Peter Jacob (right) and Riaz Ahmed Shaikh at the press briefing on the National Education Policy 2021 in Lahore, March 20. (Photo: Faiza Arshad)
Catholic educationists in the Muslim majority Pakistan are demanding better representation for all religions in the school textbooks as the government finalizes a new education policy.
“The process of consultation for the National Education Policy (NEP) should involve views of all stakeholders including vulnerable groups like religious minorities,” said Kashif Aslam, Deputy Director of the Advocacy and Program National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the Church's human rights body in Pakistan.
“We reject the prevalent tunnel vision and demand a moderate education to promote civic, ethical and critical thinking as per international standards.”
Aslam was speaking on the sidelines of the March 20 press briefing by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) with educationists in Lahore.The speakers also demanded an inclusive and transparent education policy and an increase in the education budget. Pakistan's expenditure on education is estimated at 2.3 percent of GDP in the fiscal year 2019-20.
This December, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training requested public and education sector experts for their input in developing the new NEP 2021. The three-month process of policymaking will conclude on March 23.
According to the current NEP 2017, illiteracy is more pronounced among ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, laborers, persons with disabilities, and prisoners. It prioritizes imparting literacy to females, neglected areas and minorities.
However, the Church officials often complain of officials neglecting such policies. They also complain about hate material in the curriculum and an over-emphasis on Islam in Pakistan's education system, often with a bias against non-Muslims.
Some Christians leaders said the new policy supports a single national curriculum, which will be implemented across the country from August.
The new plan involves reading the entire Quran in the primary section, learning Islamic prayers, and memorizing a number of hadith (words, actions, and approval of the Prophet Muhammad) in Arabic with their translation.
“We are more concerned about Muslim students who won’t be able to study anything else except Islam. They will be burdened with more religious content,” said Peter Jacob, CSJ director.
"The policymakers suggest non-Muslim students should vacate classes during these lectures or offering them alternate questions in examinations. Both will further increase the sense of alienation among minority students,” Jacob said.
Last month, the Punjab Textbook Board removed a racist image targeting Christians in a Grade two Urdu-language book. The pictorial story narrated children referring to a “black boy” as a Christian who brings halwa (pudding) for others.