03/22/2021, 17.23
PAKISTAN
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Education reform threatens the rights of religious minorities

by Shafique Khokhar

Experts and activists are demanding that teachers, parents, students and education experts be involved in the policy process. The interests of students must be protected without any discrimination. Imposing Islamic studies on non-Muslims will drive many away from school. The education budget should be increased.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Working Group for Inclusive Education (WGIE) and the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organised a meeting on Saturday ahead of the launch of Pakistan’s new National Education Policy (NEP).

Participants discussed possible solutions to problems such as low levels of literacy and poor educational standards, and one participant warned that the federal government’s new education policy violates the constitutional rights of religious minorities.

One point that was highlighted during the meeting was the need for an inclusive consultation process involving teachers, parents, students, and education experts, as well as training programmes for teachers that take into account critical thinking, human rights, social justice, peace building, and acceptance of cultural and religious differences.

According to Riaz Ahmed Shaikh, dean of the Department of Social Sciences at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST), the consultation process proposed by the Ministry of Education is not democratic.

In his view, the new policy should build a national consensus while ensuring the best interests of Pakistani children without discrimination on any ground.

Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a nationally renowned educator, notes that the new law provides for compulsory Islamiat (Islamic studies) for students of all faiths. This will drive many non-Muslim primary school pupils to drop out.

He explained that Pakistani education suffered immensely under Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, but the damage it is likely to suffer under the current government is going to be far worse.

For Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, regardless of intentions, the reform needs adequate funding, without which it will not succeed. He proposes to boost the budget for the national education system to 4 per cent.

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