Role of education to banish extremism

Published: June 26, 2016

Sectarian violence and religious extremism are escalating in Pakistan. The news is filled with tragedy as a result of the rise in extremism. Education is the only mean that has a direct positive impact on life. That is why our education department should take sensible steps in eradicating extremism.

It is essential to understand that extremism and violence are neither restricted to any region nor to any religion. In recent news, US Presidential election candidate Donald Trump wants to ban Muslims and Mexicans from entering the US. Bangladeshi extremist groups have taken responsibility for killing secular bloggers, foreigners and gay nationals. On the other hand, we find many Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus who are religiously extreme in their actions. Islamic State militants want Shariah in the region and organise mass killings in achieving this aim. Human rights violations are numerous in Saudi Arabia and locally we see the persecution of minorities, even when we are an Islamic Republic. Yet the biggest threat that Pakistan faces is killings incited by extremist.

One of the steps our government needs to take is to wipe out ignorance amongst the masses and the education sector must take note of the following:

Pakistan has more than 20,000 madrassas that provide education to 3.5 million children and young adults. The education is purely religious and disconnected from practical life. Graduates are seldom secular-minded. Tolerance with conflicting views is hard to find in the students, keeping away other religions. Teachers are not highly qualified and unable to provide worldly knowledge. Their curriculum must be re-evaluated.

Similarly, universities in Pakistan rarely promote secular education. A culture of healthy debate and questioning is not present in classrooms. Students are taught to memorise rather than to form a rational perspective via discussion. It is known that the masterminds of most attacks are well-educated and often university graduates. Osama Bin Laden was wealthy and a qualified engineer. His deputy Ayman al Zawahiri was a practicing doctor.

The education department needs to work on designing the curriculum that supports critical thinking. It is the duty of teachers to make students understand the existence of different perspectives and beliefs. This in turn will help in reducing extremism and the ability to respect alternate views and prevent misinformed decisions and judgements driven by raw emotion.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2016.

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