An independent think-tank

“Teachers’ role critical in overcoming divides in society”


PR/6 November 2018

Overcoming today’s social divides deem conscious attention of teachers. They can produce original scholarship, disseminate new ideas, equip students how to search for facts, and create dialogue-enabling platforms – key ingredients for producing a mutually-acceptable society.

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 Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Islamabad, with sessions led by leading scholars, educationists, and opinion makers.

Starting off, teachers can help unpack the causes of intolerance in Pakistan, said Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Whenever we talk about terrorism, he said, we often start with the September 11 attack, even using clichés like “since 9/11”. This is the reference point of the west, but has been uncritically borrowed in Pakistan. On the other hand, in Pakistan, it was sectarianism in 1980’s that to today’s extremism.

A proper diagnosis will lead to proper solution, it was said. One of the ways to go about is to accept differences as elements of diversity, rather than letting them making way to discrimination and divisions. Differences, columnist Khursheed Nadeem said, are natural, adding that learning to live with those differences is decisive.

Peace building activist Romana Bashir, sharing her experiences of leading fact-finding missions on faith-based issues, said her twenty years of work has taught her that no matter how polarizing the environment, dialogue between communities can bring them closer. Such dialogues are direly needed today, and shall be initiated from the grassroots all the way to higher level. Teachers should be their active participants.

Teachers shared their own limitation when it comes to relaying the messages of peace and harmony. There are different subjects, with each having different demands. While teachers of social sciences are expected to encourage introspection or questioning, one teacher said, that of natural sciences have to rely on hard facts to be quoted fluently. When it comes to parents, they prefer their students rely on science so that their sons and daughters can become engineers and doctors. In such a social context, teachers think they need to finish the curriculum.

Still, amid these constraints, teachers can make significant difference too. Dr. Raghib Naeemi, religious scholar, said that given that students take the words of teachers with seriousness, they should ensure the information they are sharing is true. More so, they should impart students with skills on how to search for facts in the first place. This is the basic researching point, but this is direly required for today’s students, who rely on social media, where a lot of fake media circulates. And fake news peddles hate speech, it was noted.

Educationist A. H. Nayyar said that the prevailing discourse in Pakistan is increasingly becoming toxic, which, if unchecked, can further inimical to society. Teachers can help reverse this tide. Religious scholar Ammar Khan Nasir also spoke on the occasion.

PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana called for introspection. Our biases often hamper us from achieving the lofty ideals we have in mind, he hinted. He said we all need to assess our own perceptions about different ethnic or religious groups.