Critical thinking is key to social cohesion and harmony
Teacher is the agent of social change whose role in shaping up the society is becoming ever more important in the crisis-ridden modern world. Teachers can improve the intellectual capacity of a nation by promoting a culture of debate and discussion, and instilling critical thinking skills among students. These views were expressed by Pakistan’s eminent scholars, educationists, and opinion-makers at a two-day debate and training seminar in Islamabad. Thirty teachers from public sector colleges and universities in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Punjab, and AJK attended the seminar on Oct 28 and 29, 2020. The purpose was to train teachers in values of social cohesion, religious tolerance, and diversity. Speakers maintained that critical thinking, free expression, and open debate on social issues were prerequisites for the construction of a diverse and tolerant society. His Excellency Mr. Brek Batley, Australian Acting High Commissioner to Pakistan, also addressed the dialogue session virtually. He emphasised the overarching role of teachers in social development in Pakistan. Likewise, the event was attended by leading scholars and educationists such as Dr. Naazir Mahmood, Prof. Fateh Mohammad Malik (former rector Int. Islamic University), Khurshid Ahmad Nadeem (member CII), Prof. Rashid Ahmad (director Shaikh Zayed Islamic Centre), Prof. A. H. Nayyar (noted physicist & educationist), Zafarullah Khan (ex-director Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Studies), Romana Bashir (director Policy Development Institute), Mujtaba Rathore and others.
Dr. Naazir Mahmood underlined the significance of critical thinking and social consciousness in the education system, noting that one of the goals of education is to promote better understanding and awareness of the society, and knowledge of available alternatives. He was of the view that students’ academic potential could be incredibly improved if they were equipped with skills to think freely and critically and question things. Teaching regular subjects alone is not enough to bring out the full intellectual potential of the students. Similarly, Romana Bashir maintained that by teaching students about the commonalities among different religions interfaith harmony could be achieved over time. She said mainstream religions have more in common than people tend to think. She lamented that people generally emphasize the differences which inevitably lead to religious polarization, adding that teachers could play role in changing that trend.
Dr. Lubna Zaheer, Associate Professor at Punjab University, highlighted the role of media in shaping behaviours in the society. According to her, media houses often carry set-agendas and steer the direction of debates in society, usually determining what issues are given attention to and which ones are ignored. She said critical thinking and questioning abilities were largely missing among the public in general and the students in particular. This phenomenon negatively affect the quality of debates in the country. Likewise, Pakistan’s leading educationist, Dr. A. H. Nayyar, said scientific knowledge and inquiry were indispensable for understanding not only the mysteries of the universe but also the human society. He lamented that there was a general tendency in the society to call upon supernatural forces for help in times of natural disasters instead of trying to understand the scientific causes of those disasters and seeking solutions. The dialogue noted that promoting quality education as per the requirements of the 21st century is crucial for enabling the country to push through challenges and make progress.