The education sector bears one of society’s greatest burdens, and greatest privileges. As the World Economic Forum points out, what we teach our children, and how we teach them, will impact almost every aspect of society, from the quality of healthcare to industrial output; from technological advances to financial services.
While children are heavily influenced by their home environments, and by their peers, what they see, learn and experience at school will frame their ability to continually grow, learn and engage with a rapidly evolving social, technological and working environment. It could be said that the most important thing children can learn is how to learn and how to engage with others.
To achieve that is easier said than done however. Part of the problem is that learning to think is not part of the criteria for day to day education. In today’s schools we have significant skills based expectations but little to no thinking based expectations. When it comes to values, rights and the understanding of others there are existing programmes that support schools: Rights Respecting Schools, Values-based Education, P4C and more but all of these are voluntary and rely on heads and staff to embed and deploy.
One of the challenges facing educators is the need for assessment and the achievement of targets, with the goal of making students fit for work, and productive members of society. The question that remains unanswered is what exactly that means. As Nigel Cohen of Values Based Education says, “A critical tool in the skill set [of our students] is an effective engagement with universal, positive human values. It nurtures their capacity to develop effective relationships so that problems can be resolved through mutual action, in place of the fear-based division we see growing in so many parts of the world today."
Bigotry is one of the most difficult things to address within society. It can stem from fear and misinformation and can be used as a political weapon. A bigot is a person who is ‘obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices’ and in a complex world we can no longer afford to ignore facts over opinions. Classrooms have a critical role to play in ensuring that children’s minds develop to be open to ideas, criticism, debate and thought.
This year’s Tolerance Day on 16th November 2017 will build on last year’s focus on religious tolerance and diversity, with materials on misinformation and bias, helping children to assess what, why and where their information comes from, and how to think for themselves.
The first 50 schools to sign-up by sending their name, school and address and the TD17 ET to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a free book and poster pack supporting the downloadable materials.
This article first appeared in the May issue of Education Today.