Leading minority and education rights groups have raised alarm over increasing religious content in the education curriculum of Pakistan’s Punjab province. The People's Commission for Minorities' Rights, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, Catholic (National) Commission for Justice and Peace, and Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) issued a joint statement on July 1 expressing grave concerns over recent developments regarding the education system in Punjab. The Working Group on Inclusive Education, a voluntary body of experts in the field, observed: “A single national curriculum agreed by federal and provincial governments is awaited, but the government of Punjab has moved to enhance the scope of teaching religion in the education system during June 2020 in utter disregard of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.” On June 9, Punjab Assembly approved an amendment to the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Act 2015 by subjecting all textbooks to approval by the Muttahida Ulema Board, a body of Islamic clerics. A week earlier, the governor of Punjab made the awarding of degrees in all public universities conditional to passing an exam based on the reading of the Urdu translation of the Quran.
“This is unprecedented in the world of university education and clearly contravenes the concept of rigorous training in specialized disciplines at the university level,” the group said. “In any case, before entering university, students spend several years in studying the Holy Quran in translation. This amendment again seeks to place control of educational content in the hands of religious groups rather than experts in education. “This is in spite of the fact that for nearly four decades now, all public and most private schools and colleges have been teaching Islamiyat as a compulsory subject in all classes. “Nazrah Quran [recitation of the Arabic text] is taught from classes I to V and reading a translation of the Holy Quran for classes VI to XII has been made compulsory in the province since 2018 as per the Punjab Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act 2018.” Moreover, 20-40 percent content of social studies, history and languages is based on teachings of the majority religion, violating Article 22 (1) of the constitution of Pakistan which prohibits the teaching of religion to the students other than their own. “While the priority tasks of educating all the out of school children and enhancing quality of education remain unfulfilled, inserting more religious content has repercussions on the quantity and quality of educational content. This step will defeat the purpose of preparing students for a highly competitive environment in the world,” A.H. Nayyar, a member of the working group, said. “These developments backed by legislation without public debate are of deep concern that will be socially divisive and undermine the freedom for inquiry-based learning and critical thinking in education systems of Pakistan,” Baela Raza Jamil, a core member of the body, said. “We call upon the government of Punjab to review these measures, which are clearly in conflict with the right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan under Articles 20 and 25,” CSJ head Peter Jacob said.
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