Intolerance is a growing problem in Pakistan, and it is alarming to see its effects among school children. Children who are supposed to be learning the values of empathy, respect, and acceptance, are instead exhibiting intolerance towards their classmates who are different from them. Intolerance refers to the unwillingness or inability to accept the beliefs, opinions, or behaviours of others who differ from oneself. It is a negative attitude or behaviour that can manifest in various forms, such as discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, and hatred.
The problem of intolerance is widespread in schools across Pakistan, with children displaying prejudice against their peers based on their religion, ethnicity, race, gender, and socio-economic status. The intolerance manifests in different ways, including bullying, name-calling, exclusion, and physical violence. Children who are targets of intolerance often suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even trauma. Such experiences can have long-lasting effects on their mental health, academic performance, and overall wellbeing. Intolerance can be rooted in various factors such as social, cultural, economic, and political factors. It often arises from a lack of understanding, fear, or mistrust of people - who are different from oneself. Intolerance can also be perpetuated by stereotypes, misinformation, and narrow-mindedness.
One of the primary reasons for intolerance among school children in Pakistan is the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the education system. The curriculum often reinforces stereotypes and reinforces negative attitudes towards marginalised groups. Additionally, teachers and school administrators may not have the skills or training to address intolerance effectively. There is also a lack of awareness and understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion among parents, who may inadvertently pass on their biases to their children.
Another factor that contributes to rising intolerance among school children is the social and cultural attitudes towards difference and diversity. In many communities, differences in religion, ethnicity, and socio-economic status are viewed as negative and are often used as a basis for discrimination and prejudice. Another factor is children often learn attitudes and beliefs from their families and peers. If their immediate environment promotes intolerance towards certain groups, children may adopt these views. Many children in Pakistan grow up in a homogenous environment with limited exposure to different cultures and religions. This lack of exposure can lead to a narrow worldview and limited understanding of other cultures, which may contribute to intolerance.
The first learning institute for children is their ‘home’ where one can observe the best examples of intolerance. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, parents may unintentionally or intentionally contribute to the spread of intolerance among school children. As they pass on their biases and prejudices towards certain religious or ethnic groups to their children, which can influence their attitudes and beliefs towards those groups. They also encourage segregation, such as sending their children to religious schools or discouraging them from interacting with children from different religious or ethnic backgrounds. Parents use derogatory language towards certain religious or ethnic groups, in front of their children, which can contribute to the normalisation of intolerance and prejudice and foster a culture of fear towards different groups.
To combat intolerance among school children in Pakistan, it is essential to address the root causes of the problem. Schools need to develop a curriculum that promotes diversity and inclusivity, provide training and support to teachers and staff on how to address intolerance, and create a safe and welcoming environment for all students. Parents can also play a crucial role in promoting tolerance at home by modelling respectful behaviour, challenging their biases, and encouraging their children to be open-minded and accepting of differences.
It has been observed that children have become more advanced in communications. In this regard, media can play a very influential role by highlighting positive stories that can give examples of people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds working together towards common goals. Through this, unity and acceptance will be promoted. Avoid misconception about different communities by providing accurate and balanced reporting, through documentaries and television shows cultural exchange could be promoted and encouragement for public debate could be given.
Media and various political parties can create miracles among school children as they idealise these two platforms. Political parties can arrange seminars and training sessions with educational institutions to create programmes and awareness campaigns by highlighting the messages of respect for diversity and the harmful effects of discrimination and prejudice. They can also support intercultural activities, collaborating with NGOs, and incorporating the promotion of tolerance in their party platform.
In conclusion, intolerance among school children in Pakistan is a significant issue that requires urgent attention. It not only affects the wellbeing of individual children but also undermines social cohesion and stability. Addressing intolerance requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including educators, parents, and policymakers. By promoting diversity, inclusivity, and empathy, we can create a more tolerant and accepting society where all children can thrive.
The author is a PhD scholar at Department of International Relations, University of Karachi