “ Education for all” global campaign of UNDP ( UN Development Program)will not achieve its goals by 2015.
Official figures show that 30% of students languish in a condition of "extreme" educational poverty. Extremism nourishes its roots from this lack of education (i.e. madrassas). Why does nobody seem really interested on changing the “status quo”?
People cannot change the status quo because Pakistan is facing a huge economic crisis. Because of the lack of water in the dams, there is acute shortage of electrical power and many hours of power cuts. This has had a bad effect on business. Factories have closed and workers are jobless. The increase in food prices and petrol has also made life very difficult. In these circumstances only a few middle class can afford to educate their children.
So the number of people below the poverty line has increased to 45%.or even 50 %. How can they send their children to school when they cannot pay for fees, books and uniforms?. The teachers also demand a raise in their salaries and so don’t work so hard.
Many of our Christian children are given concessions or scholarships.
Even some Muslim leaders, social activists, have stressed the importance of Christian Educational Institutions in Pakistan. What role can the Catholic Church play in education?
Although education is the duty of the government – it is a fact that the government cannot pay the high cost of educating millions of children. So the private sector must play its part. Some high class private schools are being run like a commercial business , charging high fees and hiring good teachers. Only the very rich can afford to send their children to these schools.
The Catholic Church also has a large number of schools – throughout the country there are 550 schools, 53 hostels, and 8 Colleges. They do play quite an important role in imparting quality education, mainly because of the dedicated Religious sisters and brothers. They maintain good discipline in their schools and stress moral values in education. But due to severe economic difficulties, many children have to drop out from school and go to work for a small income.
A new and innovative international system called “ Service Learning” was successfully introduced in the Catholic school system of Lahore Archdiocese. It is the first in the country and we are proud that our Catholic schools are successful in this new approach to learning.
But the Catholic school system in general faces serious financial difficulties in providing quality education because most of the children cannot pay full fees. That is why some teachers leave to get higher salaries in other private schools
Is cooperation and goodwill possible between Muslim and Christians to implement education in schools so that fundamentalism can be eradicated?
In theory it would be a desirable thing, but in practice there is not much cooperation and good relationships between the Muslim and Christian schools.
However, during the past five years there has been fruitful cooperation between a Muslim organization called YES network which gives good training and guidance to Catholic schools.. They are committed to eradicating fundamentalism.
There is a general fear of displeasing the fundamentalists so that they have to proceed very cautiously and tactfully. The fear of being accused of “blasphemy” is very real.
Ali Jinnah stated equal rights for all, freedom of religion and free and compulsory education. His will has never been accomplished in anyway. Who can pick up the baton?
We are still far from the vision of Mohammad Ali Junnah. The level of intolerance and prejudice against non Muslims has increased. Pakistan has become a state for “muslims only”. Non Muslims do not enjoy equal rights. It is only the private sector schools that can educate the children in human rights and justice for all. Our hope is that they will carry the baton and try to promote the ideals of Mr Jinnah.
What are the Catholic leaders proposing, how are the Bishop’s Conference planning to make a contribution in the field of education?
Catholics in Pakistan generally are treated as social outcasts and are not accepted as equals by the Muslim majority. They are poor and illiterate. Education is the key to liberate them from this cycle of poverty and slavery.
The Catholic Bishops have a National Education Commission. They give a priority to education. Dioceses have a special program of in service training for teachers in order to raise the standard of education. The policy is working well and our schools are getting better.
We encourage the use of the Internet to get better results. The teachers are responding quite well.
But the Bishops need a lot of funds in order to modernize the methods and facilities and also to build new schools.
Due to the fear of terrorist attacks many teachers have left the country and we find it difficult to get well qualified persons to be principals and headmasters.
The Church is also concerned about the national syllabus which is very biased and teaches intolerance and errors about other religious faiths. It is here that the seeds of extremist ideas are sown and nurtured. The government is aware of this issue but they are too weak to introduce a more open and tolerant syllabus.
A national survey revealed that 85% of population want better education, even female education because "better education means a better political class". Do you agree with that?
It might be true in theory but it is also a fact that the so called educated class of people are also very morally corrupt and many crimes are committed by educated people. Bribery is very common in our society. Cheating in examinations is considered alright. Materialism is also on the rise.
Today young people have access to immoral images on the Internet. So moral education and social tolerance are much needed in our culture together with the usual syllabus of learning.