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At an academic conference held at Oxford University last year, details of the new three-year Guru Nanak Junior Research Fellowship were announced.  With the support of the Sikh Education Council and a number of different academic departments within the university, the holder of this significant position will be required to carry out detailed research into the history and culture of the Punjab up to the present day, with a particular focus on the teachings of Guru Nanak.  Around the world, educational establishments are being encouraged to teach a greater understanding of Sikh heritage which as well as supporting the development of students can also help to counter prejudice and misconception in the wider community.  Guru Nanak encourages the continuous acquisition of knowledge in all spheres of life and, through the provision of exceptional opportunities for university scholars and the teaching of Sikh culture in schools, the educational experiences of students are enriched.

Expanding Standard Curricula to Promote Cultural Awareness

In his bani Patti, Guru Nanak pronounced that if education is to be beneficial it should be multifaceted. In a school setting, this tenet can be enacted through the inclusion of extra-curricular teaching beyond the core elements of an educational programme. While many students require additional help with basic subjects such as Math and English, other wider reaching and inclusive topics can also enhance their education. New Jersey is home to one of the largest concentrations of Sikh Americans in the US, and schools here are already required to teach Asian American lessons within their social studies classes. Now a resolution has now been introduced to add instruction on Sikhism to the grade school curriculum with the aim of changing misconceptions about the Sikh faith and culture and encouraging greater awareness, understanding and tolerance. In a diverse state, learning about a range of different cultures can help to eradicate prejudice in schools and throughout a wider and more inclusive community.

Creating a Welcoming Environment for Valuable International Students

While an increasing number of educational institutes are committed to raising awareness about the Sikh culture, Sikh and other international university students are struggling to find the support they require to continue their studies abroad. The pandemic caused considerable disruption to students around the world in the form of travel restrictions, limited employment opportunities and economic hardship. Now, in Canada, changes to the immigration system continue to contribute to uncertainty and insecurity among current students and postgraduates with permits to continue working in the country. The International Sikh Students Association is one of several organizations to have signed a petition addressed to Canada’s immigration minister to ask for a number of reforms including amendments to the International Mobility Program exemptions. These would allow international students to thrive in a safe environment without experiencing harassment or discrimination, while at the same continuing to make a valuable contribution to the country’s economic growth. 

Revealing the Contemporary Relevance of Sikh Teachings

Oxford is viewed as an ideal location for the prestigious Guru Nanak research fellowship, as it will reflect both the status of the university and the prominence of the British Indian community in the UK. In addition to working with departments within the university, over the proposed three years of the tenure, the holder of the role will also reach out to communities in India to further their research. The position requires funding and donations have been sought to support its establishment. In return, it is hoped that the holder of the post will publish their research extensively within the fields of social sciences and humanities. These in turn will foster a greater understanding of Sikh teachings, show how they are still relevant in today’s society, and strengthen relations between Oxford University and Sikh communities around the world. 

Sikhism has continuous development and learning at the heart of its culture, and integrating the teaching and research of Sikh heritage and philosophy into school and university curricula around the world enhances the education of both students and their surrounding communities. As well as helping students with their practical studies, a greater awareness of the Sikh culture can help to bring communities together and dispel unwarranted prejudices and misconceptions.

Photo by Siddhant Soni on Unsplash

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