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PIPS Consultation on “Promoting Narratives of Diversity, Inclusion, and Peace among Youth” was held in Karachi

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized a two-day consultation on “Promoting Narratives of Diversity, Inclusion, and Peace among Youth” on 15 & 16 June 2023 at Beach Luxury Hotel, Karachi.

The consultation consisted of four sessions on different themes, which were attended by lawmakers, members of political parties, academics, journalists, rights activists, and civil society representatives, among others. Programme Manager PIPS Ahmed Ali, and journalist as well as researcher Imran Mukhtar moderated the sessions respectively.

Experts at the consultation urged the need for promoting scientific and critical thinking among youth to curb ever-increasing intolerance and religious extremism among them.

They also said that the lack of critical thinking among Pakistani youth encouraged them to engage in hate speech on social media platforms and the state should take its responsibility to discourage such trends among them.

First Day of Consultation:

On the first day, two sessions were held with academics, scholars, politicians and lawmakers.

In the first session on “the Challenges of Navigating a Multicultural and Multiethnic Society,” participants discussed how youth can build cultural awareness and develop understanding of the dynamics of multiculturalism. They talked about incorporating religious and ethnic diversity into education to improve youths’ social skills to interact in a multicultural setting.

In the second session on “Sindh Youth Policy: Current Status, Challenges, and Opportunities”, a talk was held among lawmakers and politicians about creating opportunities for improved youth participation in politics and governance.

Director at Institute of Historical and Social Research in Karachi Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmed, taking part in the discussion, called for bringing alternative narratives based on scientific and critical thinking to end prevailing religious extremism and intolerance among youth. “This has become utmost important that those liberal segments of the society, who believe in scientific and critical thoughts, should move forward to create alternative narratives,” he said. He said that only holding dialogue with extremist elements of the society would make no difference and there was a need to make an effort at the intellectual level.

Journalist and columnist Ghazi Salahuddin pointed out that the lack of reading books, especially fiction, among youth was the major problem. “We cannot expect from youth that they will have any idea of diversity, and inclusion if they don’t read books.” He further said that fiction reading would bring creativity and “ability to see dreams” among them besides awareness about other cultures, leading them towards tolerance and empathy.

Professor Dr Qudsia Tariq of Department of Psychology in the University of Karachi emphasized training the child at grassroots level and added that they should work on parenting skills. “I am seeing psychological issues developing among youth rapidly due to lack of attention from parents, among other factors.” She added that suicide rate among youth was increasing as they felt themselves insecure. She urged for introducing training programmes to aware and educate parents about the needs of their children.

Laeeq Ahmad, a lecturer at the University of Karachi, argued the need to sensitize people about different ethnicities and groups living in Pakistan. He explained that one ethnicity living in one province stereotypes ethnicities of other provinces. “The intelligentsia would have to play its role and sensitize the people.”

Senior journalist and anchorperson Wusat Ullah Khan said that this would have to be known first whether the state was interested in bringing diversity among youth and whether they have to hold a dialogue among themselves or with the state. He said that they would have to highlight roles of local poets and heroes in the curriculum if they have to make the society multiethnic in its real meanings.

Wusat suggested that the Senate of Pakistan should be empowered by giving it a role in legislation related to money bills. He added that youth should be provided with internship opportunities in the non-government sector to empower them.

Lecturer at Bahria University in Karachi Campus Abdul Rasheed viewed that they should also engage students of colleges, besides universities, to give them awareness about subjects of diversity, and inclusion. He further said that they would also have to focus on private sector universities along with public sector universities for this purpose.

Dr Maroof Bin Rauf, assistant professor at Department of Education in the University of Karachi, underlined that interaction among different segments of the society was very important. “For this purpose, visits to different places, and social activities could be arranged besides celebrating some specific days,” he said. He said that the examination system would have to be changed first for bringing improvement in the present education system of the country.

Former member of Sindh Assembly Ms. Bilqees Mukhtar underscored that political parties should engage youth and empower them by giving them representation in national and provincial assemblies. “Youth should be made part of the legislation-making process.”

She further said that youth should be imparted technical training that would definitely help them in finding jobs. “Our youth have no recreational facilities— a reason for frustration among them,” she said, adding that the youth should be provided with sports facilities. She also said that basic articles of the Constitution should be made part of the curriculum.

Ex-member of Sindh Assembly Ms. Naheed Begum said that youth had energy but that needed some direction to channelize it. She said that provision of accurate data was necessary before making any policy claiming that the population of Karachi had been allegedly undercounted in the recent census. She further remarked that any policy on youth for the people of Sindh, especially Karachi, could not be formed on the basis of flawed census data.

Former MNA of Muttahida Quami Movement-Pakistan (MQMP) Rehan Hashmi commented that successive provincial governments had been announcing youth policies for Sindh but these remained limited to mere announcements. “The implementation of such policies was never ensured.”

Hashmi said that there was unrest among youth of Sindh due to the rural-urban quota system for jobs in the province. He demanded to abolish this rural-urban quota system saying it was discriminatory for youth in its nature.

Associate professor of political science in the University of Karachi Dr Muhammad Ali called for giving funding to universities. He added that the role of High Education Commissions was negative in this regard and there was irrational distribution of funding to the universities. “We have to change the mindset that degrees are for jobs only,” he said, adding that there was disappointment among youth and brain drain was going on.

Chairman of the Voice of Youth Muhammad Faizan Khan also said that the present Sindh Youth Policy only existed on paper and no effort had ever been made to implement it in letter and spirit. He said that Sindh youth were never provided with those facilities mentioned in the provincial youth policy. “The basic issue of youth is unemployment,” he said and demanded that the government should promote technical education.

He also said that there were a few universities in interior Sindh which did not fulfill the demand of increasing population and urged to increase their number. He also said that at least a two percent quota should be specified to give youth representation in the National Assembly, Senate, and provincial assemblies.

Youth activist Faiz Ali Khan underlined that no new educational institutions were established in Karachi. He said that many promises were made in Sindh youth policy but they were never fulfilled. “I’ve not seen implementation of Sindh youth policy at any level.”

Second Day of Consultation:

On the second day, two sessions were also held with academia, scholars, and journalists.

In the first session on “Youth and Social Media”, a discussion was held among media persons to explore social media’s influence on youths’ perception of themselves, and the world around them. The discussants talked about the impact of misinformation overload on youth, how media can fact-check fake news, and role of social media in shaping up the social and emotional characters of young people.

In the second session on “Public Education and Employability among Sindh Youth”, members of academia discussed contemporary formal and non-formal modes of learning and their utility for employability skills development among youth. They deliberated about encouraging critical and innovative thinking among youth, and promoting entrepreneurship, and creating economic opportunities for them through technical and real-life learning.

Journalist and social media activist Faizullah Khan, taking part in the discussion, said the phenomenon of fake news had very old roots in the society but present social media has exacerbated the problem in the context of Pakistan. “Social media at the same time has become a recreation both for youth and old age,” he said.

Faizullah said that there was no mechanism in place to check the flow of fake news on social media. He further said that not only minorities but also different religious sects had become a victim of this misinformation. He was not hopeful that this flow of fake news could be stopped in the near future.

Dr Umair Ansari, a teacher of journalism and director of non-government Pakistan Development Forum, said that there was no central body of media departments of universities countrywide to review and update the curriculum of journalism in Pakistan keeping in view the changing trends. He insisted that there should be a central body with a task as to what changes are required to bring in the curriculum of media studies to fulfill the demand of the market.

Ansari argued that mainstream media has no content for youth—a reason that youth are inclining towards social media. “Youth is not the preference of the mainstream TV channels.” He said that state and academia should both respond to issues of fake news and misinformation present on social media.

Freelance contributor for The New York Times Zia Ur Rehman was of the view that youth have very much reliance on social media and the reach of video sharing apps like TikTok has increased very much. He urged the need for introducing digital education in Pakistan.

Zia said that the scale of misuse of social media was large but there was no mechanism available to counter it. He added that this issue needed to be tackled and journalists, scholars, and civil society would have to come on the front for this purpose.

Founder of Youth Parliament and anchorperson Rizwan Jaffar said that social media had reached its climax and was on the decline as its credibility was under question. “The state itself is not interested in regulating social media because it is using it as a tool to pursue its own objectives,” he added. He also said that YouTubers were propagating certain views to grab more and more viewers and earn more money.

Sindh-based anchorperson Fayaz Naich said that the behavior of the Pakistani state was itself challenging for all of them. He said that extreme polarization and tendencies of extremism and hate speech emerged in the society as a result of wrong policies of state. Social media is a reflection of these tendencies or behaviours, he added. “We have to move towards a normal state.”

Ms. Romana Jabeen, visiting faculty member at Department of Sociology in the University of Karachi, said that students were tech-savvy but they were unable to analyze issues from a social perspective. She said that critical thinking among students could be promoted through informal education. She also remarked that teachers would have to be critical first.

Ms. Maria Mustafa, a teacher of sociology, emphasized that informal skill development among students was necessary in addition to imparting to them formal education. She suggested that teacher training at public sector schools should be introduced immediately, and some small projects should be started there as a first step to develop such schools. She also called for making modern vocational training part of the curriculum.

Dr Khadim Hussain Dahri, Head of Department of Education at the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University Lyari in Karachi, said that their students get education only for the sake of degree but don’t have required knowledge and skills. “Government jobs have become a necessity for the youth because of this problem.” If you have skills and knowledge, you have many opportunities to grow in the private sector, he added.

Dr Dahri suggested that there was a need to add small components in the curriculum according to the needs and demands of the market. He concluded that students, the education sector, and the job market have to change their perception about one another and understand their responsibilities.

Professor Dr Hamida Zafar of the Department of Education and Teachers Education in Jinnah University for Women, Karachi, argued that the notion was wrong that their students didn’t think critically. Rather, it is the duty of the teacher to polish the abilities of students and bring out critical thinking among them positively, she said.

“We would have to work at the policy level,” Dr Hamida said, adding that the teacher was actually not well-equipped to polish the students in the present education system. She also stressed that the teacher would have to be involved in policymaking. She explained that there was a disconnect between policymakers and the teacher despite the latter actually knowing the requirements of curriculum and ground realities. She further said that they needed indigenous policymakers.