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Aitchison vs Lawrence, Cambridge vs Oxford, Harvard vs Yale; these and thousands of other pairings of names define some of the fiercest and religiously-maintained rivalries among educational institutes around the world. The annual fixtures between Aitchison and Lawrence, The Game between Harvard and Yale and The Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge have not only produced remarkable performances by athletes over decades, but they also unearthed talent that went on to bring laurels at various national and global stages.

Interschool, inter-collegiate and inter-university events were once the highlights of annual academic activities across Pakistan too. Debates, sports fixtures, drama fests, poetry and writing competitions; academic calendars were filled with such activities. Unfortunately, events as such have become few and far between in educational institutes across Pakistan of late.

Negative influence

This has led to two major problems. Educational institutes have become far too focused on enabling children get good grades and offer no real avenue for developing other aspects of their personalities. And secondly, youth have been reduced to scanning the internet in their free time, where predators of all kinds await with traps set.

This proneness to negative influence of students has become more concerning following the recent arrest of Karachi University students on suspicion of having connections with terrorist organizations. The failed assassination attempt on a provincial parliamentarian in Karachi has acted as a wakeup call, so far.

It has drew the government’s as well as university administrations’ attention towards providing healthy avenues to students that engage them in positive activities. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has been especially active since the past few days, holding meetings with university heads and vice chancellors to find ways to contain rising extremism in youth.

On Thursday, September 21, which was observed as the International Day of Peace, the Interior Ministry and Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan held an event to announce the launch of Young Peace and Development Corps (YPDC). While Iqbal highlighted how YPDC will promote peace and tolerance among students and encouraged youth to refrain from violence, a remark by HEC chairman was what intrigued academimag.com.

University Olympics

In his address, Dr Mukhtar said HEC planned to organize University Olympics to promote co-curricular and extra-curricular activities among youth. If the plans are for real, we think the event could become a defining attribute of our education system and one that will go a long way in fighting rising radicalism in educational institutes.

Apart from the prestige of participation in a national-level event as such, the planned Olympics will offer students a chance to divert their energies towards constructive matters. We think that besides sports, the Olympics should have events like game design, arts and performing arts, debates and declamations and creative writing etc. Such events not only encourage students to develop essential skills needed in the real world like competitiveness and perseverance, they also contribute to the intellectual, moral, physical and social development of the participant.

Besides the Olympics, the HEC should also consider conferences and symposiums that involve students in constructive debates about the peaceful teachings of our religion. Engagement with religious scholars and learned members of the academia and constructive discussions on the messages of Islam is the only real way we can empower young minds with the knowledge needed to fight radicals.

HEC should ensure that its claims of taking effective measures against extremism do not turn out to be hollow slogans, and the plan of university Olympics gets put into action at the earliest.