An independent think-tank

“Teachers should promote culture of dialogue to foster social harmony”

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Islamabad

PR/30 October 2018

Teachers can help foster social harmony in the country by promoting a culture of dialogue, entailing two-way interactions aimed at learning from each other. Starting off, teachers should equip themselves with the dialogue-enhancing skills and knowledge, before they pass on to others.

These thoughts came in a two-day dialogue with college teachers, on “Role of Teachers in Social Harmony”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank. Around 40 teachers from different parts of northern Punjab attended the dialogue, with sessions led by leading scholars, educationists, and opinion makers.

Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology, wondered why despite many attempts to bring positive behavioural changes, much is yet to be achieved. This, he attributed, to a binary thinking pattern that sees the world in black and white. It is fed from exaggerated, extreme, and out-of-context interpretation of religious texts. As a result, when it comes to curbing extremism, there is often a mismatch between words and feelings.

A culture of dialogue is needed for developing more nuanced understanding of issues, no matter how contested. Dialogues are two-way interactions. They are much better in learning from each other than the prevailing monologues, where the intent is to win over the rival. Teachers can help overcome this for-against style of speaking, by learning relevant skills and knowledge that enhance multiplicity of worldviews, and imparting them afterwards. In the long run, dialogues sow seeds of social harmony, to benefit of all citizens, in particular the vulnerable segments such as religious minorities.

A range of problems are faced by non-Muslims, some of them having structural roots and others, emanating from society, noted Peter Jacob, executive director of Centre for Social Justice. A great difficulty in even talking about the plight of minorities is that the majority itself suffers from minority complex, due to which they get defensive when such issues are brought to light.

Meanwhile, some teachers said their inability to talk about peace, social harmony, or other messages, is largely because of the incentives embedded in education structure. It is true that many teachers do not intentionally focus on talking about social messages, they said, but it is in part because they are expected to finish the curriculum within the stipulated time; students are asked questions from the curriculum, after all; similarly, while parents do not impart civic sense among teachers, they expect their children to get good grades.

Khursheed Nadeem, a renowned columnist, stressed that a fundamental problem of ours is whether to have a nation state or a religious state. It is our response to this question that our bilateral relations especially conflicts and even our internal relations are shaped. Sharing history of Pakistan, he said, the state largely relayed religious ideals to justify its goals. This is how our narrative evolved. With time, such narrative saw its own backlash. Thus today, he said, the fundamental clash is between the narrative built on transnational ideals and the realities of nation-state confined within boundaries. It was precisely to bridge this divide that the Paigham-e-Pakistan document was drafted, a government-endorsed public document that counter extremism, using the narrative of religion. He called for training teachers on this document.

Columnist Harris Khalique informed that media in Pakistan is diverse, with a single event being angled differently, depending on language, platform, region, among others. The written word, in the form of columns and features, is often cautious, and resultantly, produce less substance that can incite hatred. Ammar Nasir, religious scholar, said not only common people but teachers quote popular opinion-making platforms. It should be other way around: teachers should be knowledge producer.

Educationist A. H. Nayyar commended teachers for critically looking at one’s society, but added that one of the ways to raise our awareness is to learn about the evolutions of other societies, in different ages and places. Dr. Raghib Naeemi, religious scholar, said the statement that “teachers can serve as role models for students” can only come to fruition if teachers consciously strive to be so.

Earlier, PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana said instead of putting everything at the door of the government, teachers can bring about great difference. “Is it really necessary that a regulator or monitor be there to set us right”, he asked.

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