01/29/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Church says no to bias and compulsory Islamic studies in schools

Bishops’ Conference president writes to education minister saying that curriculum reform should counter religious extremism, eliminate compulsory Islamic studies and consult minorities.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani Church has called on the Education Minister, Javed Ashraf Qazi, to eliminate compulsory Islamic studies, allocate more money, and pay closer attention to what teachers and minorities say. He is currently reviewing the existing education system to reform it and eliminate bias against non-Muslim minorities.

Whilst appreciating the goal of improving educational standards and curtailing religious extremism, Catholic leaders still have doubts about the direction of the government’s educational reform.

A letter sent to Minister Qazi on January 22 and signed by Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Commission for Justice and Peace, lists those the doubts and makes suggestions to allay them.

First, the Church would like to see “[p]rejudices and biases on account of religion, sect and gender in the curriculum [. . .] removed” because compulsory “Islamic studies with Arabic as an essential part” and “the choice of Ethics for non-Muslim students [tend to] isolate and enhance discrimination against the minorities”.

For this reason, Church leaders recommend that religious studies only be offered at college and university levels as an optional subject in which lessons show equal respect to all religions, or, where there is no reference to any one religion.

The letter goes on to say that the new “curriculum should focus on universal human values, leaving religious education as the responsibility of the family and the respective religious community institutions.”

The third point suggests that the cost of education should be “brought down by making adequate budgetary allocation” increasing it from “8 to 10 per cent of the GDP.” The resources should thus improve management infrastructure and teacher training methods.

Finally, the letter complains that “Church-based and civil society organizations, [despite] having vast experience in education, were ignored in the review of the curriculum and policies.” Instead their input is important to develop a modern and quality education and should be considered.

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