In the global battle against intolerance and mistrust, teachers are a frontline defence.
“Education is one of the most effective ways to address the root causes of hatred and mistrust,” said H.E. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, cabinet member and Minister for Tolerance in the UAE, in the Closing Plenary of the Global Education and Skills Forum.
Human trust and cooperation are “minimum requirements” in order to achieve global progress, and address climate change, conflicts and political disagreements, he added.
“Education can play an important role in helping us reach the goal of one human family... in providing access to success and progress… in building bridges between human society and breaking down barriers and building mutual trust and cooperation, which are the basic requirements for global progress and world peace.”
But how do teachers teach tolerance and equip their students to be accepting of differences between ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds?
Tolerance in the classroom
South Africa’s Marjorie Brown, a 2018 Global Teacher Prize finalist, who was also an anti-apartheid activist, encourages listening and empathy among her students - and has been instrumental in transforming the country’s history syllabus.
Teachers at her school have been on transformation workshops to address their own unconscious biases and to acknowledge the ‘intersectionality’ of race, gender and religion. Parents are seen as stakeholders to raise children as leaders.
“Everyone has to understand themselves and be prepared to grow. For diversity, we have to have a growth mindset,” she says.
“We can’t just talk about race, gender or religion on their own. For a lot of people, there is an intersection of a number of issues that make them feel like second-class citizens.”
Social justice and the need for dialogue are embedded in South Africa’s new constitution, but Brown says the world has to ensure that dialogue and freedom of speech don’t lead to more segregation and more hate.
It is a similar ethos that has seen The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award come together with the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance and sign an agreement during the Global Education and Skills Forum this year to promote the values of tolerance and the development of young people.
It’s crucial that institutions themselves are accepting of difference.
“Students from different backgrounds and cultures come into an institution and are expected to adapt, but the major challenge is to make sure those institutions reflect the different cultures of the kids in the school and you don’t just come in on our terms.”
Otherwise, Brown warns, children end up feeling like chameleons, that have to betray their own culture to blend in: “Then you have a person who doesn’t feel like they belong where they came from or where they’re going to.”
Through debating sessions in her classroom, Brown teaches her pupils critical thinking skills, empathy and understanding.
“We have to teach children to put themselves in others’ shoes in order to grow, it comes back again to dialogue, debate, facilitating that and being prepared to be uncomfortable.”
With such inspirational teachers in the world, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan’s goal of achieving one human family, could be within reach.