Students of different backgrounds often carry strong biases about each other. To overcome them, and help produce social harmony, students should be given opportunity to interact with other, not only academically but also in non-curricular activities. Above all, they should be taught how to talk to each other, rather than talking at each other.
These were some of the findings of the engagement of 150 university and madrassah students from Multan, in a series of five youth camps, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.
The camp, consisting of learning workshops and day-long study tour, was designed to enable students of madrassah and university, shed their mutually-held misperceptions and stereotypes about each other. During the interactions, students admitted that the two have different conceptions of the world around them.
What was striking was that students did not much interact even within the same group. Seminary students, because of studying in sect-based institutions, do not intermingle much with students of other sect’s seminary. So much so that while a madrassah student might have visited a university, he will be more reluctant to step into seminary of another sect. The study tour helped them overcome this unease. Madrassahs should be encouraged for cross-madrassah interactions.
Similarly, in public-sector universities, students often come from different regions, speaking different languages. Instead of letting this diversity plunge into discrimination and violence at campuses, universities should celebrate the blending in of different ethnicities, such as through cultural days.
Renowned experts and scholars who spoke in the youth camp included Amanat Rasool, religious scholar; Ammar Khan Nasir, religious scholar; Shahid Nadeem, play writer; Yasir Pirzada, columnist; Wajahat Masood, analyst; Amjad Tufail, a literary critic, besides other researchers.
Speakers taught students that having differences is not wrong. “Human civilizations have progressed on the basis of differences.” But the way differences are expressed can have repercussions.
Students curiously asked about avoiding tussles amid differences. It emerged that dialogue, which involves exchange of ideas with each other, produces amiable environment, rather than resorting to monologue contests, where the intention is to win over the other. PIPS noted that students should be taught about conducting dialogue in educational establishments.
Students, 18 to 25 years old, were also advised not to resort to fake news online. Fake news, it was noted, produces hate speech. One of the best ways to stop hate speech online is to train students on checking authenticity of reports. Being better equipped will lead to being better informed, a sure remedy for countering lies and hate.