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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora