Since the 9/11 attacks on the US, Pakistan has seen the emergence of numerous peacebuilding initiatives across the country. Among those initiatives are projects focusing on countering extremism through education. During the past decade, I have been evaluating and assessing the impact of peace education interventions from Khyber to Karachi in Pakistan. This exposure to on-the-ground initiatives has provided key insights into peace education in Pakistan.

Based on my observations, I have learnt that the success of peace education rests on both the quality of curricula and teaching, and relevance of the material to pupil. I have seen many projects across the country, some with strong curricula and some with exceptional teaching, but rarely projects having the luxury of both.

Through this piece, I wish to introduce the work of an experienced peace educator from Pakistan, whose work has not received much coverage within the country and outside: Sitwat Yusafzai of the Rawalpindi Grammar School in Pakistan.

Based on her three-decade long experience of teaching in Pakistan, Yusafzai has developed a comprehensive approach to knowledge that deals with peaceful values – much needed in the country. According to her, one needs to understand what children are influenced by. It is more just teachers and parents, it is also media:

In the prevailing scenario, conflicts are constantly rearing their ugly heads due to the burgeoning population; the growing class gap between the various economic levels; the inequity in distribution of resources and an absence of the rule of law (just to pinpoint a few challenges). To aim to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise from these issues, the teaching of peace has taken on an urgency. Home environments cannot, realistically and generally speaking, guarantee level ground in which seeds of peace can be effectively sown. Schools too are no longer capable of doing so in the conventional manner. The social environment, which includes parents, teachers, all the persons children come into contact with, the media, the entertainment industry, etc. are what holds the key to peace education. Of these elements, perhaps the one that can be managed most effectively and in a structured manner, for whatever it is worth, is the school to a limited extent.
Yusafzai links the value of peace education to her experience of education in her youth. She said that, “during my own school years, the training in life skills that we received was greatly dependent on the role modelling we were exposed to.” She mentioned that there were neither special classes to teach values or morals, nor many verbalised messages as to how to conduct lives. Yet values such as character, courage and compassion were demonstrated at home and at school. She added that, “the exhibitions of inter-personal and intra-personal behaviour that we were surrounded by, and the foundations on which they were based, became the tools that we were compelled to utilise and emulate in our later lives.” This is how she believes how peace education should be conveyed.

When asked about challenges that she has faced during peace education work, Yusafzai said that, “almost tangibly, the degradation in social norms becomes apparent during the day-to-day delivery of the curriculum in school. The student-teacher interactions that reflect the outcomes of all the efforts that are made for peace education, sadly, pose huge challenges for the educator. The educator as an individual is her/himself a product of the society we are aiming to create peace in, and therein lays a challenge.”

In her opinion, in order to spread peace in Pakistan, we need to understand how to inject the core values of peace into academic content by means of discrete, subtle messages. The peace education model which has been set in place at Grammar School Rawalpindi is holistic in nature and includes strategies such as morning assemblies, intervention in academic content, and school rules for students and teachers. These materials and practices integrate ideas such as human rights, justice, and critical thinking into the curriculum. The school has learned a lot about peace education through collaboration with UNESCO but experienced teachers like Yusafzai have also been able to localise that knowledge through their hard work.

It has been realised that conducting a programme of this nature must be supported by society. I absolutely agree with Sitwat Yusafzai on this because if peace education is not supported by society then it can hardly achieve its desired objectives. It is for this reason that sometimes, peace-related projects are implemented in the country without even using the word “peace” because this label can sometimes be resisted by communities. Yusafzai further said that, “By working in isolation in school, the outcomes of the peace education programme do not present themselves as desired. However, the underlying motivational factor for conducting a programme of this nature rests on the fact that at least at the minimum level; a certain degree of awareness is being created in the hearts and minds of our young citizens to be.”

According to Yousafzai, a peace education model in the twenty-first century in Pakistan requires that students are develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to be able to appreciate and identify with their own culture, recognise their self-worth and perceive themselves as global citizens.

She explained ‘Yohsin’, which can be defined as self-worth, which depends on one’s level of self-cultivation, as articulated by Imam Ali. Even though this philosophy was developed 1,400 years ago, it is as relevant today as ever. According to it, “Qeematul kullimri en ma Yohsino”: Self-cultivation or yohsin, leading to one’s self-worth can be arrived at by:

  • bringing out one’s fullest potential in whatever one does
  • keeping aesthetics in mind in everything one does
  • giving consideration to, and showing sensitivity towards, the community one lives in
  • Showing respect to other people and to the environment
For Yousafzai, “This can be made possible by making the teaching of life-skills at the smallest level a reality by not just ‘talking the talk’ in schools but also ‘walking the walk. This by comprehending the fact that the ‘small’ things are the ‘big’ things and ensuring that all educators, at least, are clued into their role as agents of attitudinal change in our educational institutions and thereby in the society.”

There is a need to learn from the value of quality teachers in peace education. It is not merely about peace content, it is equally about how that message is conveyed. My suggestion to everyone working for peace through education is to equally focus on the quality of curricula and teaching.