KARACHI: More than 40 scholars and teachers gathered to discuss ways to counter the recent trend of extremism in universities. “Teachers can be engaged to impart skills among students to open their minds to diverse opinions in classrooms and equip them with tools for using social media with responsibility.” They expressed these thoughts in a day-long workshop with teachers from Sindh and Balochistan, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). The discussion explored the role of teachers in promoting social and religious harmony. Former Council of Islamic Ideology chairman Khalid Masud said it is being asked how come ‘well-educated’ individuals, especially those from applied sciences, become militants. One of the reasons is the way these subjects are taught, incline their students towards “exactness” – tending to find one specific solution. At intellectual level, engineers and doctors fall for radical inspirations, which too paint the world in black and white, ignoring the grey nuances. Another modern factor is that information is being picked from modern social media tools, without checking authenticity. This too contributes in hardening the opinion of the users towards the extreme. Self-radicalized individuals have often fallen through social media. Masud said that because teachers are not much aware of social media, they are unable to understand the emerging trends and how to effectively deal with students. Participants called for sensitizing teachers on social media. Academic Syed Jaffar Ahmed said that students are glued to social media gadgets but lack little to zero physical activity. Even playgrounds are fading, he lamented. Encouraging students to engage with each other, in more than one activity, can be conducive in opening them to multiple worldviews, which is a must to counter radicalisation. Experts called upon teachers to uphold diversity, opening students to multiple views, noting that the curriculum may have flaws such as in the shape of inculcating history through a certain identity framework, that of religion. Cleric Ahmed Banori said that the link between curriculum and teacher is mutual. Teachers can help sensitise students and impart curiosity. There would always be contradiction in learning process; everyone has one’s own way to find to find truth. “Teachers must involve students in the learning-drive process rather than imposing already existing ideas.” Meanwhile, Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyer, renowned educationist, said that while differences between different groups were already in the country, those differences widened and exacerbated in the 1980s, as the state attempted to shape a peculiar narrative. Experts called upon teachers for overcoming parochial biases; teachers should disassociate their understanding of the world to a single identity, whether ethnic, religious or sectarian, it was said. Talking on “intolerance in common behavior”, Nayyer said that sense of insecurity and lack of opportunities and resources create intolerance in society. He also said that thought of ‘self righteousness’ and ‘intolerance of difference’; that may be of cultural or ideological that creates hatred for others.”Children must be taught to celebrate diversity”. We must accept and celebrate the identity of different nations and celebrate cultural differences rather than imposing the concept of ‘one-nation state’. “The concept of religious-state has always created violence hence we have to explore better ways to create tolerant society”. Earlier, Amir Rana, director PIPS, argued social harmony is the need of today’s globalised world, where majority in one area is minority in another area. He argued that social harmony is one of the yardsticks through which the progress of any country is assessed. Published in Daily Times, September 8th 2017.