Lahore: Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Working Group for Inclusive Education (WGIE) has shown concern on the challenges to out-of-school children, low learning outcomes, and enrolment losses.

In a joint press statement, issued by Dr AH Nayyar and Peter Jacob on behalf of CSJ and WGIE regretted that instead of modernizing education based on creative and inquisitive learning various policy measures introduced by Punjab Assembly, the Government of Punjab and Education Department suggest the aforementioned objectives of the purported policy will never be materialised. The measures will make public education stand next to seminary education. Particularly, the minority students will not only be discriminated against but will also suffer huge psychological pressures.

They also noted with concern that the government is making the public education in Punjab heavily loaded with religious content and nomenclature, which are changing the very character of school education in the province.

The statement added that the challenges to out-of-school children, low learning outcomes, and enrolment losses. CSJ/WGIE also noted an Ulema Board was entrusted with the task of reviewing textbooks by the Punjab Assembly through making an amendment to the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Act 2015 in April 2020. Igniting controversy about the powers to review and approve textbooks printed by Punjab Textbook Board. While no other province has constituted an Ulema Board to review the textbooks.

According to CSJ office bearers, in June 2020, the Governor of Punjab made the study of the Quran compulsory for higher education, without giving any alternative to non-Muslim students. This course is already a part of middle and secondary education according to SNC/The Punjab Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act, 2018. In November 2021, the district magistrates were directed to conduct inspections in schools to ensure that arrangement for teaching Quran in all schools. Schools in Chiniot were closed for a day. They have made visits across Punjab.

A circular was issued by Deputy District Education Officer Chakwal no. 1721 stating that Co-education was banned. In December 2020, reciting of Darood Sharif (Invocation) was made compulsory during assemblies before the National Anthem and recitation of the Holy Quran. This can carry repercussions on religious tolerance and rule of law in the province. A student from minority faiths who may not be able to pronounce certain Arabic words correctly, or quote a Hadith correctly could face the accusation of blasphemy.

PTCB consistently failed to implement the decision of the National Curriculum Council/ SNC regarding five minority religions instead of the subjects of ethics as an alternative to Islamiat. In a recent development, data of minority students in Punjab is being compiled, without explaining the purpose behind this exercise. The education department has been indiscrete in introducing this step, raising fears that it will increase religious hostilities in the province.

CSJ/WGIE recommend the following measures to the Government of Punjab that work in conjunction with one another, Punjab Assembly, in particular, should avoid passing any legislation in haste and without due consultation with relevant stakeholders in the province including civil society and opposition political parties. Approach higher courts for a review of the Lahore High Court judgment mandating the district judges to make inspection visits to schools for ensuring implementation of Punjab Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act, 2018.

Avoid introducing any policy measures which disregard the constitutional protection of religious freedom and non-discrimination under articles 20, 22 (1), and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Ensure that minority students are not reprimanded for not wanting to study Islamiyat. The government must ensure the provision of teachers to teach minority students, their faith books as promised in the Single National Curriculum.

Author

Arsalan Haider is a reporter at Academia Mag and has worked with leading national dailies and news channels. He tweets @arsalanhaider14

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