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Christian schools struggle to survive in Pakistan

A study highlights educational backwardness among minority students in the Islamic republic

Christian schools struggle to survive in Pakistan

Suneel Malik (right), manager of programs for the Centre for Social Justice, with educationists in Lahore on June 28. (Photo: CSJ)

Yousaf Adnan remembers retiring as principal of a Pakistani high school in 2011 due to a shortage of funds.

“After serving for two decades in the Catholic school, my salary was only 5,700 rupees [US$36]. The teachers used to get half of that amount. The ceiling fans were as old as our careers,” Adnan, 56, told UCA News.

“Summers were especially tough for the students amid frequent power cuts. There was no generator. Our parish priest had lost interest in the building.”

St. Paul High School was located in Hajvery Town, a Christian neighborhood of Faisalabad Diocese with more than 400 families. Students, most of them from poor families, paid 150-300 rupees in monthly fees. 

The school officially closed in 2014. One of the remaining teachers is now running the facility on a self-help basis with only 60 children.

“It is one of the 63 schools that closed in Faisalabad Diocese in recent years. Most of them were primary schools [up to grade 5],” said Adnan, who now runs an organization for minority rights.

Several schools had broken windows, unhygienic toilets and no benches or chairs for the students

According to the Catholic Church's directory, 504 educational institutes were functional until 2010. Only 355 are now running in seven dioceses.

Adnan was one of the 70 educationists and activists who attended a June 28 consultative meeting titled “Towards Inclusive and Equitable Education” in Lahore. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the main organizer, presented the findings of the study on Christian-run schools in eight districts of Punjab province. 

According to Suneel Malik, manager of programs at the CSJ, 43 schools were selected for research across eight districts of Punjab for the study of infrastructural and staffing realities last year. These included low, medium and high-cost schools.

“Seventy-nine percent of schools were slum-based with monthly fees of less than 2,000 rupees. Several schools had broken windows, unhygienic toilets and no benches or chairs for the students. The attainment gap between grade-10 Christian and Muslims students was 41 percent in 33 schools,” said Malik.

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“For the past five years, Christian students have been lagging behind their Muslim class fellows in confidence as well as academic performance. Guranwala city of Punjab province had the worst attainment gap of 35 percent in comparative performance of grade-10 Christian students last year.”

The CSJ recommended creating mentorship programs for Christian students by their seniors, school alumni, extended family, friends and church connections to increase their sense of school belonging and discourage their absence.

The speakers also urged developing a five-year Punjab-wide in-house and external teacher training program in missionary schools to cover themes including lesson planning, teaching methods, classroom management, student psychology, teaching English as a second language and subject-specific workshops.

“Having a fixed one-year contract with a teacher trainer will also allow the school to negotiate a better rate for the trainer’s services. A multiyear joint teacher training task force should be created with budget allocation and provision of buildings,” said CSJ directory Peter Jacob.

“Representatives from all Christian education boards and organizations can oversee Christian-run schools in Punjab. A finance person should be engaged for accurate budgeting and planning. Christian-run education stakeholders should establish a Joint Outreach Working Group comprised of foreign qualified and well-connected academics and policy professionals, church and Christian education leaders as well as members who have extensive experience in grant writing, submission and success in winning grants. 

“There is educational backwardness among minority Christian school students. This is not just a personal failing but a collective failing needing urgent intervention and reparative action. We don’t mean to upset the hierarchy but to help the schools in improving the general Christian student performance.”

Nearly half of church-run schools and colleges are still under the control of provincial governments

Christian educationists blame the nationalization of Pakistan's private schools in 1972 for the low literacy level among the Christian community, weakened church institutions and creating fear among them. Nearly half of church-run schools and colleges are still under the control of provincial governments.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month asked the Protestant Church of Pakistan to hand over the management of Edwardes College Peshawar, the oldest missionary education institution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to the local government.

Asher Javed, chief executive of the Catholic Board of Education, rejected the CSJ’s research.

“They contacted us but the bishops’ conference didn’t allow us to share the information about our schools as it could have been misused. All executives of the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) were notified similarly,” he told UCA News.

“Since Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore became NCEC chairman in 2016, we have excluded parish-based one-room schools from our data. Hence the apparent decrease in number is being reported. We commend the individual priests for these initiatives but such literacy centers end when the priest is transferred. Several schools had no contact numbers at all.”

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