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Human Rights body slams Pakistan government’s White Paper on Education

By Sheraz Khurram Khan, Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan
ANS (1/15/07) — Reacting to the White Paper issued by the Pakistan government on education policy the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has termed it “highly controversial and problematic with regard to achieving universal free and compulsory education (mass literacy) and producing quality citizens through quality education”.

“The White paper fails to recommend concretely removing prejudices and biases on the account of religion, sect and gender in the curriculum necessary to creating a tolerant society and moderate social behavior. A separate syllabus of Islamiyat for Shia and Sunni (Muslim sects) has not been suggested to be removed”, questioned NCJP news release it sent to ANS via email on Monday.

“The White Paper suggests teaching Islamic Studies as a compulsory subject and the subject of Ethics for non-Muslim students which is highly objectionable because in the syllabi for Ethics, other religions are taught from Islamic point of view. Practically speaking the proposal isolates and enhances discrimination against the minorities and technically speaking tantamount to be no option because of non availability of books, teachers and bad curriculum”, said the news release.

“In a multi-religious society (Pakistan) curriculum should focus on Universal human values and the religious education can be the responsibility of the family and the respective religious community institutions. We understand that it is difficult for the government to arrange for religious education of student each community according to their respective faiths, which is otherwise their right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child signed by Pakistan (1990)”, it maintained.

“Therefore we recommend in strongest terms that religious studies should be only given at College and University levels as optional subject but not as a compulsory subject. Moreover the lessons must show equal respect to all religions, or, a reference to one religion should be avoided in all subjects”, it demanded.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace conducted a two day National Education Conference from January 12-13, 2007 in the eastern city of Lahore to discuss the standard of education, curriculum and education policy in the country.

The participants of the conference included educationists, heads of schools and human rights activists

The NCJP in its release said that the time given for Feed Back to the people was extremely short therefore we strongly demand that the time for feed back should be extended from January 15 to March 15, 2007.

“The goals set out by the government regarding Mass literacy, Quality education and Higher Education will continue to be in jeopardy, if education is not seen and implemented as a birth right of all Pakistanis. The cost of education has to be brought down by making adequate budgetary allocation. While we appreciate the role of International donors, we strongly feel that peoples’ education cannot be left at the mercy of private sector and foreign donations. We demand that the budget allocations for education be increased to 8 to 10 % of the GDP. The resources should also be spent on improving management infrastructure and methods”, it said.

It went on to say that besides measures for making teaching a respectable profession by providing teachers with good working conditions and emoluments, it would be important to stamp out corruption, mal functioning and indiscipline in the education departments before any education policy can bring some dividends.

“The current literacy drive is focusing enrollment of all school age children, which is basically a good approach. However in the absence of long term and broad based policy on mass literacy the drop out rate has been enormously high (over 50 per cent) which is failing the scheme. A serious consideration needs to be given to this issue”.

“We recommend that education in mother tongue should be extended to primary classes as recommended by the UNESCO”.

“We also condemn the recommendation 2 on page 44 of the White paper and recommend that a uniform syllabus should be introduced in all schools”, it said.

Those who spoke in the conference included Group Captain (Retd.) Cecil Chaudhry, Dr. Alwin Murad and the executive secretary of NCJP Peter Jacob. A source in the NCJP said that Catholic Bishop of Rawalpindi and Islamabad diocese Rev. Anthony Lobo while flaying the government education policy said that it lacked vision and nothing could come to fruition when it lacks vision.

It merits mentioning here that Archbishop of Lahore diocese Lawrence John Saldanha on July 24, 2006 had written an open letter to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf wherein he made some five recommendations for education reforms.