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‘Safeguarding minorities will promote Pakistan’s soft image in world’

PIPS workshop with teachers and educationists-I

Renowned educationists and scholars argued that followers of the majority faith do not have the right to impose their ideologies on minorities. Instead, they say, protecting minorities and their rights is the way to go, which will also help build a better, softer image of Pakistan. “The day we decide that this country does not solely belong to Muslims but all Pakistanis, we will eventually be able to end intolerance and bring social harmony in society,” they said.

These remarks were expressed at a two-day training workshop titled “Role of teachers in improving social cohesion and religious harmony.” The dialogue-cum-training workshop was organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Karachi on April 27-28, 2016. Senior faculty members of different universities in Sindh, Balochistan and Karachi participated. It was first of a series of three such events, which have been designed to promote tolerant and inclusive educational narratives in the country.

Muhammad Amir Rana, Director, Pak Institute for Peace Studies, said in his opening remarks, that in our society, and particularly in educational discourse, space for pluralistic and accommodative viewpoints is shrinking. “The lack of knowledge-based discourse shows that either our society has lost a collective understanding of the challenges or the educational capabilities of the society have stopped functioning,” he argued.

Dr. Qibla Ayaz, former vice-chancellor, University of Peshawar, said that given that teachers and religious scholars hold respectable position in Pakistani society, it is their duty to jointly work for improving social harmony. He was of the view that “we have to learn living alongside the people from other faiths and sects, and for that purpose, we have to benefit from the collective wisdom of the society.”

Khursheed Nadeem, scholar and columnist, emphasized the role of teachers in promoting a healthy society and said that immense struggle is needed in this respect in Pakistan. “Teachers have two important roles: one is linked to the promotion of [a constructive] educational environment; and second is related to designing of [educational] curriculum. Development and execution of these two elements together helps in creating a society conducive of religious harmony,” he opined.

Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyer, former professor at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, emphasized that “dialogue supported by arguments, counter-arguments and the power of listening opponents’ views are the best way of gaining knowledge, that ultimately helps in creating spaces for mutual co-existence and harmony in a society.”

Dr. Nayyer underscored the need for introducing fundamental changes in our educational curriculum to improve religious tolerance and harmony. “Books being taught in our primary, high schools and colleges contain certain words, phrases and lessons that create and stimulate a feeling of hatred against non-Muslim Pakistanis, which is embarrassing for them,” he highlighted. He also stressed upon the teachers to create and encourage an environment in classrooms where students are inspired to ask questions.

Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmad, Director, Pakistan Studies Center, Karachi University, while speaking at the occasion, said that pluralism should be the policy of the state that should entail the provision of legitimate spaces and equal opportunities to all citizens.” These can promote peaceful co-existence, adding that Quaid-e-Azam in his inaugural speech to the constituent assembly on 11 August 1947 made it clear that the state of Pakistan would act as a neutral actor in promoting and safeguarding the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims in the country. That means the founder upheld a constitution for Pakistan that would equally safeguard the rights of majority and minority communities.

Dr. Khalida Ghaus, former director, Center of Excellence for Women, Karachi, held social injustices, different educational systems and prevailing social disparities, besides religious intolerance, as the main factors for lack of harmony in Pakistani society.“We have to undergo structural changes in social, educational, religious, legal, and ethical codes because our society is an emotional society that lacks rationale and reasoning thus leading to intolerant tendencies,” she said.

Romana Bashir, social activist, while speaking at the occasion, highlighted the absence of “real equal citizenship” to the minorities as a force that stimulates a sense of fear in their minds. In order to improve social harmony and acceptance in our society, she argued, we have to teach our students the history of Pakistan that gives them full insight including about those who belonged to minority faiths, who too played an important role in the creation and development of Pakistan. “Minorities in Pakistan are facing challenges on social, educational and religious levels. Unfortunately these challenges are growing instead of dissipating. Students belonging to minority faiths face discriminatory attitude of teachers in schools which is counter-productive in achieving social and religious harmony,” Ms. Romana said.

Wusat Ullah Khan, senior journalist, pointed out myopic and skewed perspectives that hinder social acceptance of minorities and thus harmony. “We see sky as much it is visible through a window of our room and assume it is the whole sky.” He said the day we decide that this country belong to all Pakistanis irrespective of their faiths, we will eventually be able to end intolerance and bring social harmony in society. “It is a general practice in our society that we distort truth at all levels. We did not spare even education and knowledge.” Mr. Khan lamented.

Participants attending the workshop were divided into three groups and advised to come up with recommendations they deem necessary for promoting social and religious harmony in Pakistan and the role of teachers in the whole process.

Following were the recommendations by the three groups:

Group A

1. Educational institutions should be impartial in educating students

2. Balanced curriculum in country should be encouraged

3. Teachers should recognize and realize their importance and stature and must play their due role accordingly

4. Collectively, society should work for spreading social harmony

5. Creating a sense of unity in society is direly needed

6. Elimination of corruption from all departments/areas is inevitable

7. There are need of sincere efforts on part of everyone

8. Self-accountability should be promoted, and practical steps should be taken for creating an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony in all spheres of life

Group B

1. Teachers should act as role models for the students belonging to all sects; teachers should treat all with single lens

2. For teacher, it is necessary to have deep and wide knowledge of one’s subject; he or she should answer students’ questions rationally and promote practices of harmony and tolerance among students

3. For a teacher, it is important to be a good psychiatric, so as to easily understand behaviour of students and advise appropriately

4. Lessons aimed with bringing social harmony must be added in syllabus at primary and secondary levels

5. Trainings sessions for school teachers besides universities should be planned at state level

6. Teachers must work for the promotion of enhancing religious harmony among their pupils in classrooms. State should promote such initiatives helping teachers in this respect.

Group C

1. Teachers should broaden their knowledge base

2. Teachers should promote mutually agreed religious literature

3. Standard curriculum for Madrassas should be designed

4. Distinction between madrassas and colleges must be eliminated at earliest

5. Promotion of religious pluralism in our society

6. Teachers must allow and encourage students to ask questions

7. Innovations in curriculum is required

8. Teachers should respect the opinions of others and promote an environment of tolerance

9. Focus should be on career education and the role of media in this respect should be positive

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