The Role of Christian Educational Institutes in Pakistan's Educational Landscape: Authors: Haroon Samson and Ailya Massey

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Pakistan, a diverse and multicultural country, is home to various religious communities, including a Christian minority. Christianity originated in the Indian subcontinent with the arrival of the apostle Thomas (a disciple of Jesus Christ) in the first century A.D. Over time the faith expanded under the British colonial era as a fraction of western imperialism in the 15th Century. 

The importance of education cannot be overstated in a country where 40 percent of the population is still illiterate. Christian Educational institutes have played a pivotal role in shaping the intellectual and moral fabric of the nation. These institutions, often run by religious orders and organizations, have contributed significantly to the educational development of Pakistan, fostering a spirit of inclusivity, and tolerance and promoting values that transcend religious boundaries. These institutions were not only centers of academic excellence but also places where values of equality, compassion, and tolerance were emphasized.

The history of Christian educational institutes in Pakistan dates to the pre-independence era when various Christian missionaries established schools and colleges across the region. Over the years, these institutions have evolved and adapted to the changing educational landscape while maintaining their commitment to holistic development.

The poorest of the poor, typically from rural regions, have been the focus of the educational institutions established by Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian Christian missionaries who dedicated their lives to education in Pakistan. This mission was taken up by personalities such as Charles W. Forman, Andrew Gordon, Reverend Thomas Hunter, Reverend Henry Brereton, Reverend J.H. Hoare, Miss Joan McDonald, Ms. Catherine Nicol and the Italian and Belgian Capuchin fathers from the Catholic Church, among many others who built Colleges and Schools in Punjab that are still in service today. They faced hurdles, but they persevered due of their devotion and tireless work.

Christian educational institutes in Pakistan have consistently been recognized for their commitment to academic excellence and spirit of service. Many of these institutions have produced notable scholars, professionals, and leaders who have contributed significantly to various fields. The emphasis on a well-rounded education, incorporating both academic and moral dimensions, has been a hallmark of Christian schools and colleges. A large majority of the students at these institutes are Muslim.

Christian institutions encompass a wide range of educational establishments, according to an estimate 631 institutions which include Nurseries, Primary schools, Secondary schools, Colleges, Technical Institutes and Universities are serving the nation. These institutions, deeply rooted in Christian values of compassion, charity, and service, contribute significantly to the educational landscape, providing quality education to students across various levels. 

One of the distinctive features of Christian educational institutes in Pakistan is their commitment to promoting tolerance and interfaith harmony. These institutions often enroll students from diverse religious backgrounds, fostering an environment where students learn to respect and appreciate the cultural and religious differences among their peers. This commitment to inclusivity contributes to the spirit of social harmony among the students, this is evident in the alumni bodies of F C College and Kinnaird College.

Christian educational institutes are inspired by Christian values of charity and compassion, these Churches have also established community schools in slums and brick kiln communities as well as in middle-income communities. 

One of the most important features of these institutions is the outstanding and unmatchable quality of education which has enabled these institutes to generate renowned intelligentsia. Whether it is Kinnaird College University, Forman Christian College University, St. Anthony’s High School, St. Mary’s Academy, Rawalpindi, St. Patrick’s High School Karachi, Gordon College, Murray College, Murree Christian School or Edwards College Peshawar, St. Joesphs College, or St. Patrick’s College Karachi.  Out of the thirteen Presidents of Pakistan, six have got their educations from a missionary school or college. These institutes have groomed personalities like Asma Jahangir, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pervez Musharraf, Current President Dr. Arif Alvi, PPP Chairperson and former President Asif Ali Zardari, Current Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Essa,  Ch. Shujaat Hussain, Ch. Pervez Elahi, Justice (r) Nasira Iqbal, Justice (r) Tassaduq Hussain Jilani, Maliha Lodhi, Benazir Bhutto, Sherry Rehman, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Ishaq Dar, Najam Sethi, and Salman Taseer to name a few. Pakistan’s national poet Allama Iqbal and iconic poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz were also students at missionary institutes. Allama Muhamad Iqbal studied at Murray College, Sialkot. Similarly, Quaid-e-Azam also started his educational journey from the Mission School in Karachi. The list of Christian educational institutions is long and spread across the country. Even today, they are playing their role to meet the educational needs of the country despite facing numerous challenges all as part of a faith based service to humanity. 

In 1972 a total of 118 (Kamran & Jacob,2020) Christian Missionary Schools and Colleges were given a shock when they found out that they were nationalized under the directive of then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, many missionaries left the country. The state machinery became overextended because of nationalization, making it impossible for the nationalized institutions to be effectively governed and operated. Academic standards declined as a result. To date only 59 institutions have been denationalized, and 59 are awaiting denationalization. It is significant to remember that the state's acquisition of the missionary schools went against the nationalization movement. The goal of nationalization was to abolish the system of for-profit schools and give everyone access to high-quality education. The churches were not operating commercial or elite schools. Due to nationalization, a significant opportunity for fostering religious tolerance was lost as a result of middle-class families sending children to missionary schools, which offered generous scholarships based on need and merit and were less expensive than privately owned institutions.

Half a century after the nationalization of schools with unfortunate consequences for the Christian community. Despite their significant contributions, Christian educational institutes in Pakistan face numerous challenges, which include financial constraints, infrastructure limitations, and occasional incidents of discrimination. However, these challenges have not deterred their commitment to providing quality education in the spirit of service to the communities. The government and civil society can play a crucial role in supporting these institutions, ensuring that they continue to thrive and fulfill their mission.

The role of Christian educational institutes in Pakistan goes beyond academic achievements; it encompasses the development of individuals who contribute positively to society. These institutions stand as beacons of education, fostering an environment of inclusivity, tolerance, and moral integrity. Recognizing and appreciating their contributions is essential for the overall advancement of education and social harmony in Pakistan.

 

References

https://www.peb.edu.pk/peb-institutions/

https://www.catholicsinpakistan.org/dioceses/lahore/educational-institution/

Book

1.         Author: Kamran.T & Jacob.P (2020) Lessons from the Nationalization of 1972, Center for Social Justice, Lahore

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