04/06/2018, 17.55
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Lahore: Minorities have the right to an education without discrimination

by Shafique Khokhar

The 2017 Educational Policy ignores the right to freedom of religion in schools. Christian and Hindu students are victims of biases and acts of violence. Teaching Islam is mandatory. Students who memorise the Quran have a higher score for college entry.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Centre for Social Justice in collaboration with Centre for Governance and Policy at the Information Technology University in Lahore organised a conference on the ‘Right to Education without Discrimination’.

Participants focused on the climate of religious intolerance that pervades Pakistan’s educational system and proposed measures to improve literacy and the inclusion of Christian and Hindu students, who far too often suffer from discrimination in school and at work because of their faith.

The seminar brought together representatives of religious minorities, activists, members of civil society groups and political leaders.

Panelists noted that the 2017 Educational Policy, which replaced the 2009 policy, relies on Articles 31 and 25-A of the Pakistani Constitution, i.e. on the Islamic way of life and on the right to free compulsory education.

However, this policy ignores the constitutional guarantees under Articles 20, 22 and 36 on religious freedom and safeguards against discrimination in educational institutions with respect to religion and the protection of the rights of religious minorities.

“Education is a secular issue,” said Nazir Qaisar, a renowned Christian poet. “There should not be biases nor discrimination in education whose purpose is to enable people to think positively about mankind, which requires progressive thinking that only comes from a secular education.”

"The class system creates divisions,” he added. “In our educational system, we are divided into religions, classes and races. I strongly demand a programme of studies based on secularism, love and unity."

For Peter Jacob, director of the Centre for Social Justice, "Last year, the government prepared a national educational policy that is the replica of the previous one in the sense that it fails to curb religious discrimination. One wonders what the new policy is for.”

"Since there is no room for minorities in the new programme, it is clear that this is a blind policy on diversity. We must eradicate biases that lead to religious extremism and incidents like the one involving Sharoon Masih”, a student who was killed by schoolmates as a result of religious racism.

“School books are still full of hate speech and prejudices," lamented Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik, Punjab Education Department Secretary. However, the authorities are recruiting teachers who have been “trained to teach children with open-mindedness and without discrimination.”

During the seminar the problems of Pakistan’s educational system were highlighted. They include the compulsory teaching of Islam, which in theory applies only to Muslim students with ethics courses for minorities, including Christians. In practice, such courses are not offered.

What is more, minority students must study and be tested on subjects like social studies, history and languages based on the majority religion, which represent 30-40 per cent of the curriculum.

Panelists bemoaned the fact that school material also contain texts that incite hatred, noting that students who learn the Quran by memorising it (Hafiz-e-Quran) get 10 to 20 more points when enrolling at professional schools or applying for a job.

Last year, the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and the federal governments made the study of Islam compulsory for Muslims, whilst minority students cannot study their own faith. The net result of such a discriminatory school system, panelists lament, is that non-Muslims come out less educated than Muslim students. On average, Christians’ grade is 11 per cent below the national average, 30 per cent for Hindus.

For this reason, a series of measures were proposed to close the gap. They include reviewing school programmes to remove offensive content, ensuring religious tolerance, getting provincial and federal governments to offer remedial programmes for minority students, allowing Hindus and Christians to learn about their own faith, giving minority students as well a higher score for access to colleges and public jobs, and including the study of relevant minority figures who have contributed to the country’s creation and development.

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