A two-day dialogue on social harmony was held on 28-29 November 2018 in Islamabad, with college teachers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including erstwhile tribal areas. They underscored that colleges should promote the culture of asking questions so as to generate ideas.
This was the third in a series of dialogues with public sector teachers held in 2018. Teachers exchanged views with scholars on the first day, and gave their own input in promoting social harmony on the second day.
In introductory remarks to education policy in the country, PIPS researcher Safdar Sial said Pakistan has developed well-designed nine (9) educational policies since 1947. Lately, since 1980s, there has been overemphasis on religion and national ideology in the curriculum.
Dr. Syed Jaffer Ahmad, former director Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, elaborated upon the role of education system in the country in building intellect in the country. He argued that there should be focus more on primary level of education than others. This is what, he shared, he has concluded after serving in the university for over two to three decades now. A university-level student has already developed certain traits which are difficult to work upon in the university; those traits can only be focused at the primary level.
He said it is not that attempts have not been made to change educational policies; the problem is that unrealistic targets are set time and again, which are difficult to achieve. He also underlined that the mainstream education system caters to different socio-economic classes, widening the differences in the society.
This, he however cautioned, has nothing to with de-centralization of education. Every now and then, he said, there are voices calling for centralizing the education system as was in place before the 18th amendment was passed in 2010. Such views see diversity as division, a wrong assessment. Instead, we should aim for seeking unity through diversity.
Shabzada Amanat Rasool, religious scholar, agreed that the focus should be primary level of education. He said that whereas madrassah system injects sectarian thinking among the students, it does not seek to widen socio-economic differences per se. Such differences come from the education system in general, of which madrassah is one part.
Meanwhile, peace building activist Romana Bashir talked about the problems religious minorities face in Pakistan. She enlisted such problems as pertaining to freely professing their faith; fairly participating in political activities; gaining equal economic opportunities; and dealing with curriculum and pedagogy in educational institutes.
She said even though non-Muslims have contributed in the history of the country, their contribution goes unacknowledged. At the same time, many non-Muslims in schools and colleges complain of being discriminated. She however hoped that with constant efforts, there can be change in the society.
Barrister Zafarullah, former state minister, underscored that all types of education including technical and vocational training are important. And all types require reforms too. The issue is how much the government should allocate its resources to different types of education, when it comes to reforming the system in general.
Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of Sargodha University, pointed out the lack of questioning culture at academic institutes and suggested that the ability to ask question needs to be promoted. He argued in Pakistan, there is too much emphasis on higher education, which is often a privilege in some countries. Instead, those who cannot attain higher education should not be forced and rather ask to opt for technical education, which too is becoming specialized day-by-day. This will also reduce the burden on the state, and rather produce people who can contribute to the economy of the country.
Dr. Khadim Hussain, director at Bacha Khan Trust Education Foundation, identified several loopholes in academic institutes: inability of student to research properly; inability to write a report; inadequate supervision; non-serious data documentation and plagiarism, among others. All these have hampered research in college and universities. He suggested that research exercises be encouraged in the institutes and the culture of question and answer be promoted. He also called for promoting interconnectivity among universities and colleges. He recommended that at undergrad and graduate level, publishing research papers should be deemed mandatory.
Dr. Rashid Ahmad also called for developing culture of research in academic institutes. He, however, said that at times, teachers of religious studies find their papers being plagiarized, given that they quote primary religious texts. This, he said, is a limitation of plagiarism-checking software.
Moreover, he warned teachers at not teaching at the level of the students and assuming students should respond accurately to all queries. He said that real wisdom in speaking at the level of the audience, with the context in mind.
Dr. Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, said that the culture of interaction in universities has declined. Universities promote ideas, which do not seem to be the case presently. He argued that asking a proper question is a skill unto itself. Teachers should know how to ask proper questions, and to impart this skill to students. That skill alone can promote culture of dialogue in diverse environment of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, columnist Khurshid Nadeem talked about the inter-relation between state and society in creating or denting social harmony in the country.
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