Education is often confused with a predefined curriculum and a grade point average. However, it is much more and holds the capacity to shape a society. Successful education is one that evolves with time to inspire the youth towards positive and progressive change. It encourages critical thinking and creation of knowledge rather than following an existing pattern designed by others. Clearly, the Pakistani education system is not providing that. The adopted models of teaching have miserably failed. The consequences include the diluting of national integrity and pride, two things that are essential for any country to survive.
The people of Pakistan do not understand each other. Distinctions based on culture, language, region, religion, sects within religion, clothes and any other possible factor exist and plague the future of the country. Each group is adopting a cult-like following and moving towards a more rigid approach with every passing day. Some threaten to break loose from the country, while others tend to enforce their lifestyle on the population. The rule of law is becoming weaker and the lines of distinction between the people are becoming clearer. Tolerance, an essential ingredient of any society, is completely missing and extremism, not just religious, is being adopted. The very essence of a community has evaporated: minorities are being oppressed and freedom of speech is being suppressed. All this is a result of an education model that promotes isolation and hatred. Having an opinion is considered a curse.
There is no shortcut to this problem. A long term education policy is the only way forward. Intolerance requires a whole generation to phase out, that too, if strong education reforms are implemented during the phase-out process. Education is the strongest tool available to the government at any point. Intolerance and extremism are not commodities that can be destroyed, rather ideas that need to be reshaped. The lack of political say, dearth of education and nonexistent alternate opportunities are all scoring against the troubled nation.
I will not propose an expensive, idealistic solution to this government of modest authority and resources. Instead, I will focus on a solution that is easy to implement and quick to bear fruits. I propose an extensive student exchange program within the borders of Pakistan. I support a Pakistan where provincial borders are limited for administrative purposes only. I dream of a Pakistan where people are entitled to an opinion. Integrating the society is the first and foremost step if Pakistan is to prosper.
The world over, student exchange programs are extremely popular. Students are encouraged to spend some time outside their home country to learn about other environments and cultures. It works as a seed of tolerance and respect whereby the student learns to accept, adapt and adopt an alien lifestyle. It highlights the need to realize that one’s culture is not superior to another’s. Students see firsthand that humans come in different flavors of which all are to be relished. Various organizations are working in this department and facilitating opportunities for interested students.
Since having international exchange programs is very expensive, a more practical approach can be taken. The landscape of most Pakistani public universities is very unfortunate. Most students never get the opportunity to study in more than one province. Students reside in hostels based on their ethnic background. Each group flocks together, speaks its own language and indulges in fortified activities. The boundaries become so strong that no outsider can think of squeezing in. The slightest chance of learning about other people’s way of life is eliminated. Not realizing that meeting people from different backgrounds is education in itself, they deprive themselves of a tremendous opportunity to grow as a person. This is very similar to the national scenario, just a more crisp representation.
A simple exchange program between the universities of different provinces can help reduce the divides. People dislike each other not because of their behavior, but because of the developed stereotypes over an extended period of time. Instead of inducing harmony, hatred has always been promoted for political gains. There is no better way of washing away these negative stereotypes than actually living in the host environment. The public and private sector can help create a system where students can easily move from one institute to the other. Some financial support can be provided and credit be offered to students who pursue a few months of their university education in a different province. The exchange student will not only experience the new medium themselves but also contribute to the host society. He will experience firsthand association with other parts of Pakistan and will return as an ambassador for the host region. To further enhance the experience, some volunteer activities and discussion groups can be formulated as well.
Students love to study languages like English, French and Spanish. If provided with the option, many would love to learn regional languages as well. Incentives can be provided to students who learn one of Pakistan’s regional languages. Language forms an important part of any community. It can instigate violent movements or lay the foundations of peace. It is easily the biggest barrier when it comes to bringing together different communities. It is pertinent to note here that teaching English should be a high priority. As an international language, English holds the key to the latest research in all branches of sciences.
How wonderful would it be to see a Punjabi, wearing a Sindhi topi, speaking Pushto and eating Balochi Sajji in the streets of Quetta. Diversity represents beauty in most societies around the world. Unfortunately, it has turned into a burden for Pakistan and coexistence of culture and opinion has turned violent and bloody. The suggestions given above will help blur the lines of distinction and bring together a united Pakistan. They require modest resources but a strong determination.