Pakistan classroom. Photo: Flickr Commons
Pakistan classroom. Photo: Flickr Commons

Peace education is not emphasized strongly enough in Pakistan, a fragmented country plagued by ethnic, political, territorial and sectarian violence.

Almost every South Asian nation is coping with conflict and militancy to some extent. But Pakistan has been especially prone to armed conflict, which comes in the form of terrorism, religious militancy, ethnic separatism, and border disputes. A major cause of these problems is the fragmented nature of Pakistani society.

A divided society provides fertile ground for the spread of hatred and prejudice. In such situations, education can be a useful tool for promoting peace, respect and tolerance.

The general goal of peace education in Pakistani society should be to address the root causes of social conflicts – divisions based on religion, ethnicity, class, caste, and sect – by changing the national mindset.

Peace education is the greatest weapon Pakistan has for fighting hatred

By providing a catalyst for changing the way people think, peace education is the greatest weapon Pakistan has for fighting hatred, prejudice and violence. By rejecting violence in all its forms, it promotes respect for life, human rights, human dignity, justice and tolerance.

Many people believe it is only uneducated youths that join terrorist organizations, but a number of students from Pakistan’s leading universities have been involved in militant activities. There are a few key questions that need to be asked. Why were they inspired by radical ideologies? What were they taught at their universities? What role did their teachers and institutions play in shaping their way of thinking? It is arguably time to for Pakistan to reevaluate its approach to education.

Pakistan needs to react to this alarming situation by augmenting the use of military force with the promotion of a more peaceful and tolerant society. As the American statesman James William Fulbright once said, “Education is a slow-moving but powerful force.”

Peace education empowers people by providing them with knowledge and skills and instilling them with the values needed to help end injustice and violence, promote a peaceful culture, and restore relationships at all levels of human interaction.  It is based on a philosophy that encourages love, non-violence, compassion, fairness, trust, cooperation and reverence for the human family.

Simply put, peace education is a sustainable long-term solution in conflict resolution and prevention efforts because it addresses the root causes of violence and conflict. It does so by giving people valuable knowledge and skills needed to understand and address the challenges of conflict, and by developing counter-narratives based on tolerance and respect for all people regardless of caste, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or religion.

To advance along the road to peace, Pakistan must first overcome some traditional obstacles, such as the three parallel education systems: government institutions, private institutions, and madrassas. All three have different aims, follow different syllabuses, and use different teaching methods. Furthermore, they have very limited interaction with each other, so how can they jointly promote peace?

The National Education Policy of 2009 addresses a few aspects of peace education, such as promoting interfaith harmony and human rights, but, due to differences in provincial policy, they have not been properly incorporated. And national policies only influence the public education system.  

Policy implementation aside, the traditional teaching methods of rote learning, memorization, and lectures will always stand in the way of the promotion of critical thinking and behavioral change. Fortunately, Pakistani universities have begun offering courses that relate directly or indirectly to the theory and practice of peace education. Hopefully, that kind of progressive education will soon extend to schools and madrassas.

If we want future generations of Pakistanis to enjoy a peaceful existence, the government must make the implementation of educational reforms aimed at changing the way people think and behave one of its highest priorities.

Imran Ali Sandano

Dr Imran Ali Sandano is author of Sufism and Peace: A Counter Strategy of Extremism and Separatist Movement of Balochistan: A Nontraditional Security Threat. He holds a PhD in nontraditional security management, an MPhil in peace and conflict studies, and a master's degree in international relations. Dr Sandano is Assistant Professor at University of Sindh, Pakistan and visiting research fellow at the Center for Nontraditional Security and Peaceful Development, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.

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