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September 25, 2017

Looking into eye of violence on campus


September 25, 2017

Islamabad :Academic qualification is not enough for selection of teachers at universities. They remain a source of violence until and unless they have an aptitude for tolerance, coexistence and respect for social diversity.

These are the views of Prof Dr Muhammad Zaman, former head of the Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) and author of many international publications of reckoning.

Having taught media at a public university in Islamabad since 2009, I have no reason to doubt Prof Zaman's research-driven opinion. I have witnessed firsthand and learnt through secondary sources interviewing different stakeholders that teachers use and abuse students in pursuit of their personal gains and then they also get best teacher and best researcher awards because they know how to manipulate the system.

Prof Zaman said reformation of curriculum is necessary but it will be useless if teachers are not equipped with the knowledge to live in diversified society. It is prerogative of the teacher to select material for lectures while curriculum just gives an outline. If anyone has tainted perceptions, one's selection of material and manner of teaching will lead students towards intolerance, he said.

He said extra-curriculum activities play a vital role in promoting a culture of tolerance on campus. Teachers and students from diverse backgrounds should be taken to spend some time together after every semester as has been practice in Germany. There, they will get a chance to understand each other and make friendships, he said.

Similarly, HEC should encourage a culture of joint research engaging teachers and students of universities of posh cities with those from far-off areas. In some universities, violence is promoted in the name of ethnicity and in others in the name of religiosity, he said. Both these extremes should be curbed and countered as students need to learn how to live a balanced life in society. He said subjects covering human rights, human behaviour and diversity in society should be taught to all students of disciplines.

Dr Asir Ajmal, a professor of psychology based in Lahore, said, "I believe there is a general lack of awareness about higher education. The faculty cannot be dictated the curriculum." He said BS Hons degree must require at least 40 per cent of social science and humanities courses so that young minds entering universities are not trapped easily.

He said, "Resources should be spent on educating the faculty. Education and not legislation will solve the problem of indoctrination. Faculty must be empowered in every way. It is their job to help the students to think and to learn." Without an educated faculty and a hard working student body, there can be no higher education, he concluded.

Erin Sledd, an American teacher who has recently been to Pakistan on an exchange programme, said, "To some extent, the emotional and intellectual atmosphere at the university level will be a reflection of the society and the educational system that the students (and faculty) come from. It is unrealistic to expect that universities can rapidly and smoothly change the habits and mindsets that students have developed over their lifetimes."

"Curiously enough, research studies have shown that people come up with more solutions and more creative solutions for issues that are distant from them in either geography or time or both: ask a British student to solve a transportation issue in their own backyard, and they are stymied. Ask them to solve a transportation issue in Thailand, and they come up with several ideas," she said.

On the question of student unions, Dr Shehzad Ashraf, general secretary of Academic Staff Association (ASA) at International Islamic University, Islamabad, is of the opinion that student unions can play their part in reducing violence on campus. He said during the entire era of student unions, 70-75 murders were reported but after that the number has risen to 200-250.

In mid 80's, the then dictator felt threatened by student unions. "He wanted to sack some university teachers because they were not against critical thinking. Student unions were a major hurdle in the way of such dictatorial decisions. So he abolished unions and favoured a group of his likeminded students in acquiring power," said Prof Ashraf.

"There are about 70-80 such groups whom the management deals with. They have different and conflicting agenda. If unions are restored, they will talk of university and will be represented by all. Their opinion will be inclusive and political and religious groups will then have to mend their ways or they will be turned irrelevant," he said.

Ahsan Raza, a change activist, said, "HEC is still living in Zia era, trying to make campuses apolitical. Such efforts backfire as students turn to extremism and radicalisation. HEC should introduce more liberal science and art subjects for creating rational and progressive thinking among students."

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