UNESCO programmes foster global citizenship, counter extremism

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

UNESCO holds a workshop in Beirut to train teachers for the Education for Global Citizenship programme. [Photo courtesy of UNESCO Beirut]

UNESCO holds a workshop in Beirut to train teachers for the Education for Global Citizenship programme. [Photo courtesy of UNESCO Beirut]

Syrian refugees and Lebanese nationals will take classes on global citizenship in Lebanese schools this year that are designed to foster tolerance and counter violent extremist thought.

The Education for Global Citizenship programme and the programme on the prevention of violent extremism through education, both developed by UNESCO, aim to promote humane values and foster a generation that engages in more peaceful local and global communities, away from the language of violence.

Maysoun Chehab, the UNESCO official in charge of the programmes, spoke with Al-Mashareq about the initiative and its implementation.

Al-Mashareq: What new educational and cultural programmes is UNESCO in Lebanon working on?

Maysoun Chehab: The UNESCO regional office in Beirut is working on educational programmes to promote the culture of peace and non-violence in Lebanese society, which is bearing the heavy burden of Syrian displacement.

A need has emerged for people to learn how to live together, in light of the tensions and conflicts that arise.

We developed an educational programme on global citizenship to promote 'positive belonging' to a global community and a common concept of humanity, and have both Lebanese and Syrians experience solidarity, identity and shared responsibility to promote a better world and future.

Al-Mashareq: How is this done?

Chehab: We work on building knowledge, skills, values and behaviours that students, both Lebanese and Syrian, require to be able to contribute to the establishment of a more just, peaceful and tolerant world.

The goal is to enable students to engage and take active roles locally and globally by empowering them and developing their understanding of governance structures, rights, responsibilities and global issues.

This is particularly important as these issues, such as armed conflicts, wars and forced migration, impact everyone.

Al-Mashareq: What is the approved methodology for providing global citizenship education?

Chehab: We use multi-faceted approaches, with educational curricula that include, for example, human rights and learning for peace, sustainable development, global understanding, social justice and other matters.

These approaches are introduced into the Lebanese curriculum, in school textbooks, or outside the curriculum.

We look forward to it being applied in local communities.

What we are preparing is applicable to both regular and informal schools.

Work will be done to develop the concept of citizenship for all, because historically it has not reached all segments of the population.

Al-Mashareq: Is the programme directed at a specific age group?

Chehab: Education for Global Citizenship is a lifelong learning programme -- starting in early childhood, because the more we work on children the better the results will be -- and continued through all the educational stages.

The topics introduced by the programme require the involvement of all students, to educate them on new concepts in their lives, such as acknowledging the difference in and diversity of identities, religions, languages and gender.

What the programme offers in terms of the development of skills for living in a diverse world is a change in the students’ behaviour, as they are taught to care about others, empathise with them and respect diversity.

Al-Mashareq: Is the programme offered in countries other than Lebanon?

Chehab: It is being offered in Lebanon, Syria and several Arab countries, after we held regional conferences and consultative meetings with educators to hear their opinions, and with decision-makers to win their support.

The meetings encouraged us to make the programme applicable in multiple countries, in co-operation with the Ministries of Education in those countries.

In Lebanon, for example, we work with the Lebanese University faculty of education, through the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, to include the concepts of education on global citizenship in curricula, and hold workshops to train teachers and co-ordinators on how to apply it in Lebanese schools.

Al-Mashareq: How is the programme implemented in Syria?

Chehab: We worked directly on textbooks under the supervision of the Syrian Education Centre. We held workshops for specialists in curricula development and textbook writing.

All curricula were made to include education on global citizenship, including concepts such as human rights, non-violence, respect for others, tolerance, justice, dialogue, diversity and peace.

The textbooks were printed two months ago and will be used in the current school year.

Al-Mashareq: What about the programme on the prevention of violent extremism through education?

Chehab: There is no doubt that violent extremism is one of the toughest challenges facing our world, with the young generation being the most affected by the violent messages of extremists and terrorist groups.

Violent extremism points to the beliefs and actions of people who support and use ideology-driven violence to reach certain religious or political goals. Therefore, youth need a suitable learning opportunity to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes to resist campaigns that promote violence.

Hence, our job as an organisation and as educators is to prevent violent extremism before it happens, not after.

Al-Mashareq: What is the most important feature of the programme?

Chehab: While its objective is preventive, we help students and youth develop necessary and personal skills related to dialogue, learn how to deal with differences, learn peaceful approaches, and develop critical thinking.

Critical thinking involves investigating claims, verifying rumours, and questioning the legitimacy of certain extremist ideologies.

We help students strengthen their ability to withstand all the extremist ideas presented to them. We also work on the social and emotional skills that students need to overcome doubts and to engage constructively in society without resorting to violence.

We develop citizens who are familiar with all viewpoints in a critical manner and are able to participate in collective peaceful action.

Al-Mashareq: What is the mechanism used to implement the programme?

Chehab: We developed a guide for teachers that will be adopted very soon by Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries.

It is known as the 'Teachers' Guide on Preventing Violent Extremism'.

The guide will allow the teacher to conduct discussions inside the classroom on certain topics in a professional and proficient manner.

A class period titled 'Preventing Violent Extremism' will be dedicated to this, during which discussions will be held on topics such as global citizenship, so that they can be discussed by the students in a meaningful way.

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