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Teachers’ role critical in overcoming social divides

By Our Correspondent
November 07, 2018

Islamabad : Teachers can play a vital role in overcoming today’s social divides as they have the ability to produce original scholarship, disseminate new ideas, equip students with tips on how to search for facts, and create dialogue-enabling platforms – key ingredients for producing a mutually-acceptable society.

Thoughts to this effect were heard during a two-day dialogue with college teachers on ‘Role of teachers in social harmony.’ Organised by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, the seminar was attended by around 40 teachers from different parts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Islamabad, with sessions led by leading scholars, educationists, and opinion makers.

“Teachers can help unpack the causes of intolerance in Pakistan,” said Dr. Khalid Masud, former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Whenever we talk about terrorism, he said, we often start with the September 11 attack, even using clichés like ‘since 9/11.’ This is the reference point of the West, but it has been uncritically borrowed in Pakistan. On the other hand, in Pakistan, it was sectarianism in 1980s to extremism today.

A proper diagnosis will lead to proper solution, the speakers said. One of the ways to go about is to accept differences as elements of diversity, rather than letting them making way to discrimination and divisions. Differences, columnist Khursheed Nadeem said, are natural, adding that learning to live with those differences is decisive.

Sharing her experiences of leading fact-finding missions on faith-based issues, peace building activist Romana Bashi, said her 20 years of work has taught her that no matter how polarized the environment, dialogue between communities can bring them closer. Teachers shared their own limitation when it comes to relaying messages of peace and harmony. While teachers of social sciences are expected to encourage introspection or questioning, one teacher said, that of natural sciences have to rely on hard facts to be quoted fluently. When it comes to parents, they prefer their students rely on science so that their sons and daughters can become engineers and doctors. In such a social context, teachers think they need to complete the curriculum.

Still, amid these constraints, teachers can make significant difference too. Dr Raghib Naeemi, religious scholar, said that given that students take the words of teachers with seriousness, they should ensure the information they are sharing is true. More so, they should impart students with skills on how to search for facts in the first place. This is the basic researching point, but this is direly required for today’s students, who rely on social media, where a lot of fake media circulates. Educationist A. H. Nayyar said that the prevailing discourse in Pakistan is increasingly becoming toxic, which, if unchecked, can be further inimical to society. Teachers can help reverse this tide. Religious scholar Ammar Khan Nasir also spoke on the occasion.

PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana called for introspection. “Our biases often hamper us from achieving the lofty ideals we have in mind,” he hinted and suggested the need to assess our own perceptions about different ethnic or religious groups.