LAHORE: A conference on ‘Right to Education without Discrimination’ was organized by the Centre for Social Justice in collaboration with Centre for Governance and Policy – Information Technology University.

The conference was attended by representatives of academia, students, media, government departments, textbook publishers and civil society. The conference was addressed by Dr. Yaqoob Bangash– Director, Centre for Governance and Policy - ITU, Dr. Tahir Kamran –Dean Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, GC University, Dr. Allah Baksh Malik – Secretary Punjab School Education Department, and Peter Jacob, Director, Centre for Social Justice.

Panelists identified various areas for improvement in the education system vis-à-vis promoting religious tolerance in the country. They said that the proposed Education Policy 2017 relies on Articles 31 and 25-A (Islamic way of life, right to free and compulsory education) of the constitution of Pakistan, it ignores 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 participants discussed education policy and textbooks in Pakistan which presented several discriminations which includes minority students can opt for Ethics, as alternative to Islamic studies which is compulsory subject for Muslim students at school, college levels. The alternative given is impractical; therefore, most of the minority students are forced to study Islamiat.

The textbooks contain biased and hate materials against minority religions, which create negative feeling among students manifested in several incidents exemplified in the killing of Sharoon Masih in Vehari in 2017 by fellow students.

A Hafiz-e-Quran (one who has learnt Quran by heart) is eligible for 10 -20 extra marks for admissions in professional colleges and job at the Public Service Commission since 1992.Whereas, no such concession is available for the minority students for learning their own religion.

Since 2017, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Federal governments have made the teaching of the Holy Quran compulsory for Muslim students while minority students cannot study their own faith. This new arrangement is discriminatory.

They said as a result, the religious minorities have low literacy rate lag behind in national average in literacy Christian 11 percent and Hindus 20 percent.