We live in an increasingly globalized world where children have many spaces for learning and collaboration, but also a world of increasing distrust and fear of the other. Today, more than ever, we need to recognize the role of education in building safer, equitable, and inclusive societies.
Education needs to support children’s sound and holistic development, not only cognitive and physical but also social, emotional, and spiritual. By nurturing in children ethical values, such as empathy, respect, and responsibility, and life skills such as critical thinking and the ability to solve their differences with others, children can learn to live together with people of different cultures, religions, and beliefs. Ethics education can empower children to become global citizens and work together to build peaceful societies.
The Transforming Education symposium aims to accelerate global action and support to prioritize ethics education as a critical aspect for societies to foster learning to live together, contributing to “building forward better”. Through a series of panel discussions and interactive workshops, participants will learn from the experience, insights, and expertise of diverse partners working at national, regional, and global levels. To enhance children’s meaningful participation, an advocacy session for children will be held on the 23rd, inviting reflections on how ethics education can help to learn to live together; share recommendations and engage in dialogue with adult leaders.
The Symposium will provide a platform for various stakeholders to share experiences on ethics education programs and their contribution to peaceful societies and to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. We will have an opportunity to learn from good practices, programs, and policies illustrated by governments and schools, with the participation of several Ministries of Education. A critical result of the symposium will be to identify key benefits of integrating ethics education into national curricula and programs, and put forth policy recommendations and concrete programmatic actions on integrating ethics education as a core tenet of equal and inclusive education for children. Registration is openhere.
The G20 Interfaith Forum (IF20) offers an annual platform for religious, faith and interfaith organisations communities to constructively engage with the agendas set by the G20 leaders. For 2021, the G20’s agenda focuses on People Planet Prosperity, and the IF20 dedicates its reflection and dialogue on the theme of A Time to Heal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in worldwide educational systems. In particular, during the mass school closures, and the attempted shifts to hybrid modes of learning, significant inadequacies and drastic global disparities in students’ access to quality education have been brought to light. Alongside these concerns is recognition of sufferings (material, physical, social-emotional, mental, spiritual) endured by children and young people throughout the lockdowns and a striking gap in the provisions of online learning facilities and resources between higher and lower income countries. All these have further aggravated an existing epidemic of youth ill-being, not least amongst those who are already at the margins.
IF20 Global Listening Initiative 2021
To understand how education can contribute to the above challenges, the IF20 Education Working Group partners launched a Global Listening Initiative (GLI). The aim of the GLI was two-fold: (1) to ground policy inquiry in existing global proposals, (2) to understand the lived experiences of children and young people in diverse contexts and engage them in identifying actions for educational transformation.
The GLI consisted in two parts: an extended Desk Review to listen to the widespread calls to action from diverse international organisations, global educational commissions, religious communities, grassroots movement and scholars; and a global consultation to listen to young people and engage with their perspectives. Over two thousand adolescents (aged 14-19) from 26 countries across five continents took part in online and/or in-person workshops hosted by NGOs, schools, and faith-based organisations. Adolescents from diverse backgrounds were invited to reflect on their experiences of life and education during the Covid-19 pandemic; identify who and what have been most supportive to their learning and well-being; and propose educational policy priorities that can explicitly support their healing, learning and flourishing. Participants’ insights were drawn out through a deep listening and dialogic process, and immersive data analysis, bringing together themes arising from structured and unstructured facilitators’ and youth’s reports, images, drawings, and quotes from participants. Both processes have yielded rich understandings of the potentials to work purposefully through education programmes as ways to advocate for and advance equity, inclusion, and well-being. Conceptions of healing and well-being rooted in faith, indigenous and other spiritual traditions played an important part in guiding the GLI’s reflection.
IF20 Education Policy Brief and Priorities Proposed by Global Adolescents
In the light of policy priorities outlined by G20 leaders, and the emergent insights from the GLI processes, the IF20 Education Working Group partners support five key interconnected recommendations to address global challenges:
Safeguard healing and well-being as a cornerstone of education
Engage youth in educational decision-making
Ensure equitable and consistent access to quality education for all
Embed global and ecological concerns in curricula agenda
Prioritise teachers’ well-being and their capacities to facilitate blended learning
IF20 High-Level Dialogue on 28th September 2021
On 28th September, an IF20 high-level dialogue took place on Zoom, chaired by the IF20 Vice President, Professor Katherine Marshall. National politicians, interfaith leaders and international educational directors drew on their expertise and experiences and explored how these priorities and proposed action might be meaningfully integrated in relevant contexts. Most importantly, selected young people who took part in the Global Listening Initiative joined global leaders and shared their voices and their rationales for such policy priorities and subsequent action. This was regarded as a unique opportunity for global leaders to engage directly with young people in co-imagining and co-creating educational ecosystems that nurture both human well-being and the well-ness of nature.
Key Reflections from High-Level Leaders
All leaders who were present at the dialogue expressed their appreciation for the young people’s efforts, and fully endorsed the educational policy priorities emergent through the IF20 Global Listening Initiative. It was recognised that the more foreboding our plenary emergencies, the more complex our global challenges, the greater the need for dialogue, listening, love, care and human fraternity. IF20 Educational Working Group partners cherished many ideas, advice and guidance provided by the global leaders. Pertinent to the young people’s interests include:
Healing and well-being through spirituality and education
Judge Mohammad Abdulsalam (Secretary General, High Committee for Human Fraternity) evokes the imperative of healing the past wounds and well-being through spirituality and education. The significance of spirituality through interreligious and interfaith learning in enabling the flowering of every child’s full potential is equally highlighted by Prof Anantanand Rambachan (Co-President, Religious for Peace). The spiritual vision of education is further echoed in Argentina National Deputy Victoria Morales Gorleri’s and Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh’s (Chairman of Nishkam Group of Charity Organisations) reflection on humanity’s oneness and the role of spirituality in education in enriching and nourishing human fraternity and solidarity as the basis to confronting global challenges and ensure co-flourishing of all. Lord John Alderdice (UK House of Lords) draws on Shruthi’s (18, India) words about younger generations as the bearers of humanity’s dreams, and proposes that faith communities have a key part to play in supporting all children and youth. He also adds that this requires people of faith to listen deeply and learn to appreciate the gifts we bring to each other. Professor Italo Fiorin’s (Senior Advisor, Catholic Congregation of Education of the Holy See /Advisor, Italy National Ministry of Education) resonates with this wisdom of deep listening and shares the three key aspirations that His Holiness Pope Francis advocates through the University of Meaning: to listen, to create and to celebrate. Like Lord Alderdice, Professor Fiorin stresses that deep listening leads us to the pathways of mutual bonding, the discovery of life’s meanings, and the offering of the gifts of life to one another.
Innovative approaches to healing, well-being and educational transformation
Dr Pilvi Torsti (Finland State Secretary) encourages more attention to be paid to students’ engaging in co-curricular service programme as a way to connect learning with lives in the communities and empower young people to take responsibilities for a better world. Ms Mary Kangethe (Director, Kenya National Commission for UNESCO) emphasises that education must be relevant to the challenges confronting our local and global communities, such as SDGs, and climate change, through project-based learning, and teacher leadership. João Costa (Portugal Deputy Minister of Education) suggests that nurturing key competencies, building inclusive learning environments, and promoting citizenship education be key focus. Ella (18, UK) points to the need for self-inquiry to cultivate our unfolding self and regards inner journey of self-discovery to be interdependent to learning to live and contribute to a life of co-flourishing. Raihana (14, Indonesia) reminds us of the critical importance of hybrid approaches to cultivating listening, empathy, collaboration and dialogue, termed as ‘soft’ and social emotional skills. Alun (14, Indonesia) adds that integrating ethical ways of learning, being and acting are central to students’ learning and holistic well-being.
Global ecosystem for education
Dr Dominic Richardson (Chief, Social and Economic Policy, UNICEF Innocenti Centre) urges us to review and renew educational assessment/evaluation, curricula contents, teachers’ professional development, and community engagement so as to instil spiritually inspired global ecosystem for education, supported by research. Developing and monitoring a global exchange platform that keeps track of worldwide innovative practices. Ahmed Aljarwan (President, Global Council for Tolerance and Peace) advocates teachers professional development spaces for mutual learning. Young people point out that youth leadership capacities must be at the core of global transformation. Leadership should be rooted in a spiritual vision, nurtured by interreligious and interfaith education and dialogue.
The power of deep listening and dialogue
Both high-level leaders and the young people present at the dialogue were profoundly inspired by the power of deep listening and deep dialogue. They suggest that it allows us to dwell in where human spirits reside, within us, in our encounters with others, and in our being-with each other, and with all things in nature, and the transcendent. Young people feel that deep listening from high-level leaders provides them with an experience of being valued, cared, ‘received’, accepted. Deep dialogue helps open ourselves to difference, e.g. faith, power, class, and age difference, and enables us to share life experiences, concerns and aspirations. Together, deep listening and dialogue contribute to healing past wounds, and the emergence of a co-creative, co-constructive, relational present and future.
Ella (18, UK) says: “I want to leave with a paradigm of hope. This dialogue affirms the oneness of our being, as in Ubuntu and the mantra ‘soham’, and that we are because of each other, including our non-human friends, and our structures. We create and we have the power to change through this awareness of our oneness, love and peace.”
Roy (16, Lebanon) says: “After everything we have been through in Lebanon, everyone nearly lost hope in education… However, this dialogue has restored my faith and showed that global leaders do care about children and young people, and are willing to work together and support a better education for us and for future generations.”
Sushmitha (18, India) says: “I am thankful for you all, creating such safe space for us and listening to us. My hope is that we don’t go back to pre-pandemic ways of education. The only justice is to build forward differently, ensure that this new education system as we have imagined together will empower young people to thrive collectively.”
This high-level dialogue has helped consolidate the IF20 Education Working Group partners’ commitments to two major global initiatives: (1) Supporting teachers’ learning and professional development; (2) Nurturing youth leadership and transformative competencies. High-level leaders and young people in this dialogue have stressed that both initiatives are spiritual endeavours and require active engagement of global religious and faith communities.
On 15th October, GHFP’s Senior Fellow, Dr Scherto Gill, presented an Education Policy Brief at the G20 Interfaith Forum. She highlights the importance of exploring interfaith perspectives and interfaith organisations contribution to the global agendas, such as UN SDGs, the UN Convention on Climate Change, and so forth. Below is the transcript of her presentation.
Greetings to all. It is such a privilege for me to take part in this distinguished panel, and my sincere gratitude goes to the organisers for creating such an important spacue at the G20 Interfaith Forum for a most timely dialogue about education.
Let me begin by recalling the two aspirations that have brought us together:
One is this year’s G20 Presidency Agenda, which calls on G20 leaders to “empower people, pave the way for a better future for all.” Hence, the theme: Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All.
The other is the raison-d’etre of the G20 Interfaith Forum. As already highlighted during the Opening Plenary, the Forum offers a platform where rich ideas, and values-based actions of the world’s religious, faith and interfaith communities contributing to the global agendas are heard and understood.
Indeed, under these aspirations, and in partnership with the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, the G20 Interfaith Forum launched an Education Task Force, consisting of experts from major global organisations, such as the Aga Khan Global Network, Arigatou International, Dream a Dream India, Open Society Foundations, Global Centre for Pluralism, and Plan C: Culture and Cohesion.
I had the honour of facilitating the Task Force research that explored precisely the intersection between interfaith organisations and communities’ educational initiatives and the relevant UN SDGs especially 3, 4 and 5, namely promoting health and wellbeing, quality and equality of education.
The research brought to light that during the COVID-19 pandemic, interfaith organisations in many settings have been empowering local communities to close the gaps resulted from school closures, lack of public services due to lockdown, and isolation. They also provided practical support to address the acute social, emotional and spiritual needs of children and young people at this difficult time.
What else have the Task Force learned from the research in terms of the priorities in education policy that encourage inclusion and diversity? I will briefly mention three points which I believe are particularly innovative and pertinent to this panel’s dialogue:
First, from an interfaith perspective, educational inclusion is more than ensuring access to schooling. Many interfaith educational programmes conceive inclusion as, above all, the nurturing of the whole child, and supporting every child’s well-being in all dimensions of their development, physical, social-emotional, intellectual, moral, cultural, and spiritual.
Second, an interfaith perspective, especially through the lenses of love, compassion, respect, and humility, tends to advocate the view that human diversity is to be celebrated, and that the presence of difference in the educational environments can serve to enrich our pedagogical practices, and encourage educators to be more sensitive to the evolving well-being and learning needs of all students.
Third, an interfaith approach demonstrates that embracing inclusion and diversity must be an integral endeavour. That is to say that these must not be treated as isolated gestures, or add-ons. Instead, inclusion and diversity must be a whole system process where the empowerment of educators is a key.
Based on these insights, the G20 Interfaith Forum Education Task Force were able to develop an education Policy Brief for the consideration of G20 leaders, highlighting three policy priorities:
Advancing the Wellbeing of Every Child as the Core Aim of Education
Ensuring Active Participation of All in Inclusive Learning Environments
Aligning Teachers’ Professional Learning with a Wellbeing and Inclusion Focus
Illustrative practices within these policy priorities include, for instance, interfaith curriculum, interreligious literacy, relational pedagogy, democratic participation, actively engaging students at the margin, empowerment of girls, dialogic and collaborative learning, and connecting teaching and learning to students’ lived realities,
These interfaith perspectives also prompt us to realise that education already holds the ‘cure’ of the widespread social malaise. Hence it is not an exaggeration to propose that the ‘vaccine’ to end the hidden pandemic, i.e. the prevailing social inequality and injustice, that has plagued humanity for so long, is precisely to be found in our education system only if it is inclusive, human-centred, and caring, and only if it aims to nurture the well-being of all, and realise opportunities for all.
As John Dewey cautioned, unless we do so, we will rob our children of their tomorrow.
As part of the G20 Interfaith (G20i) Education-Task-Force, the GHFP launched a research into Inclusive and Caring Education from a Faith Perspective. The research consisted in two parts: (1) a Desk Review to understand better how religion/faith and spirituality tend to define inclusive and caring education; (2) a Questionnaire Survey to seek examples and case studies of faith-inspired approaches to inclusive and caring education.
Three priority areas have emerged from our inquiries, which deserve further attention:
Teachers’ professional development, especially towards enabling teachers to be more skilled at facilitating dialogic and collaborative learning in classrooms of rich diversity;
Innovative approaches and practices of inclusive and caring education, notably in engaging girls, and other vulnerable students;
Safe, caring and inclusive learning spaces, including through digital platforms.
The G20i Education Task Force is now inviting high-level experts in the fields of education, faith and policy for an online consultation with the aim to review thematic proposals and make policy recommendations.
We welcome faith-inspired educational projects and programmes that have a focus on inclusion and diversity to continue to share their practice HERE.