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“Teachers can practice and preach empathy to promote tolerance”

“Teachers can practice and preach empathy to promote tolerance”


PR/3 July 2019

Teachers can show the seeds of tolerance in society, if they practice and preach the values of empathy – putting one-self in another’s shoes. Empathy can open them to divergent understanding of same problem, producing a society that is more tolerant of differences and diversity. Teachers should be sensitized how to undertake this mental activity, and universities should regularly host events promoting empathy.

These are some of the findings of the “Academic and Intellectual Dialogue on Social Harmony, Tolerance and Education”, a study by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, on six dialogues held with teachers of Pakistan’s higher-secondary school and colleges from all over the country. Leading scholars and intellectuals led these dialogues.

Any country’s education system should end social cleavages. Unfortunately, the report noted, Pakistan’s system widens those differences. Different schooling systems cater to different segments of society; children are made to imbibe those differences.

The report however warns that whenever authorities speak of ending those differences, they tend to speak of a “uniform” education system, by which they mean centralizing the system. This is not the way out. Diversity should be upheld. What is required is a proper understanding of what is allowed in terms of diversity in education, and what is not. Our debates are in black and white terms.

On the positive side, many students confide their lives were transformed through introspection, not necessarily formal schooling. The existing schooling systems should provide for opportunities to look inside, to ask question. Students who have the ability to question excel in professional and academic lives. Unfortunately, students get discouraged from questioning the conventional norms.

A teacher can sow the seeds of inquiry. No student can learn all the facts and figures, but every student should be told how to approach any subject and any person. Students should be taught, by example, what it means to conduct dialogues – learning from each other, rather than exciting over proving others wrong. With these values, students can emerge as useful citizens.

In the campuses, the culture of interaction in universities has declined. Universities promote ideas, but that is missing now. Collectively, this has led to growth of narrow ideologies thrusting their opinions on others.

There is too much focus on the quantity of education, at the cost of ignoring quality and producing a society that hits at quality too. There is talk of enrollment, literacy and so on.  When asked to draw a link between education and harmony, much of the responses pertained to quality. A more balance approach is required.

Resource persons included Dr. Khalid Masud, ex-Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology; Dr. Khalida Ghaus, academic; Harris Khalique, human rights activist; Peter Jacob, minority rights activists; Khursheed Nadeem, columnist/anchor; Ammar Khan Nasir, religious scholar; among many others.

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