Dr Scherto Gill at the 2020 G20 Interfaith Forum

GHFP Senior Fellow Scherto Gill at 2020 G20 Interfaith Forum

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:

  1. Advancing the Wellbeing of Every Child as the Core Aim of Education
  2. Ensuring Active Participation of All in Inclusive Learning Environments
  3. 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,

To conclude:

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.

Interfaith Approach to Inclusive Education

This year, the GHFP sponsored the G20 Interfaith (G20i) Education Task Force’s research into Inclusive and Caring Education from an Interfaith Perspective. The research consisted in three parts: (1) a Desk Review to understand better how religion/faith and spirituality might inspire an innovative understanding of inclusive and caring education; (2) a Questionnaire Survey to seek interfaith organisations and explore faith-inspired approaches to inclusive and caring education; (3) Case Studies to illustrate how interfaith organisations engage in inclusive and caring practices in the communities.

Three priority areas have been proposed as the basis for policy recommendations:

  1. Advancing wellbeing of all as the aim of education
  2. Ensuring participation of all learners within richly inclusive learning environments
  3. Aligning teachers’ professional development with the wellbeing and inclusion focus  

The finalised G20 Interfaith Forum Education Policy Brief will now be presented at 2020 G20 Interfaith Forum to be held on 13-16 October 2020.

21 September: International Day of Peace

How to Understand Peace?

At the GHFP, we conceptualise peace as an inner spiritual state that has implications for our worldly processes. Here Dr Scherto Gill, our Senior Fellow, draws on the GHFP’s book entitled Understanding Peace Holistically, and offers three interconnected ideas:

First, peace is a spiritual value. As an inner state, peace is a special kind of tranquillity where we identify with the self as the essence of the ‘I’, the soul. Hence the expression: “I am a Soul.”  The ‘I’ connects well with that which is peaceful, such as the Divine, the Sacred, the Spirit. When our spiritual self-identification is primary, it can generate a blissful serenity that defuses the potentially violent nature of inner conflict. The peaceful ‘I’ can transcend the lived psychological tensions and calm their non-peaceful tendencies. This inner state is then experienced in our relationship with our self, other people and other beings in the world. In this way, inner peace denotes our intention and capacity to be in the right relationship, including living harmoniously with others near and far. When we are in such a state of peace, we can be ethical in our thoughts, attitudes, and acts – these are spontaneous expressions of spirituality.

Second, peace is a potential feature of all aspects of human life that involve conflict. Our world is characterised by diversity, and where there is difference, inevitably there is conflict, tension, and contradiction. These are normal ebbs and flows of life and they should not be equated with violence. Hence, conflict is not the opposite of peace, and peace does not require eliminating conflict. Often, the presence of conflict can invite us to encounter, to dialogue, to engage our humanness, to recognise each other as human beings, as part of a ‘WE’. With this mutual recognition, we can transform conflict towards innovation and positive change. With this mutual recognition, we can resolve violence – not only because violence dehumanises and therefore we reject it, but also because if others are violated and hurt, one is equally hurting – that is precisely the nature of being part of a WE. Therefore non-violence is always part of peace-making in the world – It is an active striving towards love, friendship, respect and justice that denounces all forms of antagonism, violence, and enemy-making.

Third, peace is constituted in human life itself, our well-being and flourishing. Peacefulness as a spiritual value is rooted in the intrinsically valuable nature of our being. Being human is itself valuable, regardless who we are, where we are from, nor what we are, what we do. This self-perception is a fundamental form of dignity, self-respect, or self-love. Seeing human beings (and other beings on the planet) in this way allows us to recognise that all lives, well-being and flourishing are likewise valuable. Similarly, the contents of our lives, including our experiences, activities, processes, relationships, also have intrinsic value. Peace as a spiritual state directs our appreciative awareness to these values.

For peacefulness to pertain to our spiritual and non-violent ways of being, and constitute our personal well-being, and collective flourishing, it requires that our institutions be underpinned by a culture that embodies the values of respect and compassion, our public practices to be humanising and forgiving. Equally, our global socio-economic and political systems need to reflect this respect for the inherent non-instrumental value of human being, human life, and all lives on the planet.

Bringing these three ideas together, we can see that peace is simultaneously spiritual, ethical, cultural and political. Peacefulness as an inner spiritual state has bearings on our worldly processes, and vice versa.

On this International Day of Peace, when we are invited to join millions around the planet to meditate together, by quietening our minds, widening our hearts, we also open a collective space for our spirits to speak to us about what it means to make peace, build peace, and above all, to be peace.

peace and peacefulness

GHFP Paperback: Understanding Peace Holistically

gillthomson2019_understanding-peace_holistically

Understanding Peace Holistically: From the Spiritual to the Political

This GHFP book argues that spiritually rooted and morally oriented peacefulness is relevant to the socio-economic–political structures that provide the conditions for a culture of peace. As the authors build up a theory of peace from the spiritual to the relational and communal towards the socio-political, this book also identifies key principles that characterise international and institutional processes that nurture peace. The holistic conception of peace developed in this book may guide and inspire individuals, institutions, and international organisations with regards to how to make peace.

This book is now available on Peter Lang’s website, and on Amazon.

Yes Quest

Yes Quest

The GHFP has been a long-term sponsor of the YES Quest, a youth-centred project that aims to offer young people time, space and nurturing to enable them to embark on an inner and an outer journey of transformation.

The inner journey takes a young person into a deep personal development experience. With skilled support, they will face their past, fears and explore the treasures and talents within and develop the confidence and commitment to fully express them in life and work. The outer journey gives the young person the opportunity to activate this new awareness, honour the inner change and take that first step!

In a time when there are many pressures from the media, parents, teachers, music, friends, religion, the YES Quest can help create young people seek clarity in terms of how they should be to live a good life in the world and what they could do to make their life meaningful.

Well-being in schools

On Wednesday 20th March, the GHFP’s Human-Centred Education team will welcome local secondary school’s Well-Being Leaders and Coordinators from across Brighton and Hove to join us for a twilight seminar on “A Whole School Approach to Well-Being in Secondary Schools“.

The seminar offers an opportunity to explore and share good practices on well-being and inclusion and to make links with local colleagues. It will begin with an inspiring keynote from Professor Colleen McLaughlin, Director of Education Innovation at the University of Cambridge, to spark discussion and raise pertinent questions. This will be followed by facilitated open dialogue and sharing, through which participants will be encouraged to develop a rich understanding and awareness of critical issues relating to student (and staff) well-being in secondary schools.

More about the Seminar see here.

Ethical education

INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON ETHICAL EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS
Held at Highley Manor, 9-10 May 2017.
Discussion notes.

Introduction:

Globally, we confront an ethical crisis. On the one hand, for vast sectors of the culture we find an erosion in commitments to ethical values. In part this may be traced to the general secularisation of the culture (and the concomitant attrition in religious belief), and the rise of relativism. One might say there appears to be no right or wrong outside what the law requires and no purpose outside the self-serving. On the other hand, in other cultural enclaves, we find a hardening of traditional moral commitments. The secular shift of society places their commitments in increasing jeopardy. Here the resources are lacking for accepting and appreciating differences.

At the same time, in a world increasingly marked by indifference and sound bites, some people can be profoundly ignorant and unaware of how different the viewpoints, perceptions, experiences and emotions of others can be from one’s own, as if living in hermeneutical bubbles. There is much divisiveness and uncertainties in our societies: some people can be totally unconcerned about the suffering and plight of others, resulting in a general attitude of apathy and uncaring while others may flounder without compass in the face of multiple and competing values.

Educational institutions have played a major role in the erosion and uncaring, with their growing emphasis on information transfer (facts over interpretation), instrumentalisation (learning for the sake of career/monetary gains) and individualism (in various forms of self-absorption). In effect, there are few opportunities for ethical development in the public educational systems. There may be ethics, values and moral education components to the curriculum but these tend to be focused on imparting information about social issues and teaching moral reasoning. They do not necessarily help young people overcome the complex hermeneutical, epistemological and relational challenges of today.

In this context, we believe there is a case for a renewed interest in considering the possibilities and potentials of ethical education and ethical relationships in our schools, and called for an international seminar on ‘Ethical Education in Schools’ held in Highley Manor, England on 9-10 May 2017. The participants and contributors of the seminar are distinguished scholars in the field of education, philosophy, social sciences and dialogue. The main question posed during the Seminar was: “What changes in educational institutions would be essential in helping students to become more ethically aware, sensitive and motivated?” To explore this question, the discussions were divided into three parts: the first part was about the principles or ideas that we need to effectively approach the main question; the second part was to seek the general pedagogical guidelines or values that we need to articulate, and the third part was to survey and imagine the practices and processes in primary and secondary schools that might be directly relevant to our main question.

The following pages aim to capture some of the emergent insights from the seminar.

Our thoughts around the Seminar’s general question..

Education, with its focus on individual performance and attainment, can easily indulge self-absorption and instrumentalise learning. Therefore, for learning to be situated within relationships and for students to be less self-obsessed and more open to others, and to experience and express care for each other and for the world, the classrooms and the overall learning environment within schools must be where ethics is located. Schools must provide pedagogical conditions and curricula activities for nurturing caring relationships.

An ethical problem emerges when there is presence of differences and when we negotiate how to engage with differences. This can mean both becoming open to others who are different, and resolving our ignorance about the others. However, traditional epistemology tends to do with correcting false beliefs or errors in our knowledge but not dealing with ignorance. Hence the necessity for dialogue without giving up on oneself, which is incommensurable. The idea of strong and weak subjectivity points to dialogical subjectivity (in-between the two) which implies that people should co-create with others.

The fundamental educational question is about how to engage young people in dialogue with respect and appreciation of differences. Agency is a form of receiving, to receive the other, it is necessary to confirm oneself. The ethical is also about the existential and spiritual, such as longing for a good life. Human vulnerability suggests an opportunity to be open to the other. An articulation of our vulnerability is needed for the reorientation of the spiritual. Educational settings are communities for the sharing of vulnerability, they are spaces for sharing imagination – an inter-human exchange. Turning oneself outwardly towards others, a recognition of our sacredness.

There are three points of contention

First, self-other dichotomy could presuppose individualism which relies on ideas of persons as bounded entities, separated by boundaries. Likewise, although phenomenology starts with the ‘I’, experience itself is actually public (eg. pain in a boxing ring and pain from being beaten in the street). The notion of ‘I’ is quite different in different contexts. Therefore, the self must be conceived relationally rather than individually.

Second, although ethics is about creating the good, something worth living for, this in turn presupposes the idea of bad or evil and in that sense the ethical project could be dangerous. Educational practices (eg. through grading) already contain an implicit ethics of good and bad that are secularised and corrosive. Thus we need dialogue but without putting the individual at the forefront, co-creating and co-constructing the idea of goodness in the community.

Third, in western countries where moral ethics are no longer provided by religions and faith traditions, the ignorance of religion and faith can also increase the clashes between people about ethics. However, diversity requires value pluralism and a pedagogy of difference so that students can appreciate diversity more deeply. We need dialogue without clashes. For education to move towards a human-centred focus, it needs to reconstruct our values system and reconsider relationships in schools.

Theoretical principles of ethical education

The world is broken partly due to the fact that our socio-political structure instrumentalise people and we tend to treat each other as objects (eg, the way we place people into roles and functions and only treat them as so). Therefore we must consider the relational nature of our being, and that to be is to be with others and participate in each other’s being.

Ignorance isn’t only the lack of knowledge; it can also be the lack of caring for an area of knowledge. Ignorance of others can be a form of uncaring. This is important for our understanding of the epistemology of human relationships – to know others is to open ourselves to others in a caring way, and vice verse. (Aristotle’s approach to ethics through character education may seem to be seeking universality. Ethical education is more expansive, it is about learning to care.

There has to be tension in the principles, for example, between the uniqueness and interdependency, because uniqueness implies pluralism. Values can be divisive (eg. British values in British schools), so we should emphasise human values as opposed to Christian, Islamic or British values. This doesn’t mean humanism which can exclude other traditions.

It is necessary to decide on the scale of the ethical education project, eg. to address the spread of individualism and the ethical at a political level.

The ethical lies in the process, one of generating a future together, a common future for all.

Pedagogical Principles of Ethical Education

Ethical education in schools should not be isolated programmes. In the light of schools currently being designed as performance-based systems, ethical learning requires a holistic transformation of what school is, including a shared understanding of what it means for a school to be good. In the same vein, we must stress that the desirable relationship is the generative kind that helps create community in which people can dialogue about different views of the good.

A starting point would be mapping the sites for ethical education in existing schools. We need to look at the totality of school experience as young people learn from their whole school experience, including educational vision, ethos, pedagogy, curriculum, overall environment and encompassing relationships, as well as some of the programmes and projects. For instance, how do we teach, eg. literature, arts, science, in ethically and relationally enriching ways? How do we construct participatory spaces? (How did young people learn to uncare? How do they become less participatory?) The ethical concerns not just the relationship between teachers and students, it is also located in the relationship between children and young people themselves, as well as amongst other stakeholders in the community.

Mapping out ethical spaces can help schools identify their own ethical focus and determine their own processes, inviting a more participatory and collaborative project. We will need alternative language and discourse to speak about the ethical. Such language and discourse can only emerge from within the community and cannot be imposed from outside or predetermined by experts. Listening is a key, which applies to both teachers and students. It is really important to have a space for children and young people’s voices within a school. The space cannot be window-dressing, but needs to be well-framed, with content.
It is necessary to reconceptualise what learning is. Current focus on knowledge acquisition in education urges us to consider what knowledge is. One point to consider is that knowledge isn’t propositional, it can be something that we create together.

We need to move away from the idea that ethical education is only about religion or religious studies. However, ethical education could include components of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and encounter.

Dialogue requires an equality between the interlocutors, the students and the teachers, so that all are respected as human beings. In dialogue learning, teachers are sometimes facilitators which would require different skills and sensitivities as well as a different way of being with the students (eg. the teacher is no longer the all-knowing.). This suggests that teacher training would allow an element of facilitators’ training. In the light of teachers’ vulnerability, the training will also nurture their courage to be a facilitator. One idea is to have contemplative workshops for teachers, not to teach contemplation but for teachers to experience how ethics can affect their teaching. Arts-based practice and learning through restorative justice can also support the ethical, both for the teachers and the students.

Young people will need protected space to explore their feelings, emotions, attitudes and relations. The teachers’ task here is to hold this space without too much directing or guiding. In this sense, sharing could be better than dialogue because it is more natural.

Providing opportunities for the students to decide how to present learning tasks and evaluate learning is part of the ethical (eg. students writing about their lives in formats of their choice). Such pedagogical practices are more empowering, and are conducive to developing ethical relations among the students and between the students and the teacher.

Practices of ethical education in schools

Ethical education focuses on building schools as spiritual communities. Good ethical education initiatives must: (a) touch the teachers’ attitudes and judgement (and is hence more empowering); (b) transform the student’s experiences (eg. increased respect for others); and (c) enable a buy-in from school leaders.

The school environment is a key, including the physical, social, emotional and overall relational environments. Mapping out these ethical spaces in schools can enable these spaces to be underpinned by sensitivity and aesthetics. They must be integral to school life.

The ethical educational project is about constructing ethical spaces that are relevant for students’ current experiences in schools and for our world today. In particular, we need more creative language to talk about this kind of education. We need to give names to these ethical spaces and work with teachers, students and others to co-create them.

It is equally important to offer teachers the kind of ethical space considered for young people (eg. dealing with bullying). Such spaces must be defined by the school and not detached from the normal practices of the school. For example, INSET days could offer rich spaces to explore the ethical, including the teachers’ own experiences of relationships.
The ethical must also apply to how learning is evaluated and reviewed so that evaluative practices continue to support the relational. This would be in total contrast to the individualist approach to testing which is not only oppressive, but also destroys relationships.

The power of examples through stories of good practices is highlighted. For instance:

(1) Two circles in a history class, the inner and outer. When a student has something to say, he/she moves to the inner circle, and can then offer the space for others to contribute by moving to the outer circle. This class demonstrates listening, engaging, giving voice.
(2) Counselling as a relational practice. Ethical spaces are defined by boundaries which are necessary for people to feel safe. A buddy system means that the students or the teachers can support each other in working through personal struggles through relational support.
(3) “Educating Together” in Ireland. This is an independent NGO that runs schools that guarantee equality of access and esteem to children “irrespective of their social, cultural or religious background”, are learner-centred in their approach to education and are run as participatory democracies, with respectful partnership between parents, pupils and staff. They are part of the state system. (https://www.educatetogether.ie/)
(4) Child Friendly Schools in China, supported by UNICEF. The project supports quality relationships, child well-being and whole-person learning. This is an illustration of shifting from a competitive approach to learning to learning to care. Other examples include democratic schools in Israel, in particular the bilingual Arab-Israeli schools.
(5) Play as an excellent way for children to learn ethically, eg. swimming together. The ethical is extended to beyond the boundary of the school, into the families, and other informal learning spaces. Play equally strengthens the relationships amongst children and adults.

Viewing it in this way, it would seem that in ethical education, the relational really matters. In other words, our project is to explore relational ecology.

Proposed ways forward

There was overwhelming enthusiasm to continue this dialogue and discussion about ethical education in schools. The group proposed four follow-up activities:

1. Re-Grouping: The proposal is to regroup at a later date to continue the conversation. The GHFP is willing to convene and host a second meeting.

2. Writing: The decision is to put together a collection of our articles and write the introductions and conclusions to the book collectively. Scherto and Garrett have been tasked to write a book proposal for the consideration of the Cambridge University Press’ series on innovation in international education.

3. Partnership: The idea is to find strategic leverages of change for developing ethical education in schools, such as working with UNESCO, and with schools including the Child Friendly Schools in China, the Educate Together schools in Ireland, and the teacher training programme in Israel.

4. Research: The suggestion is that at a later stage, we might apply for research grants to explore the ethical education case studies in these partners.