Speakers at a two-day conference chastised the government for adopting bad policies towards young people, leading to less critical thinking and promoting radical tendencies among them.
They also stressed the need to revive student unions in educational institutions across the country, stressing that this is the only way to promote diversity and inclusion among young people.
These views were expressed during a consultation titled “Promoting narratives of diversity, inclusion and peace among university students in Sindh”, organized on Friday and Saturday by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), based in Islamabad.
Legislators, academics, students, journalists, human rights activists and civil society representatives participated in the event.
Dr. Naeem Ahmed, chairman of the Department of International Relations at the University of Karachi, said universities were seen as the breeding grounds for young political minds. “It is the duty of the state to provide them with facilities to develop critical thinking among them.”
He said there was a need for a large-scale reorientation of policy-making towards youth. Arsalan Taj, a Pakistani MPA Tehreek-e-Insaf, said there was a growing social divide in society, which was also reflected in the education system. “Our education system discourages questioning among our students,” he said. “The same was needed to promote critical thinking among young people.
Dr. Sajida Zaki from the NED University of Engineering and Technology pointed out that they have no academic freedom on campuses. She said that the teacher could not ask questions about some problems in class.
Dr. Zaki Rashidi from Iqra University said that they had tied some degrees to money and society was chasing after them. “We are preparing a program taking into account the needs of the industry.”
MPA Mangla Sharma said that young people usually form their thoughts at the primary level and they should focus on this education system first. She lamented that the education system was failing because young people saw everything through the telescope of religion. She added that civic education content was missing from the current school curriculum.
Dr. Sikandar Mehdi, an educator and researcher, said that young people in Pakistan were born slaves and could not revolutionize in no time. He pointed out that the education system was based on classes. “If we’re going to change things, we need to revive student unions.”
“A teacher’s job is not to transfer knowledge, but to become a mentor,” he said. “The purpose of teaching is not to indoctrinate students; it rather means that you can question, think critically, and problems are identified and their solution is found.
Asad Iqbal Butt, co-chairman of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, said the students faced an identity crisis and had no platform to carry out positive activities. “All of this resulted in the promotion of violent tendencies among them.”
He called for increased funding for public sector universities. Senior journalist and activist Sohail Sangi, in his closing remarks, said the problem with Pakistan was that the state did not want to give rights to citizens, wanted to diminish progressive ideas among them and promoted the idea of centralism. He also supported the proposal to revive student unions in educational institutions, saying unions promote diversity and tolerance among students and have the ability to adapt to all ethnic and other groups.
Veteran journalist and intellectual Ghazi Salahuddin said education was the only way to provide equal opportunities to citizens. “Education is supposed to equalize, but it has become a divisive factor in Pakistan.”
Kapil Dev, a rights activist, said the state slogan was not inclusive as it represented only the majority. “The state should make its slogan inclusive. This could help young people become diverse and inclusive.
Senior journalist Wusatullah Khan said the class difference has grown following the rapid growth of private schools in the country’s education sector. He stressed that policy makers should address this issue.
Veteran journalists Zia Ur Rehman and Veengas also spoke at the event. Earlier, Muhammad Amir Rana, Executive Director of PIP, in his opening remarks said that the aim of the exercise was to identify the gaps in the education system and the problems facing the youth.
Ahmed Ali, PIPS program manager, shared the report’s findings with participants.
The report highlights that Sindh, Pakistan’s second largest province, has seen an upsurge in incidents of violence against religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities since the turn of the 21st century.
Sindh province, which has the largest Hindu population in the country, is also grappling with issues such as forced conversions of Hindu girls and vandalism of Hindu temples, according to the study report.
The research study indicates that there is a massive need to modernize the education system by making lessons more interactive and inclusive. The curriculum should be sensitive to minority representation and should encourage critical and rational thinking among young people, he adds.