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KARACHI: Speakers at a conference held at Karachi University on Wednesday strongly criticised the current education policy as well as the draft of National Education Policy 2017, arguing that the government ignored the principles of diversity, religious freedom and inclusivity.

The conference — ‘Right to education without discrimination’ — was organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Pakistan Study Centre (PSC) of KU and Peace and Development Organisation (PDO).

The participants represented a cross section of society with representation from academia, media, government departments, textbook publishers, civil society and students.

Need stressed for promoting religious tolerance, diversity and national cohesion

Panellists included former PSC director Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, Rana Asif Habib heading the Initiator Human Development Foundation and CSJ director Peter Jacob.

Starting off the discussion, Dr Ahmed said that the vision of Pakistan’s founders was based on a modern and sovereign state. Unfortunately, however, the society couldn’t progress towards this vision, he said, highlighting factors which negatively impacted the society and its people.

‘Class-based education system’

“A class-based society makes a class-based education system,” he observed.

He also criticised the media and said it was playing a role in spreading religious extremism and hatred.

Other speakers also criticised the education policy 2009 currently in place and said that it was not only violating Articles 20, 22 and 25 of the Constitution, but also in contravention of the international human rights law (Articles 14 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 13 (1 and 3) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Article 18 (4) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The government, they said, had prepared the draft of the National Education Policy 2017 that had completely ignored principles of diversity and minorities’ needs.

The proposed policy relies on Articles 31 and 25-A (Islamic way of life, right to free and compulsory education) of the Constitution, but ignored the constitutional guarantees under Articles 20, 22 and 36 about religious freedom, safeguards against discrimination in educational institutions with respect to religion and protection of rights of religious minorities.

The proposed policy, it was said, was a replica of the previous one in the sense that it failed to curb religious discrimination.

The education policy and textbooks, they said, presented several discriminations on the basis of religion which explained why religious minorities lagged behind in national average in literacy — Christians 11 per cent and Hindus 20pc, according to the national population census 1998.

The speakers emphasised the need for promoting religious tolerance, national cohesion and accommodating religious diversity.

A number of recommendations were presented during the discussion and speakers urged the federal government and respective provincial governments to consider implementing some key measures as early as possible for improvement in the education system.

They suggested that Quaid-i-Azam’s Aug 11, 1947 speech to the constituent assembly should be included in the school and college textbooks and that the federal and provincial governments should provide a special educational plan to enhance literacy among religious minorities and other groups, giving due regard to economic and social marginality.

In addition, educational institutions nationalised for around 35 years should be provided with adequate compensatory funds to enhance their capacity and operations.

In order to make the policy of a five per cent job quota for minorities successful, they suggested an equivalent quota for admissions of minority students especially in colleges, universities, technical training institutes, etc.

It was also recommended that teachers’ training, school environment and co-curricular activities should be designed in a way to maintain respect for all religious traditions, values and acceptance for religious diversity.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018