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Launch of Network of Faculty Peacebuilders

With the growing cases of violent extremism and terrorism perpetuated by university students in Pakistan, a need has been felt to expand the efforts for countering violent extremism (CVE) in educational institutions. The role of faculty is critical in this regard as they have the power to shape minds of their students and to inspire them to adopt tolerance and acceptance.

To promote the peacebuilding role of university faculty, Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) conducted a ceremony on 31st March 2022 at Beach Luxury Hotel, Karachi, where a “Network of Faculty Peacebuilders” was established. The network is currently composed of a selected pool of faculty members of six universities – four from Karachi and two from Multan – who received peacebuilding training organized by PIPS, organized seminars in their respective campuses, and engaged students and other faculty members in social action projects relevant to CVE and peace. The network is planned to expand further through future engagement of PIPS with faculty members of other universities. The objective of this network is to facilitate exchange of knowledge and experience on peacebuilding among faculty members of public and private universities across Pakistan and to create positive role models in university campuses for students.

The launch ceremony was attended by students, academic and administrative staff of universities, civil society organizations, and journalists. During the ceremony, PIPS research team shared the findings obtained from their engagement with the faculty members during the course of the project and made recommendations to deal with the issues of growing radicalization and extremism among university students in the form of a policy brief. Senior educationists and analysts were invited to share their thoughts on the role of university faculty in promoting peace and social cohesion.

Proceedings of the Sessions

Inauguration Session

Muhammad Amir Rana, founding director of PIPS, inaugurated the launch event with his welcome remarks. Highlighting the objective of the launch session, he held that this is an interactive learning exercise to give impetus to serious discourse on issues of violent extremism and fanaticism. He held that a collective process is required to tackle the issues of radicalization and terrorism among our educated youth and through such sessions, where faculty members of multiple universities sit together and share their respective views, one can reach a consensus on possible solutions to the problems faced by teachers and students in our campuses. He pointed out that the new security policy in Pakistan has a separate chapter on social cohesion, reflecting that there is growing recognition of the importance of cohesion and co-existence at the state level. He also shared his views on Paigham-e-Pakistan where clergy has acknowledged the concept of citizenship as an Islamic concept. He concluded that such documents confirm that there is no ambiguity at the policy level on the need for creating a cohesive and peaceful society and the problem mainly lies at integrating society with the state on this issue.

Dr. Fizza Batool, Reporting and Communication Officer at PIPS, then briefed the attendees of the event on the key findings and recommendations drawn from the project. According to her, the main problem identified in the faculty members is poor understanding of the concepts of peace, cohesion, and harmony, resulting in flawed understanding of the possible remedies to the problems of radicalization, intolerance, and violence. With limited knowledge of what extremism actually means, teachers fail to identify extremist tendencies among their students. She also pointed out issues in the communication skills of faculty members who have become accustomed to giving lectures. She recommended encouraging a discussion-oriented environment where students can comfortably raise questions and disagree with the views of the teacher. She said, “a teacher has a critical responsibility and must be careful with what knowledge they forward to the students.” She shared that the research team at PIPS has prepared a brief with policy recommendations on improving the peacebuilding role of university faculty.

Ghazi Salahuddin, famous writer and columnist gave his critical appraisal on the findings and recommendations shared by Dr. Fizza. He held that universities are the ideal place to innovate solutions for any social problems including the problem of violent extremism. However, we are not seeing this happening in Pakistani university campuses owing to the problems just shared by the PIPS team. He emphasized on the secular nature of higher education and held that the process of learning at the higher education level is based on dialogue between people of different views. For dialogue, the first prerequisite is tolerance for different opinions. He questioned the contribution of the research scholars produced by our universities, believing that it is the job of universities to think about the problems existing in the society and use the university resources to come up with practical solutions. He concluded his remarks by recommending emphatic thinking and not giving up on our dreams.

It was followed by remarks from the Chief Guest, Dr. Mansoor Akbar Kundi, the Vice Chancellor of Bahauddin Zakariya University. The chief guest shared his experience as an educator and administrator in different universities, highlighting the challenges faced by universities in maintaining discipline while ensuring open discussion on all matters. He agreed that tolerance is the key to establishing an interactive and learning environment on campuses where we allow people of different ideological schools to propagate their views without a fear of persecution.

Discussion Session 01: Democratizing Classrooms

The first discussion session on Democratizing Classroom was moderated by Ahmed Ali, Program Manager PIPS, who explained the democratic principle of equality of say whereby everyone has equal freedom to express one’s views. He inquired on the ways to make our classrooms more democratic from the session discussants.

Dr. Muqarrab Akbar, Chairperson, Department of Political Science, BZU, Multan held that democratization of classroom began with two-way communication with equal attention to both listening and speaking. He held that teachers must refrain from just pouring out their knowledge, earned in 15 or 20 years of education, to the students in one sitting. The knowledge sharing exercise in our classrooms should be based on what students need to know rather than what the teacher knows. He also criticized the practice of dividing students as per the grades obtained in the last examination. The principle of equality should be applied, treating every single student as entitled to teacher attention and willingness to share knowledge. Teachers must allow questioning in the classrooms and must frame their answers after seeing things at the student’s end. Dr. Muqarrab believed that while teachers are bound by the rules set by universities, being employees of the university, students are sovereign and can speak their mind freely. Hence, teachers should create an environment where students can ask any question openly. He rejected the notion of blaming curriculum for spreading extremism, claiming that a teacher at the university level has enough space to play around the given curriculum. He held that since there are no textbooks at the university level, teachers can suggest new books or can even introduce new courses.

Dr. Sohail Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Sir Syed University emphasized on the teacher’s knowledge of the subject as well as understanding of students’ perspective as key to democratization of classroom. He held that gender equality should be maintained in the classroom and religious issues ought not be discussed unless the topic requires it. He also recommended a non-discriminatory behavior so students should feel equally encouraged to express their views. He opined that tolerance and peace will come only if students are allowed to ask questions and discuss things beyond textbooks. He presented a teaching model based on gradually expanding the scope of a subject, from local to regional to international context.

On the topic of letting students raise critical questions, Sabookh Syed, a broadcast journalist and social media researcher, shared some tips based on his experience as a teacher of media sciences. He held that the lecture should only begin after gauging the interest level of the students. If most students seem distracted, the teacher can skip the lecture and use the time for regular discussion that can help them understand their students better. He also recommended having a friendly relationship with students without making a compromise on mutual respect and classroom discipline. He also held that students in a classroom have different levels of knowledge and intelligence, so a teacher must deliver lecture keeping in mind the lowest capacity of grabbing the delivered knowledge.

Discussion Session 02: Role of Faculty in Peacebuilding on Campuses

Dr. Fizza Batool moderated the second discussion session titled “Role of Faculty in Peacebuilding on Campuses.”  Dr. Khadim Hussain Dahri, Assistant Professor, BBSUL, Karachi believed that the growing extremism in the university campuses is closely linked to the administrative corruption and mismanagement. With the hiring of academic staff based on favoritism, we are seeing a continuous decline in the teachers’ subject expertise and the effective delivery of lectures. Teachers use education to propagate their ideologies and political views instead of discussing alternative views. He also attributed political pressure from higher ups in the administration, both within and outside campuses, for creating an environment of intolerance in the universities.

Zia ur Rehman, an investigative journalist at The News & New York Times, pointed out that use of force to eradicate extremism in university campuses is not a viable solution. He also considered the absence of student unions to be responsible for radicalization in society and the religious organization filling the void created by absence of political activism on campuses.

On the question of glass ceiling for female teachers, Dr. Sajida Zaki, Chairperson of Humanities Department at NED University, Karachi, acknowledged the improvement in female presence and participation in the education sector yet recognized a shift in social values that has not only jeopardize the gender roles but also our overall attitude. She held that women’s voices are necessary to create a comprehensive picture of the cause and effect of radicalization in society. She identified multiple barriers hindering women participation that can be improved further.

Prof. Dr Khalida Ghaus, a well-known scholar and educationist, shared that in her 36 years long career, she failed to understand the role our teachers are playing for we have failed in building a nation in this country. She held that when we discuss radicalization in our campuses, our focus should not be students alone as teachers are also part of the same society and have clearly been radicalized. She also criticized the absence of public spaces for educated voices in the country. Speaking on the importance of the role of a teacher, Dr. Khalida held that while curricula can give a defined set of knowledge to the students, they need teachers to gain wisdom and a rational mind. She held that while a value system is important, one must be clear on the foundation of these values. In our attempt to propagate a particular set of values based on one religion, we fail to respect diversity of values in a society.