Educational institutes represent a conundrum for the Pakistani state. Not that there is a dearth of them, no, not at all. But rather the problem lies in what is being taught and how.
It appears that much of the current global chitchat centres on the question of fundamentalism and from where hardline thoughts begin. How can it be, people are desperate to know, that a child as young as 10 can join a suicide squad, seeking their version of paradise gained (not lost) at a place of worship or a busy market? Equal, or perhaps more, cause for alarm are the educated adults who suddenly get behind the wheel of a lorry before plunging into crowds, mowing down everyone in sight. And then there is the brutal tragedy of a young man whose classmates saw fit to bludgeon him to death.
A quick look at the ideology that has become a permanent fixture in our classrooms provides us with more than a few answers. For here in Pakistan, it is the school that teaches the lessons of classism and hatred from a very tender age. Young minds are trained to treat their peers differently on the basis of colour, creed, community, and, of course, religion. This needs to stop. And pronto.
A good starting place is teacher training. Meaning that notions of diversity will then be introduced at source and thereby considered the norm by the time everyone gets together in the classroom. This is where learning initiatives like Badal Do come into play. Launched last month, it promises, in its own words, a commitment to fostering plurality, inclusion, peace and tolerance in society, as well as good civic sense. It has seen 200 teachers inducted into its year-long enrolment programme. This is a positive first step, albeit it on a very small-scale. It is hoped that this will translate into real change in the classroom; that it will subsequently erode prevailing discriminations that dictate not only how a child is treated depending on creed or religion — but also what he is entitled to learn.
The Institute of Behavioural Psychology recently took home the Princess Haya Award for Special Education (PHASE) Institutional Excellence in the category of Outstanding Special Needs Centre. This was a first for Pakistan, which, for the record, beat off competition from 119 nominees from across 22 countries. What more proof do we need of just how much talent this nation has? We simply need to master how to tap into and fully nurture it.
Intrinsic to this is the raising of teachers’ status in society. We can start by engineering a shift in collective attitude. Meaning that we need to stop seeing this profession through the redundant prism that dictates: those who can, do — those who can’t, teach. We need to go back to basics and invest in our teachers, beginning with equitable financial compensation. And we need to finish by empowering our teachers, for the dynamic for change rests with them. And we need to do this now. There is no more time to waste if we are serious about liberating our classrooms from the hatred that threatens hold all our children hostage.
The writer is a Karachi-based social media analyst/trainer