Religious education and the state

There needs to be separation and a limit

It seems the Punjab government has dug itself another hole after its Education Department announced that he Holy Quran would be taught as a separate compulsory subject in all schools across the province, but did little to implement the decision and the matter landed in the Lahore High Court, that has forced Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to approve the hiring and training of 70,000 Arabic teachers. Apart from managing and financing the logistics of such a massive recruitment exercise, the government has also set itself up to receive a series of demands from the new government employees. Granted, if indeed such a large number of government jobs are distributed, some political capital is generated as it will translate into votes, but before that, the first thing that this group of fresh recruits will ask for confirmation as full-time employees, something that will not be easy to grant, leading to protests. At some point there will be an expectation of a salary hike, that the Punjab government will again find tough to manage, forcing another round of sit-ins. Wheter enough qualified teachers can be found is a separate matter.

One could appreciate such a rise in employment had the job being created for it carried some utility. That the Holy Quran will be taught in Arabic to children from classes 1-5 without teaching them the Arabic language means they won’t understand what they will be reading. It would therefore be an exercise in vain if the expectation is that children will be learning something new, when in fact no useful knowledge will be imparted under this plan. The recitation or memorization of the Holy Quran is typically an optional subject that parents teach their children at home at a level of strictness, difficulty and interpretation that varies across families. As it is, over the years, the number of school subjects have increased while syllabi have expanded, leaving children with a lot on their plates already. Adding to that workload for what seems to be more of a politically motivated move that satisfies this government’s swelling appetite for religiosity at the expense of the core curriculum is a recipe for disaster. The Punjab government tmust rethink this policy of forcing religion into education every chance it gets, much to the detriment of students.

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Editorial
The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]

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