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Dialogue and research can radically reform education in Pakistan

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There is a dire need to train students on how to engage in dialogue and objectively construct and present their arguments. The discourse on dialogue should also be included in educational curriculum. There is also need to encourage critical thinking among students and promote the trend of research in educational institutions. Curriculum development must be based on comparative analysis of similar subjects being taught in the region and world.

Speakers shared these observations at the launching ceremony of a recent PIPS report “Education for Peace and Harmony,” held in Islamabad on January 11, 2018. Director General of Islamic Research Institute, Dr. Muhammad Ziaul Haq presided over and chaired the event. Among the keynote speakers were former chairperson of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Dr. Khalid Masood, educationist Professor A.H. Nayyar, scholar and a CII member Khurshid Nadeem, columnist Yasir Pirzada, and peace activist Rashad Bukhari.

Dr. Khalid Masood said the report was an effort to actually analyze the causes of issues like fundamentalism, extremism and violence, which were widespread even before the 9/11 incidents. He said all these problems arise from a quest for identity (national/religious). The identity crisis has created narrow worldviews rather than leading to unity. In the presence of [egoistic] self-esteem, self-righteousness, there is a lack of rational and critical thinking. Somehow, these divisive and negative worldviews are coming from our education system that has made people more divisive and class/status conscious. Even curriculum focuses on polarized worldviews instead of correcting them. Instead of entering in a healthy and productive dialogue, we have this tendency of projecting our own views and condemning others’. The role of teachers and media were also found more toward negativity rather than responsible for promoting harmony, Dr Masood noted.

Professor A.H. Nayyar stated knowledge cannot be promoted without dialogues and discussions. He further differentiated between good and bad arguments (sectarian based discussions) and suggested to promote dialogues, discussions, and training sessions for students to promote healthy debates. He suggested dialogues should be included in curriculum.

Meanwhile, Khurshid Nadeem observed issues in education at two levels i.e. administrative and ideological. He said that national narrative lacks strategy to promote education. Apparently, education is a subject of provinces, yet there is no clarity of thoughts. For instance, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa failed to justify its grant of Rs300 million to a madrassa for religious educational reform. There is a lack of interaction between society and state. Conflict of thoughts, lack of harmony and ambiguity have remained part of the efforts made by state and civil society. Even NACTA’s plan to reform the religious education is a standstill due to vague thoughts. At ideological level, too, there is no concrete plan to promote education.  He concluded with two suggestions. First, it should be decided whether federal government or provincial governments will address the administrative level issues of education. Second, a mechanism should be evolved to get benefit from the efforts made by civil society organizations. Civil society can focus on private education sector, too, which is self-reliant to implement the recommendations linked to education such as included in this report by PIPS, he noted.

Rashad Bukhari said education system in Pakistan is based on exclusiveness than being inclusive. It has been emphasizing on identity crisis than focusing on technological innovation, creative and critical thinking and scientific approaches. It discourages the ability of questioning and research. He underscored the significance of difference of opinion in promoting education. He emphasized there is need to promote comparative analysis of the subjects being taught across the region.

Yasir Pirzada shared his observations about the marginal role of universities and colleges in combating extremism and economic problems. He stated that private institutions are more active in this regard instead of public universities. He opposed education that promotes extremism. The education system devoid of critical thinking cannot be an effective tool in combating extremism.

Earlier, a PIPS representative Nawaf Khan shared details on the 10 workshops PIPS had conducted with university and college teachers, which became the basis of the launched report. For every workshop, he stated, at least 6 trainers were engaged and every workshop was divided into three sessions with themes related to the role of education and teachers in supporting peace, tolerance and inter-faith harmony. While discussing the challenges PIPS encountered in the conduct of the workshops, he said it was a bit difficult to convince senior faculty members that their participation in the workshops would make a difference. A general, usually inaccurate perception, of the civil society organizations and their work in Pakistan was another issue in ensuring useful and effective participation. In Sindh and Balochistan, proper and accurate information about the teachers was also missing from a number of websites of universities and colleges.

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