Conference discusses religious discrimination in schools

Panelists highlight role of education policy

Our Correspondent April 06, 2018

LAHORE: A conference on the theme of right to education without discrimination was organised by the Centre for Social Justice in collaboration with the Centre for Governance and Policy at Information Technology University on Thursday.

The discussion was led by Centre for Governance and Policy Director Dr Yaqoob Bangash, Punjab School Education Department Secretary Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik and Centre for Social Justice Director Peter Jacob.

The panelists identified various areas in the education system that needed improvement thereby promoting religious tolerance in the country.

They stated that the proposed education policy (2017) relies on Article 31 and 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan, while ignoring the constitutional guarantees under Article 22,26 and 36 of the constitution which safeguard minorities against discrimination in educational institutions.

Further, the current education policy (2009) violated Article 20, 22 and 25 of the constitution and infringed on several international human rights laws.

The participants also highlighted several instances on how the education policy and textbooks themselves discriminated on the basis of religion.

For example, minority students can opt for Ethics instead of Islamiyat, a compulsory subject at most schools and colleges. However, the alternative is an impractical course, which forces students to stick with Islamiyat, they informed.

Besides Islamiyat, 30–40 % of other subjects such as social studies, history and several language courses cover information related to the majority, they added.

The textbooks are also biased and print hate material against religious minorities. This encourages negative sentiments among students which then manifests itself in violence.

This causes religious minorities to lag behind in the national literacy rate. The 1998 national population census shows that 11% of Christians and 20% of Hindus are literate, they expressed.

Therefore, in order to promote religious tolerance, national cohesion and accommodate religious diversity the speakers and participants urged authorities to consider implementing necessary measures.

They presented a range of possible solutions such as reviewing the curriculum at school and colleges, including the draft of the education policy (2017) to ensure that discrimination does not seep into our classrooms. Further, they stated that teachers, the school environment and co-curricular activities, all be designed to respect everybody’s religious values and traditions.

They also proposed that students belonging to different religions be awarded their own substitute for Islamiyat. Academics, students, the media, official from government departments, textbook publishers and others attended and participated in the conference.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2018.

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