GENEVA, 12 May 2017 – World-renowned experts on education and democratic citizenship rights concluded today that education is a key driver in building inclusive and peaceful societies and in enhancing equal citizenship rights especially in countries affected by inter-communal strife.
These observations were made during a panel debate held at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights in education.” This meeting was co-arranged by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”), a think-thank on human rights, the UNESCO Liaison Office in Geneva, the International Bureau of Education (IBE) - UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The goal of the panel debate was to assess the impact of education in rebuilding societies affected by inter-communal violence in the broader context of human rights. It also aimed at exploring the role of education in promoting democratic citizenship. Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Colombia – countries previously affected by inter-communal stress or conflict - were resorted to as case studies. The panel discussion was guided by the achievements of Finland in promoting equal citizenship rights through education.
The Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Bahrain H. E. Dr. Majid bin Ali Al-Nuaimi presented a video message explaining Bahrain’s vision of using education as a catalyst for promoting peace, tolerance and dialogue within the Bahraini society. In his video message, the Minister said:
“We consider our students a precious human capital for the future, and promoting these values and concepts, such as tolerance, dialogue, coexistence and welcoming difference and diversity, is essential to live in the world. Therefore, the Kingdom of Bahrain through this project, presents its pioneering experience in this regard, through using education wisely to consolidate and instil these values and concepts in the future generations who will act as agents to spread more peace and love in the world.”
Echoing the views of the Minister of Education, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim underlined in his opening remarks that “education should facilitate the establishment of mechanisms for participatory citizenship in which we, as global citizens, learn to live together.”
“Inclusive citizenship through education”, he said, “enables diversity to become a force for social progress.”
The Permanent Representative of Bahrain H. E. Ambassador Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri recalled the fact that the right to education as a fundamental human right was fully applied in Bahrain when the MDGs had been reached before the target dates. All these rights were applied equally to the Kingdom’s citizens without any form of discrimination, noted Ambassador Bucheeri to the audience. The Ambassador referred to the threat to national security to which it was exposed as from 2011 and which adversely affected social harmony which had prevailed for centuries in Bahrain. It was emphasised that the country had introduced a pilot project to transform the school system into an educational space to promote equal citizenship rights and tolerance to reinforce national unity.
In the context of heightened social tensions and rise of populism witnessed around the world, the Director of UNESCO Liaison Office Mr. Abdulaziz Almuzaini noted that education should be seen as the driving force to “empower young women and men to become active citizens in facing and resolving global challenges and contributing to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world.” He added that “equal access to education can open vital spaces for inclusion, reconciliation and dialogue involving all young people from all sectors of society, laying the foundations for mutual understanding and lasting peace.”
The Executive Director of the Geneva Centre Ambassador Idriss Jazairy proclaimed at the opening: “let difference beget not division, but a celebration of diversity.” He added that the role of education in building social harmony in countries undergoing or emerging from social stress. Quoting Pope Francis from his recent visit to Cairo where he stated ‘history does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different’, Ambassador Jazairy emphasised the need to promote diversity within societies through the promotion of education and of equal and inclusive citizenship rights. The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director said:
“The purpose of today’s panel discussion, however, is to extend to the domestic context the debate on global citizenship, through education for equal citizenship rights, in the particular context of countries that are facing civil strife or are in the process of the post-conflict rebuilding of their societies.
“It is often easier to embrace diversity as an abstract international concept, but significantly more difficult to exercise it at the domestic level, where people who are the concrete expression of multi-culturalism rub shoulders with one another. Nonetheless, building a solid culture of equal citizenship rights at the national level is vital for internal stability, let alone for firming up the global citizenship framework as a whole.”
Presenting the work of IBE-UNESCO, Senior Programme Specialist, Mr. Renato Opertti argued that education plays a fundamental role in “transforming societies”. He noted that “human rights and citizenship education are drivers for the sustainable development“ in fostering an inclusive and peaceful world in the framework of the realization of SDG 4.7.
The challenges to achieve SDG 4.7 and to further develop GCED, he said, lie in the complexity of issues and the lack of a universal definition” making it complicate to monitor and evaluate its impact. Mr. Opertti noted during this intervention that enhancing equal citizenship rights in education could be achieved by addressing “the synergies and tensions between educating about universal values that embed a cosmopolitan open vision of the world while at the same time recognizing the interdependence of nations and communities.”
Best-practice examples from around the world on integrating human rights and democratic citizenship in education
Ms. Nujood Aldoseri, the Director of Intermediate Education at the Ministry of Education of the Kingdom of Bahrain, presented the Kingdom’s achievements in transforming schools in Bahrain into “into a comprehensive framework for civil coexistence” promoting “citizenship and human rights”. The ambition of Bahrain’s effort in promoting education through human rights and equal citizenship is “to promote the values of good citizenship, peaceful coexistence, respect for diversity and difference,” Ms. Aldoseri said in her statement.
Referring to the experience of Sri Lanka, Mrs. Sunethra Karunaratne, former Professor at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, highlighted that mediation, inculcating good thoughts, teacher education, and the integration of democratic features within the school system have enabled Sri Lanka to develop a robust education system integrating human rights and democratic citizenship. She stated that education has enabled restoring diversity, harmony and peace in the country.
“It is necessary to develop good thoughts in children to perform their duties at family level, school level, religious institutions and to help in community activities. By knowing the duties and rights children learn democratic features that could be observed in school and then beyond the school. (…) Meditation camps helped to develop morale of children. Education is a powerful tool to shape the minds and hearts of people towards achieving peace and social cohesion.”
Dr. Ana Maria Velásquez, Associate Professor at Univesity of los Andes presented the role of peace education framed through human rights. The speaker informed the audience that education was applied as a mean to build “a more peaceful, inclusive and democratic” society to overcome the post-conflict situation that emerged following the civil war in Colombia. She stressed that education plays an important role in addressing inequality gap, enabling children from different communities to interact and addressing past grievances. Following adoption of the National Citizenship Competencies program in 2004 by the Ministry of Education, Dr. Velasques said:
“These citizenship competencies are framed within a human rights perspective as they offer the basic tools for each person to learn to respect, defend and promote fundamental human rights, relating them to everyday situations where these may be infringed because of our own deeds as by those of others.”
As part of the debate on the achievements of the Finnish educational system, the Counsellor of Education - History and Citizenship Education at the Finnish National Agency of Education, Ms. Kristina Kaihari, explained that the successes of the Finnish model can be attributed to the promotion of “democratic values, positive cooperation and participative school culture in order to give all the children the same opportunities and to prevent exclusion.” Ms. Kaihari also added that social equality and equal access to education are cornerstones of the Finnish model:
“Finland has always placed great value on education. Our society’s wellbeing and prosperity is built on equity in education and equal right to learning. We have taken decisive steps to offer equal opportunities also for people with immigrant background to pursue study paths all the way to tertiary education, should they wish to do so. By inclusion we mean not only equal educational opportunities for all but also the strategies and structures that guarantee successful learning for all students.”
Present during the panel debate was also the National Director of the El Hassan Youth Award Mrs. Samar Kildani who called for a new model of education to respond to the challenges faced by modern society. Mrs. Kildani suggested this model should be based on the pillars of equal participation, dialogue and social diversity:
“The essence of education is to change behaviour for the better. As long as we learn, we improve our attitudes and our practices. However, we need a new model of education; Education that is part of the modern era. We need education and training to enhance the capacities of youth, while at the same time sparing them from Behaviourist teaching methods and paternalistic culture.
“This new teaching model will anchor the actual participatory culture and encourage conscious responsibility-taking. This model will encourage dialogue, the realization of democracy, the development of human rights, the acceptance of others conceptually and actually, and coexistence, while accepting difference, pluralism and diversity; the wealth of societies as a whole.”
During the interactive session, the Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Nasser Al Zaabi highlighted the experience of the UAE in the promotion of human rights through education. Based on the policies implemented by the UAE, Ambassador Al Zaabi stated that “the educational system in its different level has fully integrated the value of tolerance and cohesion in a multicultural society in which people from all over the world live harmoniously together. “
The Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Algeria to UNOG Mr. Taoufik Djouama referred to the dark decade of the 90s and how Algeria had promoted policies of national reconciliation, which started at the school level and at all levels of education to restore a sense of social harmony. Mr. Djouama emphasised the importance of enabling students to developing critical thinking as opposed to the behaviourist learning approach.
An intervention was also made by the First Secretary of the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to UNOG Mr. Ryad Aouadja-Awaja who highlighted the importance of enabling access to education. Therefore, for the Palestinians, whose schools had been taken away at the same time as they had lost their land, this remained a key priority. In this regard, he referred to his personal experience, that of Yasser Arafat and that of other Palestinian intellectuals whom had benefited from access to education in countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Bahrain without any trace of discrimination. He noted that this was the best expression of the policies of these countries that were being promoted to enhance equal citizenship rights in schools.
The Permanent Observer of the European Public Law Organization Dr. George Papadatos emphasized during his intervention the importance of finding social consensus in developing an educational framework in “countries with competing ideologies.”
This panel debate is part of a series of events initiated by the Geneva Centre in the framework of holding a World Conference in 2018 on the subject of “Religions and beliefs, joining forces to enhance equal citizenship rights”. Ambassador Jazairy informed the audience that “the conference in 2018 will further explore the issues of tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and mutual acceptance, and will pursue the debate on the importance of addressing the issue of equal citizenship rights.”
About the Geneva Centre:
The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (The Geneva Centre) is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.
The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.
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Livestream feed (Periscope) of the panel debate is available at: https://www.pscp.tv/GCHRAGD/1kvJpQLjppMxE?t=838
Video statements of the panellists’ interventions can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBIsjwQ2_zA5vNCh3PnjUBuP8b9lyAvux