Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on September 21 for strengthening the ideals of peace among all nations and people. The theme of the International Day of Peace for 2017 is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.”
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were unanimously adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) in September 2015. The new aspiring 2030 agenda calls on countries to undertake concrete steps to achieve these goals over the next 15 years through collaborative efforts. These goals aim to end poverty, injustice, inequalities and ensure prosperity for all. Experts consider the SDGs as important mean to achieving peace. Modern challenges of poverty, hunger, injustice, illiteracy, rising extremism, social inequality, corruption, racism and prejudice pose challenges for peace and create fertile grounds for conflict. Sustainable development contributes conclusively to eradication of these causes of conflict, and provides the basis for a long-lasting peace. Peace, meanwhile, reinforces the conditions for sustainable development and unshackles the resources needed for societies to advance and prosper.
Education is considered key to uniting nations and bringing human beings together. It is important to recognize the crucial role of education in contributing to building a culture of peace, tolerance and harmony; and of tertiary education in building a knowledge economy. Being a hub of ideas, creativity, innovation and knowledge-creation, universities have a vital role to inculcate the values of responsible citizenship, peace, tolerance, harmony and co-existence among the youth. The recent trends of violent and non-violent extremism amongst educated youth have become great concern for every Pakistani.
Pakistan has wide network of 186 recognized higher education institutions and 110 countrywide campuses with enrollment of more than 1.3 million students. It is also matter of serious concern that like other parts of society, sectarian, charitable, radical and banned militant organizations are also active on educational campuses which are promoting extremism tendencies among the students. Keeping the students away from the influence of such groups and engaging them in positive extra-curricular activities has become great challenge for all the stakeholders especially university administration.
The little attention paid towards student activities – which are sometimes banned altogether - affects the academic and democratic atmosphere of campuses. The management of higher education institutions should establish student-teacher vigilance committees to spot the negative activities on the campuses and to engage students in various extra-curricular and sport activities. In this regard, being the direct contact persons with the students, people incharge of student affairs and faculty should be sensitized through offering refresher courses. In addition, faculty and students need to be taken on board as they could have more innovative and concrete solutions in their minds. The inclusion of their voices in collective decisions can be greatly helpful towards safe, secure and peaceful university campuses. There is also a dire need to increase budget allocations for campus based student activities for effective engagement of student in positive and healthy activities. Following the pattern of schools, parent-teacher meetings should also be organized at university level as well to bridge the gap between the faculty and parents and to discuss problems and issues related to the students.
Chairman Senate of Pakistan, Mian Raza Rabbani through a recent letter written to the vice chancellor of Karachi University emphasized immediate steps to address the issue of extremism and violence in the youth; a total review of the curriculum and implementation of the Senate of Pakistan’s resolution on restoring students unions. He was of the view that a diverse literary and academic activity would produce a counter paradigm.
Another recent positive development that took place was the unanimous resolution by Senate of Pakistan, called upon the government for amending the curriculum at educational institutions with the aim to create awareness among the youth about their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, make “democratic civic education” a compulsory part of curriculum and promote extra- and co-curricular activities at university campuses.
In the light of above-mentioned developments, inclusion of topics in curriculum related to, peace, tolerance, fundamental rights and constitutionalism can strengthen the knowledge-base of students to actively play an important role for the betterment of society. Universities also need to encourage debate on these important topics through seminars and conferences besides holding short courses, workshops and speech competitions at university campuses. Provincial governments should also provide financial support in shape of research and travel grants to university faculty to promote a research culture of these important topics. Preference should be given to research projects related to resolution of local conflicts in various parts of the country.
Pakistan is facing multiple political, ethnic, religious, sectarian and environmental conflicts, which also require attention in research and teaching at Pakistani universities. Peace and conflict resolution are vital preconditions for sustainable economic growth, democracy and development. A very few Pakistani universities offer courses on understanding violence, extremism, terrorism and conflict resolution.
There is also an urgent need to build institutional frameworks and partnerships through exchange of knowledge and experience to support universities and research institutes towards violence free universities. Policy makers and practitioners should also take the youth and academia of universities on board while making important strategies for peace.
The writer is a freelance columnist associated with the development and education sector.