An independent think-tank

‘Critical inquiry in today’s digital age a must for progress and peace’

In today’s digital age, where wide information is readily accessible, students should be taught how to think critically for themselves. This way, not only will they seek solutions to the pressing issues around them, but they will also be mindful of narrow and parochial explanations of the same issues. That is the path to a tolerant future.

These thoughts came in a day-long dialogue with around 35 teachers of post-graduate and degree colleges of central and northern Punjab, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), a Pakistani think-tank. The discussion explored what teachers can do to promote social and religious harmony in Pakistan.

Starting off the discussion, Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology, asked teachers to learn themselves the intellectual challenges of the country. A close reading will reveal to them that the way forward is accepting diversity of opinion on causes as well as responses to those challenges. There are no fixed opinions on the solutions, he said, mandating that people listen to each other.

As to intellectual challenges, he presented the ones emanating from the search of identity in the state of Pakistan and the role of religion in state affairs. Even now, seventy years to independence, answers to these questions are sought.

Precisely because these challenges are not new, he noted, scholars and teachers have explored them in the past too. What makes these challenges new is that in today’s age and world, with the advent of new technologies, staying detached is not an option, participants were told.

Citing modern example, Dr. Khalid Masud, said that thanks to the rapidly-changing technology, students have quick access to a range of information sources. Admittedly, when they ask questions from teachers, teachers can also be puzzled. But instead of treating such questions as rebellious, teachers should offer satisfactory answers.

The traditional role of teacher, to form a student’s intellect, persists. That role should not be missed. A teacher, well-versed in subject and communication, can greatly guide students on, among other things, how to sift information.

Generally, Dr. Masud noted there is too much focus on emotions and verbosity and little on analytical skills. This should change. The former chairman of CII noted the tendency of discarding different opinion owes to fear of disunity. This, he said, is wrong. In fact, diversity has been strength in the Muslim history.

Meanwhile, Ammar Khan Nasir, director, Al-Sharia Academy, Gujranwala, questioned the habit of pleading powerlessness in the face of mounting challenges. An individual too is powerful enough to bring about the change that is otherwise dispensed upon others, especially state. A teacher’s role is to develop critical inquiry of students. It is not to propagate one’s political views, he warned. Classroom is not to advance one’s personal opinion to be thrust upon students. It is to engage in critical thinking; he noted how students of his classrooms have asked questions hitherto considered off the marks for discussion.

Director Iqbal International Institute of Research and Dialogue, Dr. Husn ul Ameen called upon teachers to own local history and local heroes. People resonate best with them; otherwise concepts remain alien to students. By promoting culture of inquiry, teachers can help inject accountability in the long-run, he said.

He argued the entire knowledge production and dissemination exercise has been colonial-driven, that is the external knowledge is prioritized while local ones are treated as inferior. This is wrong, as studies have shown there is no single path to progress.

Meanwhile, renowned TV anchor Khursheed Nadeem said that our collective behavior has sympathized with extremists. People are intolerant towards each other, as they don’t listen to each other.  Teachers can help reverse this trend, again by introspection. The intolerance we observed in our society is outcome our own collective behaviour, which should be worked upon.

Earlier, PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana said that social harmony is not only meant to fight extremism in Pakistan, but it showcases the progress of any society. A cohesive society is considered a strong society.

An orientation session with participants was conducted in the evening of August 9. Participants were told about the purpose of the dialogue.

PIPS Project Manager Muhammad Ismail Khan shared with them overview of the strategy of countering violent extremism in Pakistan. Sharing summary of the findings of ten national-level consultations, he said these dialogues found that the road to security in Pakistan is through diversity.

In his keynote address on the orientation session, former vice chancellor of Peshawar University, Qibla Ayaz, stressed upon teachers their role in promoting social harmony.