News

Pakistani School Takes Hands-Off Approach To Combating Extremism

Shama, a student at a school in Mathra, Pakistan
Shama, a student at a school in Mathra, Pakistan
Abubakar Siddique

Shama and her classmates, wearing matching uniforms and singing nursery rhymes, would fit in well in any modern school in the more affluent urban centers of Pakistan.

But the 7-year-old is not studying in an area known for its enlightenment. She is in a dark classroom in an impoverished Pashtun village in a region known for its conservatism.

In recent years, Islamic militants have made their presence known throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and brazen attacks have put the once-peaceful provincial capital of Peshawar on high alert. Schools, especially those daring enough to educate girls, are particularly vulnerable.

Yet Shama's school, operated by a local charity in Mathra, a village on the outskirts of Peshawar, stands as an island of tranquility and opportunity.

"I love everything about this school," Shama says. "I like studying in the classrooms and playing outside."

Mix Of Modern, Traditional

Shama's school was set up six years ago by the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, named after an iconic Pashtun pacifist. It is one of 14 similar schools run by the trust with the goal of helping turn the tide of extremism in the region.

Shama (at left) and her classmates
Shama (at left) and her classmates

It starts with ending the culture of violence in the classroom. Whereas canings and beatings of pupils even younger than Shama are commonplace in Pakistani schools, whether at state-sponsored madrasahs or exclusive private institutions, corporal punishment is banned.

The educational approach taken is a mix of modern methods and Pashtun traditions that promote community and a commitment to pluralism. Girls make up the majority of the schools' 3,000 students, and most teachers are women. To better prepare students for the future, the teaching of life skills is encouraged, rather than rote learning.

Tariq Rahim, Shama's art teacher, says that he uses Pashto poetry and folklore to help his students bring out their creative sides.

"We want our students to be happy while learning. We don't have a culture of silence here," Rahim says. "They can talk freely and are never scolded into keeping silent. We don't have any punishments. We want them to stop thinking about the violence they see around them."

Positive Changes

Many of the students were on the streets of Mathra just a few short months ago, and locals say they see positive changes since they started attending the school.

Hashem Babar donated his ancestral home to serve as the schoolhouse.
Hashem Babar donated his ancestral home to serve as the schoolhouse.

Hashem Babar, a businessman turned politician in his 70s, donated his sprawling ancestral home to serve as the schoolhouse.

"The mental attitude of these kids changed within months," Babar says. "These very kids were playing around in front of their houses, quarrelling with each other."

Now, Babar says, those same children are cleaned up and exude confidence.

Principal Samina Rehman says curiosity is nurtured, with an eye toward developing critical thinking and skills. Traditional Pashtun cultural values, such as tolerance and commitment to clan and community, are stressed.

Rehman admits that the emphasis on modern methods does not sit well with everyone. Parents are sometimes persuaded to pull their children out of the school by conservative elements who believe the school is un-Islamic. This is not the case, argues Rehman, who notes that the school complies with Pakistani laws requiring the teaching of Islamic subjects.

"Some of the students who have dropped out of here have later said that we are being pulled away from religion here. That is not true," Rehman says. "After [our morning] assembly, we offer lessons in reading the Koran. We also teach Islamic studies as a subject. But our students are still being told to leave our school because it is taking them away from Islam."

Engaging With Critics


Such perceptions could have deadly consequences in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where militants have blown up hundreds of schools over the past few years in the belief they were against Islam.

A project created by Shama and her classmates
A project created by Shama and her classmates

Khadim Hussain, the director of the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, says the schools counter such threats by actively engaging with the people making them.

He says that coordination committees within local communities help to protect the schools. These committees and local emigres make significant monetary contributions to fund the foundation, as does the government and international donors.

The vision, Hussain says, is for the schools to expand throughout all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's 24 districts.

"We now have schools in 14 districts. But if we can build a school in every district, it will be the model school for that district," Hussain says. "Then we can talk to the government about public-private partnerships that would adopt our methods in schools throughout the districts. This way it will spread everywhere."

Find more coverage at RFE/RL
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs