Conférence publique, University of Geneva, with UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Dr. Kishore Singh Lecture by Dr. Katrien Beeckman, Head, Principles and Values Department, IFRC. April 2012.
After a pious and sober life, an elderly man was granted an opportunity to ask a question to God. "Lord," he said, "can you tell me whether paradise and hell exist?" God guided the old man to two doors, and opened the first one. In the room stood a huge, round table with a pot full of deliciously smelling porridge in the middle. Hmmmm, it made the old man's mouth water... Then he watched the people around the table, they were thin and livid and gave the impression to be starving. They were holding spoons with very long handles attached to their arms, so that they could reach the pot and take the porridge. But, as the handle of the spoon was longer than their arm, they weren’t able to bring the spoon back to their mouth and eat. The old man shivered in front of so much misery and suffering. God told him: "You have just seen hell", and led him to the second door. The old man was startled. The scene was exactly the same as before: the huge, round table, the porridge pot in the middle, people around it holding spoons with long handles. But, this time, the people were radiant, smiling, talking and laughing, they were well nourished and fit; "heaven". The old man turned to God: "I don’t understand!" God paused and replied, "Well, it is simple, it is a matter of education. The second group learned to nourish and care for each other, the first one only to think of themselves."
This talk is dedicated to prof. Katarina Tomasevski, former and late Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, who was a member of my Ph.D. defence and with whom I had the privilege to collaborate 10 years ago. I also would like to dedicate this talk to all of us who contribute to building a culture of nonviolence and peace and who care for education as a tool to learn how to care for ourselves, for our family, for our community, for strangers and for the planet we all share.
Dear students and peace promoters, let us dive straight away into the matter at hand and address the core question: does the right to education play a role in the promotion of a culture of nonviolence and peace? First, we will find the - affirmative - answer within the human rights framework, secondly, we will address a logically following second question and reflect on how education can maximally fulfill this role. Finally, I propose to share with you some insights and an initiative developed within the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
(show: capsule de bouteille): What is this? It is a bottle cap. Fair enough. But what is it really? For us here in this posh Geneva auditorium, it is most likely trash to be thrown in the bin. For some children in a different part of the world, it is a toy to play with in the school recreation court or the street. For kids stuck in child labour, selling scrap metal is an income generating activity and hence, for them it is a means of survival.
This exercise brings us a simple insight: that what something is, is relative, as it will depend on the purpose it serves, or why it exists. More, the purpose something serves for us, will determine the value or the meaning we assign to it, and hence how we will relate to it. In short, the what depends on the why which will determine the how?
The same holds for education or the right to education. If we want to know what it is, and shape its content, form and process - , we should first answer the question what purpose it serves, or what its raison d'être is. This is for me the essential question, more than access, financing and management of an educational system which is generally the priority focus.
Before turning to the purpose of the right to education as enshrined in international human rights law, I would like to propose some key ingredients for a culture of nonviolence and peace framework, as defined within a Red Cross Red Crescent. We see it as a process, not an end result or goal, (ii) where key human values are respected and nurtured: human well-being and dignity, diversity, non-discrimination and equality, mutual understanding, inclusiveness, nonviolence, care, friendship, solidarity, cooperation, ... (iii) creating an enabling environment in which all can actively take part, engage in dialogue and explore together creative and constructive solutions to problems and tensions (and their source). What's also really important, as underlined in the Red Cross Red Crescent's approach, is that for a culture of nonviolence and peace to blossom, it is to be promoted at multiple levels: the individual, family, community and societal levels.
So let us turn back to our key question: what is the purpose of education? Can we say it is to promote a culture of nonviolence and peace? Actually, it is not spelled out as crystal clear or explicitly in Human Rights conventions, but all ingredients are there for the answer to be affirmative. Human Rights conventions read, education is to be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to his or her fullest potential. Translating this into our culture of nonviolence and peace framework, this necessarily means that education needs to convey values that will foster a child's individual development, such as self-confidence, self-esteem, self-awareness and dignity. So, we see a common first level of action shared by education and a culture of nonviolence and peace: the individual.
Digging further into the conventions, we find: "education must prepare a child for responsible life and effective participation in a free society in a spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes and friendships among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin" . Waaaw! Do we notice how many of the our culture of nonviolence and peace values are explicitly mentioned? Finally, the conventions also stipulate the transmission of positive cultural values as key educational goals. This will enable a child to be culturally grounded. Furthermore, as cultural values are generally intrinsically related to the raison d'être of a community, they will convey a sense of belonging and purpose of life. Do we notice these different values mentioned in the human rights conventions relate to the promotion of a culture of nonviolence and peace at a family, community and society level?
So, the answer to our question as to what role education plays in the promotion of a culture of nonviolence and peace is unequivocal: it is a major, crucial, essential, primordial role.
Let's now turn to our second question: how can education optimally fulfill this role? Katarina Tomasevski structured the right to education along the 4 A’s approach, or four essential inter-related obligations for states when implementing the right to education. States have to make education available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. Availability refers to the obligation to ensure that educational establishments are available to all school-aged children, with adequate infrastructure, trained teachers and teaching-learning facilities (so as to be functional and foster effective learning). Accessibility pertains to the obligation to ensure that all children are effectively acceding to and attending these learning institutions. In concrete terms, it means that the state must make primary education free of charge and compulsory, and remove geographical, physical, economic or cultural obstacles which prevent or affect children’s access to education. Acceptability refers to the relevance of education, its quality and ability to meet its goals, such as the promotion of a culture of nonviolence and peace. Adaptability calls on the educational system to be flexible, so as to respond to the specific learning needs of certain groups of learners, for instance children with disabilities.
Now, the reality is that generally, availability and accessibility are given the priority focus of attention. Millennium Development Goal two aiming at universal primary education is a case in point. So we need to mobilize attention, especially now as reflection on the post-MDGs framework is intensifying, on the acceptability of education if we want to further its fundamental role and promote a culture of nonviolence and peace.
So, if within acceptability, we want to identify how education can optimally promote a culture of nonviolence and peace, we need to consider both the content and process of education. Content wise, the question is: does the (learning and teaching) curriculum incorporate nurturing human values, fostering respect for diversity and non-violence? Within a human rights framework, the emphasis is put on human rights education or transmission of human rights principles and philosophy, and now with the shaping of the right to peace on peace education. Process wise, the passing test is really whether the educational environment and process are a micro-cosmos of the culture of nonviolence and peace they should foster on a larger scale. Within a human rights analysis, priority focus is given to the following values: respect for the child's dignity, consideration of the child's views, freedom and participation in matters of personal concern. Corporal punishment for misconduct, absent-mindedness or even failure, will hence not transmit a culture of nonviolence and peace to learners. Learning by heart or "top down instruction" of which the child is a passive recipient without any say, does not reflect and transmit a culture of nonviolence and peace people either, in which people express their opinion and be respectful of different perspectives.
Actually, the incorporation of values will go far beyond contributing to a further a culture of peace within the educational micro-cosmos. Another positive and proven effect is that it will also increase learning and examination pass rates. Furthermore, as an empowerment right, implementing the right to education will equally further other human rights, such as the right to freedom of thought and expression. Freedom is a capital value to be reflected and nurtured through education. Of course, being free is not being without limits, able to do anything, and so harming others or violating other human rights. Freedom here pertains to autonomy and ownership. Respecting freedom goes much further than proscribing indoctrination, as it is often understood. I do not see behaviour stemming out of fear or adopted to avoid sanctions as free behaviour. Aren't freedom and top down authority or conditionality mutually exclusive? Because if we observe our mind and own behaviour, we realize that freedom of choice, of ownership of decision-making and solutions, opens us up to change, to take up responsibility and to engage in action that will mirror our intention and motivation and that will be genuine and sustainable.
The crux of the matter to me really is, and this goes beyond education of course, is there power over or power with? Power over embodied in an authoritarian educational methodology, enforcing strict obedience without possibility to question or power with? The Arab springs are a clear indicator that today humanity has evolved to reject power over and claim power with. If education is to truly promote a culture of nonviolence and peace, I think that what is required is even more, is power from within, power from in... this is empowerment. Actually this is the true meaning of education, coming from the Latin “e-ducere”, “to bring out, to guide out what is already inside, within”. As UNESCO’s pioneering publication on the doorstep of the 3rd Millennium indicated, "learning to be and learning to live together” needs to be part of education, which generally focuses almost exclusively on Math and languages or cognitive knowledge. Education needs to focus on the treasure within.
I now would like to share with you a culture of nonviolence and peace educational flagship initiative of the IFRC, which I had the privilege and joy to found as Head of our Principles and Values Department: Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change or YABC. First, its starting point is the individual level: inner change, or as Mahatma Ghandi used to say ‘be the change we want to see in the world”, as well as operating from inner peace, which we develop through breathing techniques, Yoga, Qi-Gong and relaxation. YABC learning comes from within and through exchange with peers, hence peer education is a fundamental pillar. Peer education favours exchange at a level of equality, trust and thought-provoking learning where solutions are explored together.
Secondly, YABC raises youth’s awareness and understanding of issues related to the promotion of a culture of non-violence and peace, such as non-discrimination and respect for diversity, violence prevention, inter-cultural dialogue, social inclusion, gender equality, the RCRC Fundamental Principles and IHL. YABC does not convey knowledge, or tell youth what to think. It encourages youth to change perspective, to realize that there is no 'black-and-white truth' and to develop their own position. This is favoured through a non-cognitive methodology, meaning that feelings, experience, or the physical body, rather than intellectual analysis, are the entry points for learning and transmission through games, role-plays, visualizations, arts, music, sports and theatre. This is essential; values relate to the heart, more than to the mind, nurturing them requires us to personally connect to them. In a second phase, youth share experiences with their peers and reflect together. In this way, they make a 'from their heart to their mind' learning journey.
Third, youth are given a tool support this change of perspective and truly inspire a culture of non-violence and peace around them. YABC does this by skills’ development, interpersonal skills to act constructively together, to live peacefully together, or as the video called it role-modelling skills such as empathy – putting yourself in the others’ shoes; active listening - being truly present and relating to the other’s concerns, feelings and needs; critical thinking and dropping bias – contrary to what we generally do, jumping to hastily conclusions based on partial information or interpretations rather than facts, or acting upon our bias and prejudice - non-judgement which is key to generating trust without which people will be opposed to change.
What’s interesting is that some of our Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies, such as the French, Ghana and Indian Red Cross, have brought YABC into formal school settings, and the results have been striking. The French Red Cross, official partner to the Ministry of Education to disseminate humanitarian values in schools, recently introduced YABC exercises. Teachers were very positive and what the 12 year old kids particularly liked was the freedom of expression and a higher sense of equality between the “teacher” and “learners”. Through a game dealing with labeling and stigmatization, they realized how much mockery goes on in school, against class or school mates who are not in line with the norm or mainstream. In tribal, traditional mountainous areas in Pakistan, youth committed themselves after the YABC training to convincing their parents to send their sisters to school.
Actually, at our last International Conference in November 2011, 52 National Societies, as well as 2 goverments, and organisations such as IOC, British Council, Culture of Peace Organisation, signed a pledge highlighting the importance of skills and values based education, formal, nonformal and informal, for the creation of a culture of nonviolence and peace. I have copies of it here, and would encourage all of us to get more signatures, especially from States! Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends, to conclude, I invite you to watch and listen with your heart to this short YABC video. Thank you.