Education is not only cognitive and intellectual learning, and learning of skills and work-related competences. It is much broader to include moral and ethical issues, values, attitudes, religion, spiritualism, art and more. It is, indeed, important to focus on this when education in schools and universities has become a large “industry” and when the world, instead of becoming more peaceful, seems to be more confrontational than before.

Besides, we do know how to create positive educational content and learning situations so that peace and tolerance can prevail. Sadly, we don’t always do what we know is right and best. After the Malala Yousafzai tragedy, and the continuous drone attacks, wars and armed conflicts, affecting innocent people, we are yet again reminded that we must focus more on positive and peaceful learning.

Learning and socialisation take place in schools, but also in the society outside, in the home, with peers and friends, in the community, in front of TV and computer screens, and when we use social media. As a matter of fact, much of our general knowledge and life skills, and most values and attitudes are learnt outside the classroom. The power of peers and role models is immense because we all want to conform and be accepted amongst those we like most. Yet, the youth also question issues, are inquisitive and in opposition to adults and carriers of old truths. If the youth have support from parents, teachers and others they can develop their own independent and alternative thinking and ideas, and they can focus on things that are not commonly done in their community.

It is an important task for adults to encourage the youth to pursue their own ideas, well, as long as they are not too far out. But we who are older don’t always have to agree with the new ideas of the youth either. After all, it is said that every generation has to find what is true and right for them. We must not be a hindrance and stumbling stone; we must be midwives and supporters so that the young, who are still students, can be able to do their best in search for making the world better for all.

Let me add that the youth often find themes and topics to focus on in their own community, and often they get the ideas from somebody they look up to. In that sense, they are not entirely original, but they continue working for causes that the parent-generation worked for. But the youth may find different angles and new main-themes; they should get their peers on board as well as the middle-aged and the grandparents, and everyone who wants to see positive change in society.

Often, I find it useful to distinguish between education in school and socialisation and learning in non-school situations. It may be useful to consider education in the broader, holistic sense, as we would say today, where all or many aspects of teaching and learning are included. It is also useful to consider the words we use. In German, the word “Erzieungswissenschaft” is used, notably the science of upbringing; in my mother tongue Norwegian, we use the German word translated into Norwegian, notably “oppdragelsesvitenskap”. Today, we find the word a bit old-fashioned and prefer the foreign work “pedagogy”, in Norwegian, “pedagogikk”.

Let me not go too far into the formal definitions, and indeed not as far as my first university teacher went at my first university college year at Lillehammer in Norway. Professor Hans Tangerud held a whole lecture series for a semester discussing what education is, and being a radical and alternative thinker, what education can and should be. That is exactly what I still remember from his lecture, one and half generation later: don’t take for granted that we know what education is and don’t define it only looking backward. It is important to know the past, but it is more important to look ahead and redefine education so that it can serve us better today and tomorrow.

When I teach and supervise students today, nowadays mostly in Pakistan, I envy Professor Tangerud because he taught in such a way that I still remember what he said, yes, even how he said it and how his mannerism was. I wonder how much of what I say that will be remembered 40 years on, and if it will still be relevant. Well, I should not flatter myself. Let me rather find comfort in the fact that we usually remember our first teacher fondly, who was perhaps the door-opener to what became our professional passion. And, of course, most of us remember our parents and indeed our mothers fondly.

This reminds me of the enormous responsibility we have as parents, teachers, and advisers of the next generation and our contemporaries: it is always important to know that what we say, do and believe is noticed and, therefore, we must take the responsibility for it and be very careful. Ultimately, we are all teachers - and pupils - and we must remember that we as educators are not only judged by what we say, but also by the way we lead by our example.

The foundation of our work as educators is moral and ethical education. We must teach the right values and the right ways of analysing issues. We must seek what is true and act accordingly. Part of that is to learn that we are all responsible for our own attitudes, decisions and actions. We must use education to foster equality between sexes, classes, people of different geographic areas, creeds, colours, cultures and religions. We must learn to understand the importance of solidarity among groups at home and across the borders in order to create peace, development and prosperity.

I am glad that it is inbuilt in human beings to care for the weak and powerless. Yet, we also know that individuals, groups and countries are capable of behaving destructively, in defiance of norms and better judgment. We must in our educational institutions and organisations focus much more on it and find ways of practicing empathy so that we can all benefit as individuals and communities. “Education must, therefore, authenticate society’s ideals and values and enliven them so that they become a potent force in people’s lives,” wrote the Norwegian Education Ministry in its core curriculum document in 1997. We can draw lessons from those ideals everywhere in the world.

In Pakistan, I believe we must redefine education to emphasise the moral, ethical and value issues much clearer. I wish we could embark on a massive, an all-out education campaign where all political and other leaders from federal, province, district, tehsil to village and community levels could take part. We need a deep and broad debate about the right and importance of every child and youth going to go to school. We also need to talk about second-chance and lifelong education, learning and de-learning. As a matter of fact, many of our values must be de-learned. We must take issue with intolerant, outdated, anti-Islamic and anti-spiritual values - not only for the sake of the large community, but also the individuals who possess such values.

That leads me to state that I not only feel grief for the victims of terrorism; I also feel deeply sorry for the perpetrators, who do not do the good I believe they want to do. But they do the evil, which they don’t want to do. We must pray for the young education advocate’s (Malala) full recovery. But we must also pray for the perpetrators and their sympathisers so that they can find ways to do good, not evil, because in the end that is God’s will and the purpose of every life on earth: we all have a responsibility towards ourselves and fellow human beings to do good!

We must all work much more proactively, in positive ways, to prevent wars, armed conflicts and terrorism. We must make society kind and all-inclusive. As a pacifist, I find it impossible to defend war and state-killing, including drone attacks. It is our duty as educators and leaders in society to help create more peaceful societies - through educational institutions and organisations, the media, and in other ways.

Sometimes, I feel that our school system and universities don’t instil in the next generation the right values, and I believe we must revisit the content and teaching-learning methods, the open and the hidden curricula. It is urgent to do this. It is urgent to drop a lot of the outdated content and exams. Instead, we must - first of all - focus on the moral, ethical and value issues; the spiritual and the true religious issues. We must help the youth to possess the best values they can so that they can be self-confident and caring human beings. We must help them to be optimistic and energetic in doing what is right. That is what education is - today and always - and it is much more important than knowing all kinds of (useless) facts that may even become outdated in our own lifetime.

 The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid. Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com