The Punjab provincial cabinet has formally approved the handing over of administrative control of four nationalised missionary schools in Punjab to the Catholic Church and Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP).
Of these, two schools are situated in Lahore and one each in Rawalpindi and Sialkot districts.
“I believe it’s the most important decision in the history of Pakistan. For the past 50 years, church leaders have been engaged in litigations and approached government departments to reclaim these properties worth billions of rupees. It’s good news for all Christians in Pakistan,” Punjab Minister for Human Rights & Minorities Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine said while addressing a press conference on March 22.
Sources in the School Education Department (SED) Punjab said that the administrative control of the Govt Saint Francis High School, Anarkali Lahore, would be handed back to the Catholic Church while the other three schools, including Govt Rang Mahal Christian High School, Lahore, Govt Christian Higher Secondary School, Raja Bazar Rawalpindi, and Govt Christian Girls High School, Haji Pura Sialkot, would be handed back to the PCP.
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They said that the missions would be independent to manage administrative affairs of the schools and could hire new teachers. As per the agreement, government teachers in these schools would continue to get their salaries from the public exchequer while new teachers would be compensated by the church authorities.
Secretary Schools Punjab Ghulam Farid said that only administrative control of the four schools would be handed over to the church missions. He said that it was a suitable solution as many public schools were already being operated under public-private partnerships in the province through the Punjab Education Initiatives Management Authority (PEIMA).
Minister Ijaz Alam Augustine refuted the statement.
“The status is different for two schools. The land of St. Francis School belongs to the Punjab government. Only its administration can be handed over. However, the PCP owns the Rang Mahal School property. Previous governments failed the Christian community on this decades-old demand,” he told Kross Konnection.
PCP Executive Secretary Reverend Majid Abel welcomed the cabinet’s decision.
“Finally we are getting hold of our three schools. It is high time that the provincial government practically hands over the schools to the church,” he said.
Returning Christian schools to the church missions was the last agenda item in the 52nd meeting of the cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on March 21.
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Govt Saint Francis High School in Anarkali is said to be the oldest of the four schools established in 1842. Govt Rang Mahal Christian High School was built in 1849, Govt Christian Higher Secondary School Raja Bazar, Rawalpindi in 1856, and Govt Christian Girls High School, Haji Pura Sialkot in 1857.
CHRISTIAN CONTRIBUTION IN EDUCATION
Christian missionaries were the pioneers of modern education in northern South Asia. While the American Presbyterians established English medium schools, the Anglicans and the Catholics organised education at the primary and secondary levels. The Presbyterians and Anglicans also established colleges in the region.
Christian educationists blame the nationalisation of Pakistan’s private schools in 1972 for the low literacy rate among the Christian community, weakened church institutions, and creating insecurity among them.
In 2020, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), an advocacy group for minorities published a report titled “Lessons from the Nationalisation of Education in 1972” which claimed that 118 missionary institutions remained nationalised by June 2020.
The findings explored the fallout from 1972 when the government seized control of all schools, colleges, and hospitals run by Christians in the country under President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s policy of nationalisation. In 2004, President Pervez Musharraf ordered the conditional privatisation of minority educational institutions. As a result, 59 institutions were returned to church authorities.
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Most Christian parents prefer church-run schools, the only educational institutes that offer catechism classes in the Islamic republic. Muslims also admire their high-quality education and discipline. Many top leaders in politics, bureaucracy, armed forces, and civil society have studied at these institutions.
This January, the board of governors of Peshawar’s historic Edwardes College finally appointed a full-time Christian principal.
However, the news has drawn mixed reactions from the Christian community who are demanding a complete handover of the prestigious missionary institution to the church authorities.
Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar had led the protests with a view to restoring management of the institution by church authorities since June 2021, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed handing over the management of the college to the local government.