How teaching tolerance can promote peace

The top concept note recognizes that education is “a foundation for peace, tolerance, other human rights and sustainable development”. However, the summit agenda does not focus on how to harness the power of education to promote these important values. Prioritizing tolerance education can help promote peace, stability and human rights. The summit represents an opportunity to draw international attention to this missing aspect of global education strategies.

What is “tolerance” education?

“Teaching Tolerance” is shorthand for a set of concepts about the value of multi-faith understanding, the benefits of pluralism, and the importance of human rights and freedom of religion or belief. Due to our increasingly diverse societies, tolerance should be a central part of any effort to support basic education – as well as part of the summit agenda. However, very few international organizations or donors prioritize teaching students how to live with diversity through intercultural learning.

Our work at USIP has engaged a variety of practitioners, educators, and diplomats around the world on best practices. We held roundtables with people working on programs to promote religious tolerance through education from Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, United Kingdom and the United States, among others, as well as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Irina Bokova, former Director General of UNESCO from 2009 to 2017, provided insightful advice based on her experience at the UN. “Education should be about values, the values ​​of human rights, of mutual respect, of respect for nature and humanity, of living together,” she said. “We need to move beyond literacy and numeracy, to focus on learning environments, on new forms of learning.”

While immense challenges exist in meeting reading, writing and math needs, choosing not to support tolerance education is also a decision. Inaction will ensure that children are exposed to ideas of fear or hatred of ‘the other’ without the tools to see through misinformation, thus leading to continued human rights abuses and instability. Children can learn to count and read, but will be ill-prepared to live in an increasingly diverse world.

Embedding tolerance in the classroom

Practitioners stressed the need to prioritize textbook reform that promotes positive views on multi-faith tolerance, pluralism and human rights. Textbooks are the keystone of any education plan. Often used for years, they provide a foundation for student learning and teacher programming.

And in many contexts, there is an urgent need to update them. The international community should empower local actors to develop culturally appropriate materials that promote multi-faith tolerance, the benefits of pluralism, human rights and religious freedom.

Teacher training should go hand in hand with textbook reform, empowering teachers to embrace pluralism and create a positive classroom environment. It is essential that textbook reform and teacher training are supported simultaneously. Otherwise, improved textbooks will be underutilized by ill-equipped teachers, or properly trained teachers will lack materials to integrate. A “two-track” approach of simultaneously improving textbook “hardware” and teacher training “software” will bring the most lasting results.

Tolerance education is a community effort

Driving change will require a mix of public and private engagement with government officials, elected leaders, parents, community and religious leaders and faith-based actors. A healthy ecosystem for multi-faith understanding requires engagement with all of these groups, because what children are taught is sensitive in all societies.

For example, USIP has partnered with the Alliance of Iraqi Minorities (AIM) on curriculum reform. AIM “focused on including more examples of multiculturalism and togetherness in the curriculum, a balanced compromise between the need for integration and minority concerns about assimilation”.

Their commitment is working. Based on AIM’s recommendation, Baghdad’s Ministry of Education “will modify the second-degree Islamic religious curriculum to highlight Armah, the seventh-century Christian king of Abyssinia and Axum.” The king was known for offering generosity and refuge to Muslim pilgrims in what is modern Ethiopia, serving as an example of religious coexistence. Additions like this are small but important steps.

Religious leaders also have a vital role to play. Religious leaders can establish a positive framework for education in pluralism and human rights. Initiatives such as the Human Fraternity Document, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, provide leadership for the other clerics. And in the most egregious situations, the international community should prioritize pressing government partners whose educational materials promote violence against “the other,” especially if governments disseminate them outside of their country of origin.

A long-term commitment

However, none of this will happen without a decades-long commitment to funding tolerance education. We need consistent, specific and, above all, additional funding for tolerance education from the international community.

Textbook reforms and teacher training will require additional resources, not the diversion of already insufficient funds. Dedicated annual funding from the international donor community would equip educators, practitioners and communities to teach children how to live with diversity and inoculate them against narratives of hate and violence. Funding for this work has the potential to have positive effects in ways that have yet to be fully explored or tested.

In conclusion, in an age of growing diversity—and growing intolerance—emphasizing tolerance through education is crucial. Irina Bokova summed up our findings and challenges when she said, “Teaching tolerance, respect for cultural diversity and human rights is an essential part of bringing peace. She also underlined: “There is the need to put education at the forefront of public policies, the need for a global Marshall Plan for education. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a decrease in national budgets and development aid for education in general, not to mention education for peace and tolerance.

Teaching tolerance requires a long-term commitment. And, with sustained support, such efforts can foster greater respect for human rights and positively equip students to succeed in an increasingly diverse world. The Transforming Education Summit offers a unique opportunity to recognize the importance of tolerance education in global strategies and to mobilize the necessary resources. Let’s hope that education for tolerance will be part of the solutions emerging from the summit.

About Harold Hartman

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