LAHORE: A conference on ‘Right to Education without Discrimination’ was organised by the Centre for Social Justice in collaboration with Centre for Governance and Policy (CGP), Information Technology University (ITU), here on Thursday. The participants came from the academia, media, government departments, textbook publishers and the civil society. The discussion was led by panelists including CGP director Dr. Yaqoob Bangash, GCU Arts and Social Sciences dean Dr Tahir Kamran and Centre for Social Justice director Peter Jacob. The 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, but it ignores the constitutional guarantees under Articles 22, 26, and 36 about safeguards against discrimination in educational institutions with respect to religion and rights of religious minorities. The education policy in use, besides violating Articles 20, 22 and 25 of the Constitution, also contravenes international human rights law [Article 14 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 13 (1 and 3) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Article 18 (4) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]. Further, the participants discussed that the education policy and textbooks in Pakistan contained several discriminatory provisions on the basis of religion. They said minority students could opt for Ethics, as an alternative to Islamic Studies at school and college levels, which was an impractical alternative, therefore, most of the minority students ended up forcibly studying Islamiat. The speakers said that besides Islamiat, other subjects such as social studies, history and languages maintained 30-40 percent topics about the majority religion that students from minority communities were also required to study to pass exams. The textbooks carried biases and hate materials against minority religions, which created negative feelings among students manifested in several incidents like the the killing of Sharoon Masih in Vehari in 2017 by his fellow students, the speakers added. A Hafiz-e-Quran (one who has learnt Quran by heart) was eligible for 10 to 20 extra marks for admissions in professional colleges and for securing jobs at the Public Service Commissions since 1992. Whereas, no such concession is available for the minority students for learning their own religious texts, the speakers noted, adding that since 2017, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and federal governments had made teaching of the Holy Quran compulsory for Muslim students, while minority students could not study texts from their faiths similarly. This new arrangement was discriminatory, they said. As a result, the participants said, religious minorities lagged in the national average in literacy. They said literacy rate among Christians was at 11 percent and among Hindus 20 percent, according to the national population census of 1998. Published in Daily Times, April 6th 2018.