ISLAMABAD: The low literacy rate, which minority leaders claim is mostly brought on by prejudice, lack of awareness, and limited resources, threatens the future of minorities in Pakistan.
Shahzad Rajpoot – who is from Christian community and a journalist by profession for the last 20 years – while talking with “The Reporters” said, as usual, I was getting ready to leave for my office a few days ago when received a phone call from a friend whose children are studying in a prominent school chain. I realized that he was very frightened as he narrated a shocking incident that happened at his son’s school
He told me that someone at the school has distributed blasphemous content from a fake Instagram account attributed to his son and also carry his son’s name. No doubt, blasphemy is a very sensitive and serious matter and he was worried that the school students may attack his son over blasphemous allegations.
He added, when they reached the school, they came to know that the principal of the school was aware of it but he did not take it seriously.
On the complaint of the parents the principle inquired the matter and it was revealed that it was a routine dispute among the students, but to take revenge from their fellow, the students have made a fake Instagram account and posted blasphemy content, he maintained.
School principal was contacted for comments but he refused to talk on the issue and said it will create law and order problem for both the school administration and students as well.
Christianity is the third largest religion in Pakistan, making up about 1.27% of the population according to the 2017 Census. According to the Pakistan’s National Council for Justice and Peace (NCJP) report, the average literacy rate among Christians is 34 percent compared to the national average of 46.56 percent.
Recently, the Centre for Social Justice published a report which states that among the religious minorities, Christians have shown better literacy rates than other groups. This is owing to schools that were historically run by churches’ missions and often praised for their role in providing quality education. Some of these schools suffered immense losses under the nationalization policy of 1972 and the Islamisation drive in the later years. Even though a denationalization policy was introduced in the 1980s, only about half of the nationalized schools have been returned to their rightful owners. Many of these schools have lost much of their glory and character.
The Centre for Social Justice also carried out a survey of 43 Christian-run schools in eight districts of the Punjab. It showed that Christian students were about 12 percent behind their Muslim classmates in attaining educational levels. Many of the schools were in dire need of improvements in infrastructure, administration and trained and adequately-paid teachers. None of the hundreds of Christian-run schools is among the beneficiaries of the Punjab Education Foundation, which provides funding to schools in need.
Paster Shahid Raza, who is a government employee in a local government department in Rawalpindi, said, most of the Christen Community members are doing low paid jobs and can’t afford the schooling of the children, as their children enter to the teenage, they prefer to send them for some earning so that they can also financially support their family.
He added, the literacy rate can be improved if the government takes step for provision of the free education to minority community members and also by supporting the community run educational institutions.
Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in its report states that Single National Curriculum (SNC) introduced by the previous government has maintained religious content in the textbooks introduced during 2020-2022. The textbooks for social studies and languages contain material based on dogmas and practices of the majority religion in 20-40 percent of lessons. After parents and educationists raised objections to the content, the government has issued a direction carried in the textbooks that “non-Muslim students may not be forced to study these parts.”
Practically speaking, students from minority communities cannot refuse lessons based on Islam in a compulsory subject as this can impact their grades in the examinations and might impact their safety and social acceptance, report states.
Farrukh Saleem – a teacher by profession heading a private educational institution in Rawalpindi and belongs to Christian Community- while talking with “The Reporters” said, there are multiple reasons of low literacy rate among the minority community members, one of the is the lack of awareness among the community.
He added, the community spends well on the food and cloths of their children but do not give attention to the education of their children. At-least one generation has to bear the hard time to make the life of their next generation batter.
To a question regarding discrimination in educational institutions, he said, not only minorities, but every citizen somehow faces discrimination. Discrimination on basis of costs, areas and status, everyone is facing this issue, the difference is that the minority community members are facing it more due to their religious thoughts.
He maintained that the missionary schools can play important role in promoting education but they are also facing financial constraints, due to limited financial resources they are unable to hire well education and experience staff which ultimately compromise the quality of their education.
Government should provide resources to the community lead schools and also take steps for free education for the minorities. At the same time the community should also focus on the education of their children, he maintained.
On April 30, 2020, the Punjab Government had approved allocation of two per cent seats for minorities for admission to the public sector higher education institutions across the province. The decision has been made under the Punjab Minority Empowerment Package.
Similarly, on May 27, 2021 – The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government had also approved two percent admission quota for minority candidates in the 27 public sector universities across the province.
When contacted, Peter Jacob – Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice – said, the low literacy rate are themselves indication of the existing institutional and systematic discrimination in the education system of Pakistan. In many parts of the country the minority community members are consider citizen of less importance.
In Attock, Shireen Mizari, the then federal Minister of Human Rights, herself intervened to control a situation generated after using water tap, toilet and other small things by the minority student.
He added, the teachers are not trained to upload the dignity of the human persons and equality amount the students irrespective of their religious backgrounds.
“I wonder in total what we call education does deserve to be call education? It is not a fair landing, it is not based on the concept of self-realization, or actualization of the student’s potential to become responsible citizen of the states. They grow up with their biases.”, Peter maintained.
In October 22, 2018, the then Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mizari, tweeted a screenshot of a whatsapp message that she received from the family of a 4th grade student of Government Boys Primary School, Dhok Fateh, District Attock.
The whatsapp message stated that Sharjeel Masih was allegedly beaten and verbally disrespected by the headmistress of the school for simply drinking water from the tap.
Zulfiqar Ahmed Ranjha, Principle, Christian Higher Secondary School Rawalpindi, said, Government of Punjab gives about 300 to 400 thousand rupees to meet utility expenditures of the school.
He added, not only Chiristan but Muslim students are also studying in this school and no one have ever complaint about any discrimination.
This scribe has filed information request under the Right to Information Act, to the Federal Directorate of Education, Elementary and Secondary Education Department Punjab and Punjab Text Book Board, but have not received any response. Appeals against the said departments are under process at Pakistan Information Commission and Punjab Information Commission.