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LAHORE: The Working Group on Inclusive Education (WGIE), a voluntary body of educationists, has expressed grave concerns over the Punjab government's move of enhancing the scope of religious teachings in the education system in utter disregard to religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.

"Though a single national curriculum agreed by the federal and provincial governments is awaited, the Punjab government has moved to enhance the scope of teaching religion in the education system from June, 2020, in utter disregard to religious freedom and respect for religious diversity. Moreover, the provincial assembly took upon itself a task which is basically the domain of executive functions," they observed.

These experts belong to different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that include the Peoples' Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR), Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association (PMTA), Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, Catholic (National) Commission for Justice and Peace and Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA).

They said for nearly four decades now, all the public and most of the private schools and colleges have been teaching Islamiyat as a compulsory subject in all classes. Nazrah Quran (recitation of the Arabic text) is taught from class I to V and reading translation of the Holy Quran for classes VI-XII has been made compulsory in the province since 2018 as per the Punjab Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act 2018.

"Moreover, 20-40 percent content in social studies, history and languages is based on teachings of the majority religion, violating Article 22 (1) of the constitution of Pakistan which prohibits the teaching of religion to the students other than their own," reads a document issued by the WGIE.

In addition, the Punjab governor through a notification dated 4th June, 2020, made the award of degrees in all the public universities conditional to passing an exam based on the reading of the Holy Quran with translation.

In that scenario, the educationists said they were of the view that this is unprecedented in the world of university education and clearly contravenes the concept of rigorous training in specialized disciplines at the university level. In any case, before entering university, students spend several years studying the Holy Quran with translation, they pointed out.

On June 9 this year, the Punjab Assembly had approved an amendment (inserted Section 2(a) to section 10) to the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Act 2015 by subjecting all textbooks to approval by the Muttahida Ulema Board. This amendment again seeks to place control of educational content in the hands of religious groups rather than experts in education.

Dr A H Nayyar, a member of the WGIE, said that while the priority tasks of educating all the out-of-school-children and enhancing quality of education remain unfulfilled, inserting more religious content has repercussions on the quantity and quality of the educational content. This step will defeat the purpose of preparing students for a highly competitive environment in the world."

Baela Raza Jamil, a core member of the WGIE, expressed that these developments backed by legislation without public debate are of deep concern that will be socially divisive, undermine the freedom for inquiry based learning and critical thinking in education systems of Pakistan".

PCMR and CSJ head Peter Jacob said that they call upon the Punjab government to review these measures which are clearly in conflict with the right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan under Articles 20 and 25.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020