Education policy and program must be consistent with national and international rights framework, say Catholic Bishops
Naeem Yousaf Gill (center), executive director of the Catholic Bishop’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, speaks during a press conference at the Lahore Press Club on July 20. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)
The Catholic bishops have called on the Pakistani government to end the imposition of a revised school curriculum making Islamic education an important part of compulsory subjects, including languages and social studies.
The Catholic Bishop’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has expressed concern over the Islamic content of textbooks under the country’s One National Curriculum (SNC) in a press conference at Lahore Press Club on July 20.
“Religious minorities demand textbooks free of hateful material,” said Kashif Aslam, deputy director of the NCJP, while calling for its removal. “The educational policy and curriculum should be consistent with the national and international human rights framework.”
He further pointed out that the SNC does not carry the required national consensus and clearly violates the rights of the provinces granted by the 18th Constitutional Amendment which delegates the subject of education to the provinces.
“[The] The Punjab government should also launch a meaningful consultation process to adopt qualitative and inclusive textbook content,” said Aslam, referring to one of the four most populous provinces in Pakistan, where Christianity is the second largest religion in importance.
The SNC was touted as a uniform education system across the country during the tenure of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and has since been criticized for failing to recognize Pakistan’s religious and cultural diversity.[imeministerImranKhanandhassincefacedcriticismforfailingtorecognizethereligiousandculturaldiversityofPakistan[imeminister ImranKhanandhassincefacedcriticismforfailingtorecognizethereligiousandculturaldiversityofPakistan
“We don’t need exclusion or separate classes for already stressed non-Muslim students”
Pedagogues fear that Khan’s inclination towards “madrasas” (schools of Islamic learning) could lead to the loss of a student’s ability to reason independently from the precepts of Islamic thought.
Catholic educators are holding consultations as the Federal Ministry of Education and Training prepares to introduce the second phase of the SNC for students in grades 6 to 8 in the province of Punjab for the next academic session which will begin in August.
The constitution of Pakistan prohibits the teaching of religion to students other than their own faith. Muslim students were never required to study other religions, while non-Muslim students were prescribed a subject on ethics instead of Islamiat (Islamic studies) from year 3.
Under the new curriculum, religious education replaces ethics and will include separate books on seven minority religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i and Kalasha.
“We don’t need exclusion or separate classes for non-Muslim students who are already stressed, as our survey of 12 cities last year showed. These lessons should be integrated into relevant lessons,” Naeem Yousaf Gill, executive director of NCJP, told UCA News.
Educators are also “deeply concerned” about the lowest education budget ever. The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2021-22 revealed that only 1.77% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was spent on the education sector last year.
Declining levels of education, especially in public schools, were a concern, said researcher Amir Riaz.
“Wealthy and bourgeois families prefer denominational and private schools. Poor people studying in public schools have no choice,” he said.