January 18th, 2022
By Hamid Riaz
The Punjab education minister found himself in the middle of a controversy Tuesday with an out-of-the-blue remark that triggered arguments about caps and dupattas becoming parts of school uniform.
While addressing a press conference in Lahore, Minister for Education Murad Raas “requested Punjab’s private schools to make caps (for boys) and headscarves (for girls) part of their school uniforms.” He was speaking in the context of the implementation of the ‘Punjab Compulsory Teaching of Holy Quran Act’ passed by the provincial parliament in 2018 and later amended in 2021. The act mandates “the teaching of the Nazrah Quran (Arabic) as a compulsory subject up to grades 1-5 and the teaching of the translation of the Holy Quran as a compulsory subject to classes 6-12”.
Alienating Minority Students
The statement instantly garnered controversy on social media with many calling it an attempt to impose a Zia era-like Islamization on Punjab’s Education institutions which would lead to further marginalization of minority students. “As a citizen of Pakistan and as a representative of Pakistan’s Christian minority I take serious issue with this statement,” said Peter Jacob, Chairperson of the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), while speaking to VoicePk.net on the matter.
“Our government needs to understand that there is a difference between seminaries and Public schools. The job of Public schools is to impart education, not religious morality. But sadly those making our education policy lack vision and are solely interested in the superficial exhibition of their religiosity. The move (if implemented) will lead to further alienation of minority students in the classroom,” continued Jacob.
Education or Indoctrination
“Ever since coming to power the PTI led governments (both at the federal and the provincial levels) have introduced a series of policies aimed at transforming schools into spaces of indoctrination,” said Education Policy Consultant, Zeeba T. Hashmi, while pointing towards policy initiatives such as the Single National Curriculum (SNC), the Punjab Compulsory Teaching of Holy Quran Amendment Act 2021 and the formation of an ‘Ulema Board’ to ‘amend’ Punjab’s textbook curriculum.
Hashmi suggested that if the government wants to meaningfully reform Pakistan’s education system then it should focus on the several dire crises facing our schools instead of such publicity stunts. “Pakistan has one of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world. Our public schools’ infrastructure is crumbling and our curriculum is failing to impart 21st century modern and scientific skills to our children. But the government has made no moves whatsoever to address any of these core issues because resolving them requires real work while tinkering with the curriculum is much easier,” said Hashmi.
Transforming Public Schools into Islamic Seminaries
“What we are seeing under the current government is a gradual Madrasization of our Public schools at a level not seen even during Zia’s era,” remarked senior Educationist A.H Nayyar, while speaking to VoicePk.net.
Nayyar is one of the very few who voiced apprehensions to the Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act (mentioned repeatedly by Murad Ras during today’s speech) as soon as it was passed by the Punjab Assembly. “I could see from the get-go how this act would increase the influence of the Madrassah lobby in our Public Schooling set-up. Recently the government of Punjab announced that it will hire some 70,000 Madrassah certified Arabic teachers to teach the Holy Quran and its recitation at the province’s Public schools. It is not hard to imagine how the presence of these Madrassah teachers will impact the general environment of Public Schools. And now this dress code that you have mentioned is part of this broader trend,” stated Nayyar.
An Unnecessary statement
“All parents already ensure that their children have caps and headscarves for Quran classes in their schools so, in my opinion, the Minister’s statement was unnecessary and unneeded. And even if this uniform was made mandatory, it cannot be enforced. The school education department is in complete disarray, unable to perform even basic tasks, how can you expect it to implement dress codes in all public and private schools of Punjab?,” asked Gulnaaz Shehzaadi, Educationist, Provincial Legislator from the PML-N, and member of the Punjab Assembly’s Standing Committee on School Education.
“The Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Act which the minister is taking credit for was passed during PML-N’s tenure. And in 2019 I personally submitted a resolution to the assembly demanding implementation of this act because it was being ignored by the PTI,” claimed Shehzadi while accusing the minister of taking credit for the previous governments’ initiative.
Responding to criticism over twitter the Minister has clarified that the remark does not ‘mandate’ caps and headscarves in Punjab’s schools and is instead a remark about students’ attire during Quran Classes (mandated under The Compulsory teaching of the Holy Quran Act).