Implicit and Explicit Sectarianism in Schools

Throughout this course on Education and Conflict, I have had some uneasy flashbacks from my school days in Gujrat. I studied in a prominent private school from kindergarten till matriculation where I was exposed to a variety of excellent academic and co-curricular opportunities. However, this learning space was simultaneously a breeding ground for conflicts among students and teachers belonging to different sects of Islam.

The principal was a Sunni man in his mid 40s who was well-known for his progressive educational vision and passion for innovative teaching-learning processes. Despite his broad academic vision, he was extremely biased in his dealings with staff and students belonging to all other religious sects except his own (Sunnism). Some instances of his discriminatory policies included hiring staff based on religious affiliations to his own sect and giving them distinctive favors off and on. The students and teachers who had different beliefs (for example Wahhabis, Shias) were left with no other choice but to hide their affiliations. These teachers were often conspired against in an attempt to slander them and ultimately render them deprived of their designations.

I remember in 7th grade, a very intelligent girl switched schools to join our class and we became friends. She was very open about her Shia identity and was often judged by other class fellows. None of the other girls in the class would sit with her during lunch break because of some messed up notions about eating with people who belonged to that sect. But the most difficult period was prayer time in the afternoon when everyone used to publicly criticize her for offering prayers in a certain manner or at a different time. All of our teachers were either aware of or complicit in these behaviors, but they never addressed these things in or out of class. The importance of tolerance and respect for individual differences in a relevant local context was never touched upon through curriculum either.

As a teenager still trying to understand my religious beliefs, I was constantly nagged for not having a solid stance. But perhaps what was more shocking to see was how stressed and threatened my school fellows and teachers, who had a strong affiliation with a particular sect, were made to feel.

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Have you experienced something similar in your school or university? Can you link these experiences with education or conflict? Alternatively, you can also share positive experiences!

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