Why getting ahead is harder for Christians in Pakistan

Dr Christy Munir

Christian educational institutes in Pakistan, like Gordon College, Kinnaird College for Women, Murray College and the various convent schools and Presbyterian Church schools, are well regarded and are still very popular due to the quality of education they provide.

However, the question I have had in my mind for a long time is that, if the leading institutes are owned by the Christians, then why are a large number of Pakistani Christians not educated and what keeps them from gaining an education?

Although those who are highly educated have earned good names and honour in their respective fields, yet there are those who remain uneducated and this is passed on to the next generations in some circumstances. 

Dr Christy Munir is a renowned Christian educationalist, who has lectured in the Department of Chemistry at the prestigious Quaid-I-Azam University and is professor emeritus at Forman's Christian College, Lahore.

I spoke to him to find out more about the imbalance in the Pakistani education system.

CT: Why are the Christians behind in education?

CM: A large majority of Christian families are uneducated.  They lack in resources, equal opportunities, and self-confidence and self respect. They live in areas with scant facilities and have least desire for education. As a result they lack awareness about education and many opportunities attached with education. Parents being uneducated and poor, neither can they afford education nor care for the education of their children. Facilities of education (mission schools and colleges) are available in city areas but not in rural areas. Neither our government nor our churches have any focused scheme or planning for giving awareness and creating interest in the deprived class Christian community for education.

We can summarise as follows:

a. Large family size: Minimum 5 to 8 children per family. Because of lack of education and awareness they least care for education instead uneducated parents want that their children soon become earning hands.

b. Church lacking focused efforts for education:
i. I appreciate the noble work, which our main line churches have done to create educational institutions. These institutions have performed quite well to impart education to Christian children. Persons, which were and still are in leadership role, are products of Christian institutions. However this facility (school or college) is not available to Christian families living in remote (non-city) areas.

ii. I wish to respectfully point out that church leaders (pastors, clergy, deacons, bishops) perhaps could do much more in terms of giving help in motivation and awareness to students of their respective congregations. I wish to respectfully submit that our clergy have seldom sponsored education especially higher education of the children of their respective churches. In my view church can play a vital role in motivating and encouraging and extending financial help to promising students for education.

iii. Our schools and colleges were nationalised in 1971 under Martial Law Regulation No 118. Except for Forman Christian College, Lahore and some schools, some of our schools and colleges (Gordon College, Rawalpindi and Murray College Sialkot) are still in government possession. It is now more than 30 years that these doors of education, which were widely open to our Christian students, are now semi closed. Nationalisation has really hit hard the facility of quality education that was available to our Christian students. It may surprise you but let me share that there used to be only 10-15 students in FC College before denationalisation in 2003.  It is now more than 800 Christian students availing quality education in FC College Lahore. 

CT: Isn't it that the Christians also have to face religious discrimination?

CM: Being a minority, we, in different ways, are deprived of equal rights. There is religious prejudice and discrimination. In certain areas Christians are considered as low-castes. The Christian students are made victim of derogatory remarks and some odd religious questions. They face difficulties in seeking admission in educational institutions or securing jobs. All of these factors have profoundly affected on the personality traits of our youth. Such a suppressed environment no doubt is a constant hurdle for Christians to excel and do well in education.

CT: Although the top class institutes have been run by Christians for a long time, keeping this in mind, why are the Christians not that much advanced in education?

CM: Our top class educational institutions always had a limited number of seats. The number of students seeking admission has always been large. Even these days FC College accommodates only limited Christian students for admissions and hostel accommodation.

Being a deprived class community lacking facilities and resources. They lack in the academic merit, thus the doors of quality education or opportunities for good jobs are automatically closed. Low merit Christian students cannot compete and thus add to the misery pool of Christian community. This is how the vicious circle keeps going on.

CT: Do you think that the number of Christians getting education has increased over the years?

CM: Because of more awareness and occasional incidences of cruel victimisation of Christians such as: the incidents of Shantinagar, Gojra, Gujranwala, bomb attacks in churches of Islamabad, Taxila, Peshawar and some other Christian institutions, these probably triggered the Christian community to find solutions. Therefore, Christians are now getting more education than before. Media and available technology (internet, mobile phone, Skype etc.) has played a very positive role in creating awareness of education in masses that include the Christian community as well.

CT: Do you think the problems of Christians are increasing everyday due to lack of education or is it because of religious bias that sometimes they are denied the best position?
 CM: Both factors, religious bias and lack of education are contributing to problems of Christians. I think lack of education is more injurious in this respect. I had my share of religious bias in terms of bitter questions and remarks in my school, and college days but at university level (I did my MSc from Peshawar University) I did not face any discrimination. After PhD, I served at the Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. I did not face the type of problems referred above. I think the main reason was that both my wife and I were highly educated people and enjoyed living among educated people (university faculty), mostly foreign qualified.

CT: The Christian girls are more interested in getting education than boys, it seems.
CM: Yes, it is a true fact. There are many reasons for that. I don't want to comment on that. Like minorities, women in Pakistan are also a deprived class. Instinctively they should also want to gain strength and status in society, which is effectively and only possible through education.

CT: Is it due to a lack of educated people that our problems are not highlighted in the appropriate manner?
CM: The answer is, yes. The base line is education. Education is a key to success of individuals, families, communities and nations.