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UN Scheme to Teach ‘Respect for All’ Aims at Fighting Discrimination

By A.D. McKenzie

PARIS (IDN) - “What the world needs now is love, sweet love” goes a syrupy Burt Bacharach-penned song from 1965.  But love is difficult, if not impossible, to teach, so education experts have come up with another solution: teaching respect for all.

“And by all, we mean all,” says Christophe Cornu, senior project officer in the Section of Health and Global Citizenship Education at UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for science, culture and education. [P] GERMAN | HINDI | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | NORWEGIAN | PERSIAN SWEDISH

The organization, in association with the governments of the United States and Brazil, has produced specific tools and resources to fight discrimination and violence through education as well as within education, even as the level of hatred and intolerance rises in many regions.

The tools include a 300-page manual, a range of relevant UN documents, online interactive forums, and proposals for student activities such as writing articles and staging plays, all of which were highlighted at the Second UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education (GCED) that took place January 28 to 30 in Paris.

“Teaching respect for all is a means of promoting an educational response to combat discrimination and violence by strengthening the basics of mutual tolerance and cultivating respect for all people,” Cornu told IDN.

In its manual, UNESCO says that the project is founded on the “universal values and core principles of human rights,” and is targeted at learners aged 8 to 16, with the aim of equipping them with skills to “cultivate respect and stop discrimination on all levels”.

Educational institutions need to adopt a “holistic” approach where “all aspects of the school environment work to ensure non-discrimination,” the agency says.

It adds that “curricula must dedicate time to sensitive issues, such as discussing stereotypes and recognizing injustices”. Teacher-training is also a key part of this approach as educators - who can be victims of discrimination as well – need to be skilled in teaching conflict resolution and dealing “sensitively with issues of discrimination”.

The Paris-based organization’s mission has acquired increased urgency with the growth of extremism and intolerance, which has seen certain groups and individuals targeted, officials say.

According to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, the agency is strengthening efforts to address the “worldwide rise” of discrimination and is especially promoting Global Citizenship Education.

“The opportunities for exchange of knowledge and information have never been so numerous, but intolerance is on the rise, notably in the form of a violent and destructive extremism,” Bokova said at the conference.

“Young people are often the ones calling for change, but they are also the first victims,” she added. “What education do we need then, to build a more peaceful and sustainable future for all?”

According to UNESCO, the aim of Global Citizenship Education is to “equip learners of all ages with those values, knowledge and skills that are based on and instill respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, gender equality and environmental sustainability and that empower learners to be responsible global citizens.”

“Teaching Respect for All”, meanwhile, seeks to involve all of society’s “stakeholders”, from parents to pupils to policy makers; and the media also has a role to play.

The role of media

“Media is a duty-bearer to increase public awareness,” states the UNESCO implementation guide. “Media professionals have a particular responsibility in combating negative stereotypes, fostering respect for diversity and promoting tolerance among the general public.”

This was drafted before the January 7 assault on the staff of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 people including journalists were murdered. Critics accused the magazine of Islamophobia and racism, while the cartoonists and supporters defended the right to freedom of expression and the liberty to satirize subjects that included religion and politics.

The current divide in France and many other countries is indicative of a lack of understanding of both religion and secular values, some commentators have argued, while the attacks have meanwhile focused attention on the lives of Europe’s marginalized youth and the failings of education.

“When you teach respect for all, you acknowledge that everyone has prejudices, and there should be a space to discuss these prejudices, to demystify stigma,” Cornu told IDN in an interview.

This dialogue can take place in both formal and informal educational settings, with curricula “shaped around such values as a culture of peace, human rights, tolerance and respect,” say experts involved in the project.

While these values should be recognized as “universal”, they should also be adapted and draw from local systems and culture, UNESCO advises.

Dr. Helen Bond, an associate professor at Washington DC-based Howard University and one of the authors of “Teaching Respect for All”, said that “manifestations of discrimination” can take many forms.

These can include bullying, name-calling, stereotyping, stigma, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and gender and poverty-based prejudices, she said during the GCED conference.

Discrimination can also be seen “in targeted laws, which prevent certain groups from obtaining access to certain government programmes”, participants noted. They said that discrimination and intolerance usually start with “micro aggressions”, and that the violence can become even greater if policy makers don’t take necessary action.

‘Respect for all’

In France, after the Charlie Hebdo assault and related attacks at a kosher supermarket, students in some schools refused to observe the national minute of silence that the government had requested, highlighting their feelings of exclusion from the mainstream and the contention that the newspaper had added to stereotype and stigma.

Further, in a case that shocked many people, school officials reported an 8-year-old pupil to the police in the southern French city of Nice when the boy expressed “solidarity” with the “terrorists” even though he seemed not to know the meaning of “terrorism”.

The latter incident, which occurred as the GCED conference was taking place in Paris, underscored the importance of discussing “respect for all” in school settings and having teachers who are trained in this area.

“The tragedy has been an eye-opener about something missing in the curriculum,” Cornu told IDN. “We need to teach all students how to live together, and focusing on just one religion is not the right approach.”

The UNESCO scheme has examined how “Teaching Respect for All” can be “integrated” into the school curriculum and “incorporated in all subjects and across school culture”.

Pilot projects have taken place in Brazil, Ivory Coast, Guatemala, Indonesia and Kenya, looking at different aspects of the issues. The Kenyan government has focused on developing peace education, while the Ivory Coast has examined how to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities.

Some of the questions raised by “Teaching Respect for All” include: how can “difficult discussions and situations in the classroom be managed”, and how can students be empowered and motivated to “confront discrimination, prejudice and bullying”?

In a section of the UNESCO manual aimed at children and youth, the advice is to “be brave and say ‘NO’,” even if this is “not an easy thing” to do.

“Everyone has the right to be treated with respect,” the advisers state, adding that “no matter what, being discriminated against is NEVER OK.” [IDN-InDepthNews – February 23, 2015]

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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