Minorities and education: equal rights for all students guaranteed by the constitution
by Sarah John
A Christian scholar says that it is necessary to develop curricula that promote tolerance and human rights in order to fight violence and extremism. As it stands the current school system favours Muslims, providing them with advantages and privileges. School textbooks nurture a “sense of segregation” among minorities.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – In a long article published in the Pakistan Christian Post Anjum James Paul wrote that real change can come to Pakistan only through education. For the university lecturer and founder of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association (PMTA), the spiral of terrorism and extremism can be brought to an end by preparing students as early as possible in their life and explaining to them the values of tolerance and respect for human rights. As an expert with a great deal of knowledge of Pakistan’s school system he took a look at the 2009 National Education policy, pointing out its flaws and violations of minority rights.
As a scholar Anjum James Paul believes that a “constructive” attitude is needed, inspired by the “teachings of the Father of the Nation”, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who presented his views to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, and for whom freedom of worship was an essential feature of the country, stressing that the “the business of the State” was something distinct from “religion or caste or creed”.
Despite such lofty words minorities have been discriminated by successive governments, Paul said. But his criticism does not spare minority leaders, “who have never raised the issue of discriminatory policies.”
Text books and schools force minority students “to attend classes where one religion in particular, Islam, is promoted”, which tends to nurture a “sense of segregation”.
The role played by minorities “in the birth and building of Pakistan” is not included in any textbooks, and this creates a certain “distance between minority and majority students”. Although books should not cause controversies, it is “sad to see that minorities are not even mentioned.” Yet he is still hopeful that the Education Ministry will do something and adopt “special guidelines in the matter.”
Another case of discrimination between Muslim and non-Muslim students concerns the Qur‘an. Those who learn sections of the Holy Qur‘an by heart can jump to the 8th class examination, bypassing classes 6 and the 7, getting additional marks that are helpful in getting into higher classes. “Minority students are denied such privileges and it is harder for them to get a higher education,” he said.
By recognising that “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan” (Art. 2), the constitution strengthens the cooperation among Muslim nations on the basis of Islamic unity and promotes Islamic values, history, and teachings, but it does so to the disadvantage of those who profess a different religious creed.
Finally, some of examples Anjum James Paul cites are in “open violation” of Article 25 of the constitution which says that “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”