This week an invitation was delivered to Vice Chancellors of every University in Pakistan summoning them to Army Auditorium, GHQ for a seminar on ‘Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism’ organised by ISPR.
The timing of the announcement was unfortunate because it was delivered the same day that a major newspaper published a blank space in the place where there was supposed to be a piece on the threat of extremism by Mohammad Hanif, once again showing that when it comes to discussing the problem of extremism, certain quarters have their limits.
It is commendable that Army leadership recognises the important role of young people in ridding the society of the curse of extremism. However, if the military wants to demonstrate its ‘unprecedented support to Education’, the obvious answer is not to invite Vice Chancellors to be addressed by the Hon’ble Chief of Army Staff, but to invite the Hon’ble Chief of Army Staff to be addressed by actual educators who have developed an expertise on education and extremism. People like Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who has been lecturing on roots of extremism and strategies for de-radicalising youth for years.
If Army is serious about eliminating extremism and the role of youth in rejecting extremism, GHQ should be inviting Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Salman Haider and other educators and experts to educate ISPR on what is needed. Then, maybe ISPR will arrange for Dr Hoodbhoy to give a special interview on TV, and not the spokesman for TTP.
PMLN has been trying to pull the wool over the country’s eyes in Balochistan by claiming that the education budget has been raised. In basic terms this is not an incorrect statement because the amount of funds has been increased. However as education watchdog Alif Ailaan pointed out, this is only trying to hide the fact that education funding as a percentage of the budget actually decreased since last year.
Students in Balochistan may still be better off than students in KP, however, as that province is handing over hundreds of millions from the budget to Maulana Samiul Haq’s extremist madrassah that has been termed as ‘University of Jihad‘.
Even for those who do not attend madrassah, though, the lines are being blurred. Government is working on a new plan to turn students into parrots as whole of education system will be dedicated to memorising Quran in Arabic. The new proposal would make Quranic education mandatory for all schools.
Already Pakistan has sunk to the bottom of global education rankings, scoring only 9.2 points out of 100 in a recent survey compared to India who scored 60.9. The whole country is suffering from negative effects of religious extremism, and still government is giving hundreds of millions to extremist seminaries. How can we expect anything to improve if we continue to follow the failed policies of the past?
There is no shortage of religious instruction in this country. What is missing is critical thinking. Teaching students how to think will not only improve our education rankings in the world, it will also help to counter extremism and sectarianism because people will not be so easily fooled.
Education is important, not just so that a child can learn to read and write, but so that a nation can prosper. Researchers with the United Nations found that “each additional year of education boosts a person’s income by 10 per cent and increases a country’s GDP by 18 per cent”. This should make education a central part of national policy in Pakistan where economic growth has lagged for decades despite the country being located in one of the fastest growing economic regions of the world. Actually, Pakistan is second from last in economic growth in the region. The only country worse is Afghanistan, which has been a war zone since more than 10 years.
If we are lagging in economic growth, and education is a proven way of boosting economic growth, what is our current education policy? Once again, we are almost at the bottom. Not only of the region, but of the entire world.
Pakistan has the second highest concentration of out-of-school children in the world after Nigeria
Some efforts are being made to improve things. Punjab government has successfully enrolled in school 18,622 children from brick kilns. However, it is a drop in the ocean of the problem. 360 schools were destroyed in Fata this year. And while 18,622 children have been enrolled in school in Punjab, 1.6 million children are out of school in Balochistan.
Pakistan’s education emergency is not new, but it is not improving and it is pushing us towards economic disaster for coming generations. Education is a matter of uplifting the poor and improving girls empowerment, but treating this emergency as such has been a failure till date. We need to treat the dire education emergency for what it is: a national security crisis.
Saad Aziz is an unlikely poster boy for terrorism. The son of a good family, educated at some of the nation’s top schools, Aziz appeared to be everything that any parent would want for their child. Inside, though, a terrible storm was building. How did this promising young man turn into a monster? This is a question that must be dealt with because, as is finally coming to light, Aziz is not the only well-educated jihadi in our midst. We look for answers to this question not out of mere curiosity, but in hopes of finding a cure for the disease. Thankfully, it might be easier than we think.
When I was a boy, I was would hide outside the door and listen when chacha would visit and he and my father would spend hours discussing and debating politics late into the night. Chacha was a diehard Jamaati, and my father was an unapologetic socialist. It was always interesting to me to listen as the paths of their opinions and beliefs would easily come together and then just as easily part ways. It was like a dance of ideas taking place to the tune of life and society. One afternoon, I tried to impress my father by telling him about something I had heard Qazi Hussain Ahmad say and how it was obviously nonsense. To my surprise, my father took a stern look in his eye and asked me to explain myself. I repeated again what I had said before. For the next half hour my father grilled me with questions, all defending the Jamaati Amir’s position. I felt confused and on the point of tears when my father finally dismissed me.
Later that night, he called me in where he and my uncle were talking. “Beta,” he said, “have you thought any more about our discussion earlier?” I looked down at my feet and told him that I didn’t know what to think, that I thought he would have agreed with me. I could feel the men looking at me and I was burning with embarrassment. My father put his hand on my shoulder and said, “What I think is not the point. You put forth an opinion that wasn’t really yours. Even if you think you believe it, it will always belong to someone else until you understand not only why you believe it, but why someone else might not. Only then will you have fully embraced the idea, and only then it will be yours.” My uncle smiled and said, “Your father and I enjoy these talks so much not because we have any hope of converting the other. I gave up on talking any sense into him years ago.” My father laughed. “The point is we loved these debates because it is through debate that we understand each other’s point of view, and it makes us think more about what we believe and why.”