Centre for Social Justice organized a consultative meeting where the participants raised concerns on the government’s inaction to comply with Apex Court order that call for developing curriculum to promote social and religious tolerance in the country.
Peter Jacob and Dr AH Nayyar joined as keynote speakers, while educationists, religious leaders, researchers, students, political workers and rights activists across the country including Bishop Kaleem John, Brig. Samson Simon Sharaf, Asiya Nasir, Rev. Irfan, Sarophina Asghar and Prof. Mehrdad Yousuf contributed their perspective to make the education inclusive and equitable in Pakistan.
CSJ’s executive director, Peter Jacob lamented that the federal and provincial governments are publishing textbooks under the single national curriculum in violation of the Apex’s court orders, which oblige the government to ensure adherence to Article 22 (1) of the Constitution, and prevent forced teaching of religious content particularly in textbooks of subjects such as languages, social sciences, etc. He remarked that nearly half of the Church-run schools and colleges nationalized in 1972 are still under the control of the provincial governments, therefore, the government must expedite this process, and fully implement the policy for denationalisation of educational institutions, 1984 to prevent more damage to the quality of education caused by nationalization of education.
An educationist and researcher, Dr AH Nayyar observed that the new textbooks developed under Single National Curriculum rely on rote-learning, and fail to develop critical thinking and other basic learning skills among the students. The policy makers responsible for developing the curricula and textbooks do not understand the importance of inclusivity in education, and they are adamant to introduce forced religious instruction in textbooks of religiously neutral subjects despite the apex court’s clear directions. He lamented that the textbooks carry instructions that oblige teachers to ask minority students leave the classrooms when lessons on Islam are taught, which is tantamount to endorse the exercise of highly discriminatory practice in a school setting as an excuse, contrary to the constitutional provisions, and it reinforces the impression that there is a lack of political will to implement the right to education without discrimination.
Bishop Kaleem John emphasized that govt. should adopt an effective model of education, from those applied by independent education systems in Pakistan, to improve the literacy rate, the learning and teaching standards, and the mode of examination.
Brig (R) Samon Simon Sharaf emphasized that the government must invest more funds and efforts to improve the quality of education particularly in rural areas, and make the curricula and education policies as well as the environment of educational institutions more inclusive. Asiya Nasir demanded that the government needs to make education a priority, and demonstrate its solid commitment by increasing the education sector budget to at least 4% of its GDP so that the enrolment and retention of over 25 million out of school children, and improving of infrastructure of educational institutions could be made possible.
The participants of the meeting observed that Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training must benefit from the independent voices involved in carrying out analysis of the education policies, curricula and textbooks, and should learn lessons from the unreasonable experimentation that proven failure in the past, for introducing effective educational reforms in the present, taking into account its repercussion in the future, that new generations have to face and cope with.
The participants observed that the exclusionary aspects of education policies in the past have implanted seeds of prejudice and hatred to spread in the society, and they demanded that education policies must be developed irrespective of preference for any specific faith, to achieve the goal of inclusive and equitable education, Pakistan has committed under sustainable development goals, which will lead to improving the quality of learning and teaching in Pakistan.
The participants agreed that the government must not craft education policy in haste, instead it must bring all stakeholders on board, and seriously solicit the civil society input, and the views of the teachers, parents, and educationists as an aid to their efforts towards improving the standards of education in Pakistan. National Education Policy should accompany a plan with well-defined targets on every policy action, achievable and measureable goals, completion timeline, estimated expenses, annual budgetary needs, annual audit mechanism with a focus on teacher training programs incorporating elements of analysis, critical thinking, human rights, social justice and peacebuilding frameworks to sensitize students on contextual needs of social cohesion, acceptance of cultural and religious diversity.