The Federal Ministry of Education has added Zoroastrianism and Buddhism in the subject of religious studies being introduced in the Single National Curriculum (SNC).
The National Curriculum Council accepted the draft curriculum for Buddhist students on March 4. Curriculum experts from the seven minority religions (Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Kalasha, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism) are presently finalising the scope and sequence of Standards and SLOs for each faith.
As per the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, the progression grids for Christianity and Bahai are complete.
“The work for some of these minority faiths began from level zero, therefore, additional time is required for completion,” states the SNC website.
“Some faiths, like Kalash, have a purely oral tradition and this is the first time that an effort is being undertaken to document standards for them. The Zoroastrianism and Buddhism religion in particular have very few people who practice the faith in Pakistan, hence, finding experts to work on standards has been particularly challenging.”
Media reports state that around 650 families of practicing Buddhists are settled in different districts of rural Sindh, including Ghotki, Sanghar, Khairpur, Nawabshah, and Naushehro Feroze. There is no temple or Stupa for them to offer their religious rituals.
Parshant Singh, the first Sikh officer of Punjab University (Lahore) and curriculum developer, writer of textbooks of Sikhism under SNC, claimed that Buddhists have been counted as Bheels in the national census.
“Buddhists can be the third biggest minority in the country if excluded from scheduled castes. Sadly none of them represent the community as lawmakers. Still, we thank the government for involving the minorities in designing their curriculum,” he told Kross Konnection.
Singh was speaking on the sidelines of a consultation on the Status of Religious Studies (Minority Religions) in the SNC organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
CSJ Director Peter Jacob termed the inclusion of religious studies as a big achievement.
“The holistic inclusion is a breath of fresh air. Finally the government is addressing monolithic views and learning. Now we can go to parity. It’s a step forward,” he said.
“Still some religious communities, including Jews, are living with other identities. Resultantly they are not included in policies.”
In the Feb 25 consultation of CSJ, the speakers demanded separate columns for Buddhists, Kalash, Jews, Baha’i, etc. instead of counting them as “others” in the upcoming National Population Census 2022.
SNC, a uniform education system, was last year implemented in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision to end the decades-old educational apartheid among different streams of education in the country. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) cites “one nation, one syllabus” among its top achievements of 2021.
However, the same has been criticised for the overtly Islamic content in compulsory subjects. Educationists fear that PM Imran’s inclination toward madrassas (schools for Islamic instruction) might lead to the loss of students’ ability to think and reason independently from the dictates of Islamic thought.
Previously the subject of Ethics was designated for non-Muslim students in lieu of Islamiat from grade three onwards. The new subject of Religious Education will replace Ethics used as an alternative for Islamic studies.
According to Professor Anjum James Paul, a member of the Ethics Review Committee, the textbook of Christianity includes chapters on Christian beliefs, life of Christ, saints and Christian personalities in the syllabus of religious education meant for Christian students.
“The draft was proofread by Archbishop Joseph Arshad, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan as well as Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar. Getting consensus from both churches was harder than making the curriculum. I salute both church leaders for accepting our demand,” he told Kross Konnection.
“Some Muslim members of SNC review committee questioned the absence of chapters of interfaith harmony in religious education. I argued to include it first in Islamic studies where there is no chapter on interfaith harmony.
“War heroes are highlighted as heroes in our book. We included non-Muslim scientists, physicians and human rights activists in SNC to inspire minority students. The role of minorities as well as a speech made by the nation’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah (in which he called for an inclusive and impartial government, religious freedom, rule of law and equality for all) has also extended. The state education authorities accepted these changes as well.
“Our books must be under the constitution of Pakistan that prohibits the teaching of a religion to students other than their own and protection of minorities. Removing discrimination and biases is perhaps the most efficient and inexpensive way forward to improve the quality of education. Inclusive education and religious diversity can ensure return of peace in Pakistan.”