Reports

Study Group 3 Report, First Forum

The Study Group 3 was attended by 49 participants and chaired by Chairperson, Ms. Mercedes Roman and Co-Chairperson, Dr. Phillip Veerman. The session began with the presentation by Dr. Manzoor Ahmed as a resource person followed by the discussion among participants.

Introduction

The discussions in Study Group 3 on Education were a good reflection of the different realities, needs and challenges that the participants have to deal with in implementing the right to education. While for some of them implementing education among children of poor communities means first assuring the basic material means, like school buildings, for others the main challenge is to transform formal education into an instrument of peace. Beyond such priorities and particularities all have the challenge, through education, to create awareness about social realities and children’s rights, as well as the causes of children’s rights violations.

Besides the diversity of realities and experiences, were the diverse practices of the Group’s participants. To make education possible for poor children in Peru, Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy, in Spanish) has a partnership with the government. The former-- in cooperation with local communities-- builds the schools, secures the basic material needs, and provides supervision for quality education; the latter pays the teachers, thus making the schools public. To transform and respond to a reality of war in Israel, the Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace, in Hebrew and Arabic) Kindergarten and Primary School provides bilingual education in which children and teachers, both Jews and Palestinians, learn and work together, living daily the values of human rights, democracy and respect, and challenging the status quo. In their own ways both experiences are political praxis responding to specific political realities, inspired by principles, ethics and faith perspectives.

The universal call for education faces multi-cultural realities and the need of alternative ways to develop and affirm identities through education. But there is also a universal consensus that education is a basic human right to be fulfilled, as well as a basic tool to empower the individual to achieve other rights, develop his/her potential and transform social realities. Therefore the implementation of this right with its inherently transforming potential, invites us to reevaluate our religious values and commitments and, for example, to challenge our religious traditions that do not give the same value to women and men. Since we, as religious people, are not the only players, we must learn from each other and from other experiences how to work with governments and with non-religious institutions, how to advocate for education and education for peace, and how to let children know that they have rights and responsibilities.

Parents, teachers, and religious people as educators need to confront the media, a powerful educational tool with great influence on children, over which they have little control. Its influence can contradict values and principles of peace and respect for human rights, teaching children that violence and indiscriminate sexual behavior are normal and acceptable. Educators have to take into consideration that children themselves are teachers, frequently with greater influence on their peers than adults. Such power among children can contradict accepted values and norms, but it can also be used in positive and creative ways.

As religious people we need to tap into and raise up the spiritual values that we share, working with them on two levels: as an inspiration and strength for our own work; and as values to be offered or promoted for social goals that go beyond our particular religious agendas.

Education for All

The goal of education for all requires political measures and concerted efforts by a variety of state institutions and by non-state institutions and actors. Lobbying governments, both the executive and the legislative bodies, for good quality, free, compulsory primary education for all, and securing state budgets for this goal, seem unavoidable tasks. This implies that the overall implementation of education be viewed as a responsibility of the State. Nevertheless, governments need support and concerted efforts by all people, and the governments of developing countries need the support of the international community.

Good quality education is more likely to be attained if it is sought through a participatory process. Communities need to be concerned with the right to education and grassroots efforts urgently need to be fostered. Cooperative efforts may be needed to educate the community as a whole in order to strengthen educational institutions for children. NGOs need to be pro-active and can link different actors and actions. The participation of parents, aware of their rights and responsibilities, is indispensable. Children must be allowed to participate in the implementation of education, in its form and contents. They need to know and appreciate education as their right. Spaces have to be created for children’s choices in shaping curriculums, and their varied human needs have to be present in the educational process.

Religious organizations working directly with children can play a key role in creating awareness about specific situations, problems and needs of children that must be addressed to achieve the goal. Specific needs and challenges vary greatly, from situations rooted in cultural behaviors that diminish the importance of girls’ education, to situations rooted in underdevelopment or social inequalities, such as non-existing or poor transportation facilities. The goal of education for all calls religions, with their teachings of love and compassion, to respond on behalf of children with disabilities and in especially vulnerable situations.

Religious organizations can make a crucial difference by embracing this goal as a matter of priority, informing the public about education as a right, and cooperating concretely with governments and non-state actors. Every religious community should open its buildings, facilities, and resources to communities for educational purposes, and its social concerns and actions should be re-focused in relation to education for all, regardless of difference in faiths. At the same time, religious communities need to be aware of, informed about and oriented toward their potential participation, and knowledgeable about the most effective practices already carried out by other religious communities in favor of this goal.

Education for personal and social development

Poverty constitutes a major obstacle for this goal. It blocks or undermines the possibilities of basic infrastructures and adequate human resources for education. Teachers who are poorly paid and trained cannot provide quality education. Children who are under-nourished and children who work cannot perform to their full potential. Unavailable or inadequate infrastructure does not advance education. The call to education for all is also a call to construct a just economic order, nationally and internationally. But poverty and the lack of education are part of a vicious circle that oppresses people, robs them of personal development and hope, and impedes social development.

Education in poor communities must be seen as a collective challenge. Communities needs have to be related to education, which in turn must be seen as a means of personal development as well as social well-being and development. Communities need also to use their own local resources; parents with particulars skills, for example, should be encouraged to share their knowledge. Children also should be given the opportunity from an early age to reflect on what they can give to the world in which they live. Religious teaching has to be especially sensitive to communal and social needs and to a collective response to them.

Education is a public good and a social achievement, and for that very reason public education needs to be guaranteed in every society. But the current global economic process that fosters privatization and free markets at all levels, is undermining public education in developing countries, and enlarging the gap between the rich and the poor, between those with schooling and technology and those without them, and between rich countries and poor ones.

Education for gender equality

Girls and boys should receive the same education, while recognition and legitimacy are given to differences of perspectives and characteristics between genders. Textbooks need to be revised to eliminate sexist teaching. Social structures in general have to change to give equal voice and opportunities to men and women. There should be more employment possibilities for women, or women should be able to perceive themselves as equal to rather than subordinate to men. Educational programs must take into consideration that the girl child is a primary victim of much that is both exploitative and sexually abusive in many societies and cultures; it results in vast human waste, impoverishment and marginalization among girls, which continues in their lives as mature women.

Giving equal opportunities to boys and girls from pre-school to high level education is an affirmation of human rights and peace. In many situations it means the implementation of affirmative actions to advance the education of women and to close the gender gap. Quality education goes beyond communication and skills to value formation that contributes to personal dignity, self-esteem and social equality, elements that have to be present especially in the educational process of girls to counteract traditional behaviors.

There is evidence, moreover, that women’s education fosters improved health, lower birth rates, lower infant mortality, better nutrition and enhanced social development in general. Assuring the education of women means guaranteeing the education of future generations, in accordance with the saying that when you educated a woman, you educate a family and a society.

A common understanding of values like non-violence, the dignity of human beings, equality, and respect for others needs to be linked to the practical development of true equality among men and women. Gender studies involving both men and women need to be promoted in secular and religious educational institutions alike. To advance women’s rights and to overcome attitudes that see women largely as objects of reproduction, may constitute special challenges to religious institutions and networks faced with fundamentalist approaches that permit violence and discrimination against women, and deny education to girls on the basis of religious principles.

Education for Peace and Human Rights

Goals and actions to foster peace and human rights must become part of school curricula, and good programs need to be shared among educators. To help children to understand their own rights and those of others is a dialectical process; when a child grasps his or her own rights, he or she should be more respectful of the rights of others. Such an approach reinforces quality education in building self-esteem and character.

Through both formal and informal education, and from an early age, it is important to introduce children to an understanding of the world’s diverse cultures and religions. Their differences should be explained in an affirming and respectful way. Exposing children to different religious practices, and teaching them to pray for peace, can plant strong seeds of respect for diversity and interest in ongoing dialogue. Today more that ever, to learn from an early age and without prejudices that the world is diverse, is to gain a fundamental tool for living in ever more heterogeneous and pluralistic societies. This can only open greater possibilities to the child as an individual, while building the road to peace.

To pray for peace implies a personal conversion and inner change. It implies reorientation, a search for opportunities in communities to pray together and discuss shared values, to find the golden rules within belief systems, and to honor diversity while affirming the oneness of humanity. Stories are appealing to children; they can introduce important values and can themselves also be forms of prayer.

An imperative is the dissemination among all segments of societies of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Getting children to know their own rights and responsibilities is the first step in promoting among them a culture of peace and respect for all human rights. The dissemination of the Convention needs to be carried out through school curricula, but also through the wide gamut of institutions of religious education.

MATERIAL NEEDS ARE INTERCONNECTED WITH ETHICAL AIMS ( graphic )


The Follow-up

The follow-up on Education can be organized in relation to three major UN initiatives:

A. The Jomtien World Declaration on Education for All and its follow-up Declaration of Dakar, that aim at universal and compulsory basic education of good quality by the year 2015.

Actions:

1. Advocating for its implementation at national levels.

2. Motivating and assisting families to send their children to school.

3. Supporting and empowering women of poor communities through economic projects and child

care programs.

4. Advocating in the developing countries for the dedication of a specific percentage of ODA -Official Development Assistance- to education and simultaneously advocating for the cancellation or relief of their external debt.

5. Requiring donors’ support for the creation of educational facilities in developing countries.

6. Encouraging mass education through the available media.

B. The decade of a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001- 2010), taking into consideration that violence has many expressions, including domestic and gender violence.

Actions:

1. Empowering children to work for peace.

2. Introducing peace education into curricula.

3. Introducing in our religious communities educational programs that foster understanding of others’ cultures and religions, in an affirming and honoring way.

4. Implementing interfaith dialogue, including taking children to other religions’ practices, liturgies and celebrations.

5. Coordinating with efforts of the UN for Freedom of Religion and Beliefs.

C. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Actions:

1. Addressing obstacles fostered by religious groups in relation to its universal ratification and implementation.

2. Informing and educating children about their rights and responsibilities, as well as listening to them and consulting with them.

3. Using the question “why” as a pedagogical tool: “Why are children’s rights violated?”, so they can challenge the status quo.

4. Giving careful attention to the effect of the media on education an on children’s rights.

For the implementation of these initiatives, some steps related with our religious beliefs are necessary:

    - To explore and honor the spiritual values that we share.

    - To identify the values that we can offer in the implementation of secular goals that go beyond our religious agendas.

    - To call upon our religious leaders to cooperate with others and network for these goals and the well-being of children.

    - To search for personal peace, and peace in our families, and to nurture the religious nature of our children.

    - To call our religious communities to a conversion to unity, to engagement, to action, to integrity, to courage, to broadened perspectives, to wisdom in addressing the needs of children.

In the formation of Working Groups it will be important:

    - To share experiences that are being implemented by participants.

    - To search for experiences that show that inter-religious groups can effectively promote children’s rights.

    - To identify our needs and capabilities.

    - To network at national and regional levels.

    - To build partnership with other foundations in all parts of the world.