Starting Monday, most of the schools across Pakistan will once again open their doors (albeit cautiously) to the eager young minds of tomorrow. It is the first day of school, after the emergency Winter break announced in the aftermath of the Peshawar Army Public School tragedy. It is pertinent, therefore, to take this moment to recognize the resilience encapsulated in our defiant return to schools. And equally important, it is time to kick-start the debate on how best we can reform our educational structure, in order to permanently expunge the cancer of extremism from our national soul.

First things first: reading (or listening to) an interview of any of the surviving students of APS, or their parents, it is impossible to not be struck by their intrepid spirit. Having seen the sort of horror that could cripple the spirit of a sage, it must take miraculous faith, on part of the surviving students, to not only believe in Pakistan, but also actively advocate the same to others. There is every reason for them to lash out at society, and be despondent about our national destiny. Still, repeatedly, these young children echo the desire to return to their cathedrals of education, and grow up to become the very instruments that banishes the evil of terrorism.

Their spirit, and that of their parents, puts the rest of us to shame. Despite our rhetoric, or even the prevalent political and military mobilization, we are not doing enough. We seem to have convinced ourselves that military action and a constitutional amendment is enough to exonerate us. That, somehow, through these measures (and no more!) we have done our part. And now we can go back to spending our days chasing illusions of materiality and grandeur. In time, we allow ourselves to be persuaded by rhetoric of apathy. Soon, we do less than we can, and settle for a fraction of who we are. And eventually, we might forget that we all share the collective responsibility of fulfilling the dreams of those who perished in Peshawar, and other parts of Pakistan before that… those departed angels who have hung their hopes, their dreams, and their faith in our imperfect abilities.

Living in distrustful times in Pakistan, it is easy to meet people who would convince others of the futility of hope. Those who, through their speech and conduct, remind us that believing in Pakistan is synonymous to a blind man’s wish of finding a pot of gold at the end of an invisible rainbow. But, as a nation, we must cultivate the habit of going back to APS Peshawar, and meet students who not only restore our faith in humanity, but also inspire us to be more… to be better… to never give in to the temptations of cynicism and apathy. Those who remind us that, even in times of global chaos and instability, where our faiths collide through the barrel of our weapons, hope is real.

And thus, the story of APS Peshawar, like all stories worth telling, is one of hope in the face of unrelenting circumstances and unflinching adversities.

Harnessing this spirit of hope, it is important that we following these students back to school, and take the necessary next step towards reforming our education system. This would, broadly, entail a reform of our curriculums, and that of our culture of educational institutions.

The first of these two issues – curriculum reform – is legal in nature, and thus easier to resolve. Under our now (amended) Constitutional scheme, each Province has the power to review the curricula being taught in schools within its territorial jurisdiction, and prescribe the subject-matter for classroom study. Owing to a lack of jurisprudence on the issue, there is no real clarity in regards to the extent to which the government has jurisdiction and power to dictate the curriculum of private schools (which, for example, are teaching the O and A levels curriculum, prescribed by University of Cambridge). In exercise of this review power, the Province of Punjab, for example, has passed a Punjab Curriculum Authority Act, 2012, constituting an authority responsible for periodic curricular review of textbooks of schools across Punjab, along with Punjab Textbook Board Ordinance, 1962 (for the printing of the prescribed textbooks), and a Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation Ordinance, 1984, entailing some (limited) powers relating to the curricula review of private schools in Punjab. And since the curriculum is determined and reviewed through legal instruments, and the resulting executive authority, the process of review and overhauling is simply a question of political will. In this regard, to ensure eradication of bias and bigotry from the minds of our students, a clear break from the past is needed; an embracing of a curriculum that promotes pluralism, that does not vilify other religions or nationalities, that does not portray the militant of the Afghan war as heroes, that does not idolize dictator generals as saviors, that does not preach hatred against people of other nationalities and races, and instead encourages the questioning of the age-old ideals of glorified martyrdom.

All this can be done with the stroke of a pen – a singular incident of legislative will, coupled with a concerted exercise of executive authority.

The second issue – a reform of our educational culture – is harder to ‘fix’. Educational institutions, all across Pakistan, seem to be pursuing a policy of chilling political speech and participation of students in our national discourse. Student petitions to hold vigils, to organize rallies, to endorse causes, and support movements is discouraged on campuses. The administration and faculty of even the most liberal educational institutions are afraid of scratching at controversial issues. Discussing the blasphemy law is taboo. Teaching comparative religions is forbidden. Saadat Hasan Manto and D.H. Lawrence are perverts. And questioning the insidious two-faced policies of our intelligentsia is heresy. Our educational institutions have lost sight of the fact that the endeavor of education necessarily entails a conscious effort to engage with and participate in the ongoing national discourse; that student bodies, all through world history, have been the engine of social progress and political development. And that without such participation by students in our socio-political debate, we will be producing a generation of doctors, engineers and lawyers, all of whom are disconnected with the pulse of modernism, and inert as to the growing and grave trends in our society. This impotence of moral and social conscience, will also spell the death of political evolution and institutional progress, without which no country or generation can ever hope to achieve its fullest potential.

For the longest time, we have been told – by politicians, social-workers, and intellectuals – that education is the silver bullet against militancy, intolerance and extremism. That with education, will be able to overcome the menacing problems that our nation faces today, and graduate to a life in the promised sunlit uplands of democracy. But if Al-Qaeda members are being arrested from the graduate schools of Punjab University and NUST, if lawyers are showering rose petals at Mumtaz Qadri, if political science students from Karachi University are suspects in ethnic target killings, then we must concede that our educational curriculum and institutions are failing in eradicating the evils of our society. The silver bullet, is just a myth. And those of us who still have faith in the future of this country, are simply deluding ourselves.

To stem the rot, and cure an already cancerous malady, our educational curriculum and culture must change. And this debate starts now!

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter