Living together in peace: a celebration of education, citizen engagement and prevention of violent extremism

Image: 
International day of leaving together

Faced with the COVID 19 pandemic, our interdependence and ability to unite to solve a collective problem together has never been more apparent. Tomorrow, we commemorate the International Day of Living Together in Peace, adopted by the United Nations in 2017 to celebrate a world that ”promotes peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity” (UN Resolution 72/130). On this day, we look to West and Central Africa and highlight the work of governments and partners to sustain efforts to live together in peace through education.

In West and Central Africa, climate change, poverty, gender inequality, political instability and unemployment threaten peaceful co-existence and sustainable development. As of early 2020, 12 of 24 states in the region experience armed conflict resulting in widespread forced displacement, both within the affected countries and their neighbors. This in turn amounts to almost 2 million refugees, 7 million internally displaced persons and 1.8 million people at risk of statelessness (UNHCR Regional Office for West and Central Africa).

Of the ten worst conflict-affected countries to be a child, according to a Save the Children report, four are in West and Central Africa: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Nigeria.

In this context, violent extremism is on the rise. According to the UNODC, violent extremism “includes forms of ideologically motivated violence” which can include “distort[ion] and exploit[ation] of religious beliefs, ethnic differences and political ideologies.”

As the threat increases, violence seriously affects educational opportunities: threats to education personnel and attacks on schools deny children their right to education and put them at increased risk of abuse, violence and exploitation.

As of February 2020, before most education systems closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, 3,641 schools were closed due to violence and insecurity in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger alone, affecting nearly 700,000 children and 20,000 teachers (Education Clusters Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger). These numbers have only increased due to COVID-19 containment measures: more than 128 million children are currently out of school across the region. While at home, young people spend more time on the internet, which renders them even more susceptible to the risks of online radicalization.

How can we promote living together and prevent violent extremism?

Learning to live together entails a development and understanding of ourselves and others, which leads to interdependence and peaceful, conjoint and intelligent responses to the world’s challenges. It contributes to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 4.7 (all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development) and to all other SDGs.

These values are shared by the international community, including the members of La Francophonie, which adopted the Yerevan Francophone Appeal for Living Together in 2018.

As a central component of SDG target 4.7, global citizenship education integrates the principles of living together and teaches learners to respond to global and local issues through the spirit of cooperation and interdependence. Respect for diversity and different identities – of gender, religion, culture and others - as well as an ability to think critically, lead learners to respond to the challenges they face with empathy to build a sustainable world. This kind of respect and understanding is needed now more than ever as we work to respond to a global pandemic in solidarity with one another.

Global citizenship education has been central to the response to violent extremism in the region, in particular through an approach known as prevention of violent extremism through education (PVE-E). While education alone cannot prevent violent extremism, it can limit the spread of extremist ideologies, discourse and propaganda by providing individuals with the skills to challenge them.

Education has the power to teach the tenants of peace, non-violence, peaceful conflict resolution, information and online literacy and social and emotional skills. When students are educated and equipped with the skills to resist harmful ideologies, the spread of extremism becomes limited.

Learning to live together and PVE-E also promote transformation. This can mean a transformation of one’s self, community, society and even the world. Transformation occurs through action, and learners should be encouraged to take action to create change. Transformative pedagogy and participatory, student-centered approaches can be utilized in the classroom, as opposed to rote learning or memorization, to nurture active, critical and resilient citizens.

It is important to support both learners and teachers when it comes to transformative pedagogies. Teachers need support in the form of pre- and in-service training to equip themselves with new approaches and networking as they apply new tools in the classroom.

The Learning to Live Together (LTLT) task team has worked with the ministries of education in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal to promote these pedagogical shifts through adaptation to national contexts, training trainers and teachers, following up and support and involving the community, including parents and families, in these changes.

Transformational pedagogy can be applied to education at different levels and across disciplines. This is the case in Mauritania, where the education ministries and other line ministries are working with UNESCO to introduce the pedogogical approach into literacy and non-formal education programs and within subjects such as civic education, science, Islamic education, Arabic and French.

In the COVID-19 era, it is also important that existing PVE-E projects be adjusted to allow online or mobile phone programming. For example, UNHCR supports refugee teachers, students and host communities to continue distance activities on prevention and awareness-raising by organizing online training and activities, including through WhatsApp groups.

The LTLT team’s members exchange knowledge and experience among themselves and with government focal points working on PVE-E. Practitioners working on learning to live together can find critical resources in both French and English, links and a community of fellow professionals at vivons-ensemble.net.

 

You can also find this article on the website of the Global Partnership for Education.