Pakistan's public schools and madrassas negatively portray the country's religious minorities and reinforce biases which fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence, against these communities, according to a new US study.
Titled "Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan," the study involved the examination of social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks and pedagogical methods in Pakistan's public school system and its madrassa system.
The goal of the year-long study was to explore linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities in public schools and madrassas, biases that exist against these minorities, and subsequent acts of discrimination or extremist violence.
Sponsored by independent, bipartisan US Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and conducted by the International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) the study found that:
. Public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation, and Pakistan's religious minorities were referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether;
. Hindus were depicted in especially negative terms, and references to Christians were often inaccurate and offensive;
. Public school and madrassa teachers had limited awareness or understanding of religious minorities and their beliefs, and were divided on whether religious minorities were citizens;
. Teachers often expressed very negative views about Ahmadis, Christians, and Jews, and successfully transmitted these biases to their students;
. Interviewees' expressions of tolerance often were intermixed with neutral and intolerant comments, leaving some room for improvement.
"This study - the first-ever study of its kind -- documents how Pakistan's public schools and privately-run madrassas are not teaching tolerance but are exacerbating religious differences," said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair.