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January 16, 2021

Conference on minorities, education system points out serious gaps


January 16, 2021

Islamabad : All education policies introduced in Pakistan had ignored the promise of fundamental rights of religious minorities made in the 1973 Constitution. The issue came under discussion at a National Conference held on Friday to shed light on the challenges and prospects for minorities in the education system of Pakistan.

The conference was organised under the auspices of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Peoples’ Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR).

The conference was attended by educationists, researchers, rights activists, and representatives of the ministry of education and hundreds of participants online from across the country.

Speaking on this occasion, renowned educationist, Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar, said that the policy frameworks, scheme of studies, and textbooks imagined Pakistan as a monolithic society. "Hence the education system was not geared towards promoting knowledge and creative learning but rather an ideological formation that promoted exclusion on the basis of religion and intolerance. It is time that we paid serious attention to issues related to the education system, We need to straighten out our priorities regarding the quality of instructions, teachers' training, quality of learning materials, the efficacy of the system of assessments, the medium of instructions, women's literacy, worrying rate of drop-outs, and the promotion of critical thinking while making new education Policy, curriculum, or textbooks. Unfortunately, these aspects are still largely ignored” he stated.

Dr. Yaqoob Khan Bangash elaborated on the significant contributions of minorities, including Parsi, Hindu, Sikh, and Christian organisations in education particularly in the pre-partition era.

"The Church-run institutions were considered the pioneers of modern education in this region. The missionary institutions admitted students irrespective of caste, creed, origin, or affiliation, making them non-discriminatory institutions, he said adding that today, not only these institutions but church bodies as a whole have become weak after the nationalisation of education in 1972.

"The institutions run by churches are facing enormous challenges of existence. Therefore, the new education policy in 2021 should include a rehabilitation aspect of these schools and colleges so that they can reassume their role as contributors to quality education. The process of de-nationalization stalled since 2004, particularly in Punjab should be resumed without adding any burden on the community."

Abraham Murad, a researcher, presented initial results of a survey on the attainment gap between minority and common students in Punjab.

He emphasized that while the results of his research reflected a strong desire of Christian families to educate their children, the enforcement of the right to education without discrimination has marred their progress towards this goal. It seems that the Christian community in Punjab will not be able to address literacy gaps without an enabling policy and a focused investment.

Tahira Abdullah, researcher, and human rights defender presented some findings from her latest research study on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa textbooks. Instead of promoting the Constitutional rights of religious and ethnic minorities, women and girls to equality and equal opportunities, their portrayal continues to be discriminatory and even derogatory in places.

Prof. Anjum James Paul, Chairman of Pakistan Minority Teachers Alliance stated that one-sided interpretation of historical events, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes can potentially affect how students perceive and develop their understandings about minority faith groups.

He added, “The idea of nationalism propounded in the curriculum and textbooks are relying on the exclusion of non-Muslim citizens and communities”. He appealed to the Government to carry out a comprehensive review of the previous policies using the lens of religious Inclusion and diversity and their impact before embarking on the new education policy and Single National Curriculum.

Bishop Humphrey Peters, Moderator Church of Pakistan, in his concluding remarks said that Constitution guaranteed protection of minorities in the country. Therefore, the Government should deliver on the promise made in the constitution including the promise in articles, 20, 22, 25 and 36.

Peter Jacob, Executive Director CSJ, while moderating the conference remarked that education policies, curriculum, textbooks, and teaching methodologies while on one hand, shape the thoughts and perspectives of a nation they have been made subservient to political designs.

He said that the governments have been creating a new hotchpotch every time which is called for political mileage without offering much. It is no surprise that all plans to alleviate quality as well literacy failed to achieve results. “Until our policy rhetoric is redeemed from populism and inconsistencies we will be doomed to live with education apartheid that we want to address. Treatment of religious minorities in the education system is not peripheral but a central question as to the reforms in the direction and quality of education in Pakistan,” he added.

Suhail Ben Aziz, Assistant educational advisor to the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training explained the efforts being made to make the Single National Curriculum process more inclusive. He welcomed the suggestions and encouraged the participants to participate in the online platform of the ministry with their input.