05/12/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Two nationalised schools handed back to the Catholic Church

by Qaiser Felix
Islamic teachers and groups threaten nation-wide demonstrations. Some consider the decision illegal, calling it an atrocity.

Karachi (AsiaNews) – Two nationalised Catholic schools were given back to the Catholic Church amid protests from Islamic teachers and political groups.

On May 7, the Sindh Education Department officially handed St Joseph's College for Women and St Patrick's College over to the Catholic Board of Education in the provincial capital of Karachi.

Mgr Evarist Pinto, Archbishop of Karachi, said it was a positive step for the government to take in view of returning all Catholic schools that were nationalised in 1972.

However, the Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association (SPLA) and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA ), an alliance of six Muslim religious parties, reacted decidedly against the authorities' decision, claiming that the decision to hand back the schools was illegal.

In a press conference held on May 9, the SPLA announced that teachers throughout the province would boycott annual exams scheduled to begin on May 17.

SPLA president Manzoor Hussain Chishti went further and threatened a nation-wide protest campaign against the Education Department's decision.

He said that teaching staff in three other provinces are prepared to join eventual demonstrations.

MMA members Mohammad Hussain Menati, Abdul Sattar Afghani and Mohammad Laeeq Khan have also expressed concern over what is in store for students and teachers in the two colleges.

The three leaders called the privatisation of two colleges an atrocity against the citizens and students of Karachi because it would result in doors being closed to students from poor and middle class families. They also claimed that the action would make the education more expensive

"These schools belong to the archdiocese," said Archbishop Pinto, "and should have been given back much sooner".

The prelate said the government did not impose any conditions other than requiring the schools to focus exclusively on education and exerting its right to name its own representatives on the schools' future Board of Governors.

"Both schools are in good hands," the Archbishop said, "and will provide the high quality education that Catholic institutions have always offered in Pakistan".

Since 2002 various educational institutions have been handed back to the Church, but in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh many have remained state-owned.

In a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in September of last year, Catholic bishops and Protestant representatives called on the government to hand back Christian schools the state had nationalised.

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