How an organization promotes non-violence, tolerance and peace in school education in the Middle East

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December 3, 2022 4:09 PM ET

How an organization promotes non-violence, tolerance and peace in school education in the Middle East

By
marcus sheff

Note: This article was adapted from the IMPACT-se research and website.

The Institute for the Monitoring of Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) brings a practical approach to the field of educational research and policy-making. By analyzing the contents of textbooks used in national school curricula, it assesses the content in relation to international standards of peace and tolerance, delving into the parts of the curriculum that do and do not meet these standards.

This work, which has been going on for more than a quarter of a century, is based on the assumption that school education is the key to promoting the development of peaceful and tolerant societies. Of course, it can also be a tool for political and religious radicalization when exploited by ill-intentioned actors. Since textbooks reveal what a society believes in the present and its future aspirations, they are powerful political predictors.

The principles of peaceful and tolerant education also apply to educational content produced in conflict-affected areas. It is indisputably important that this material is free from inaccurate, biased or discriminatory representations of different groups in society and that students are taught the values ​​of peace, responsible citizenship, equality and tolerance in all circumstances. In conflict zones, peace education helps build peace and resolve conflicts.

Attitudes that promote peace, tolerance and nonviolence range from a national context to an international one or one that blurs the lines between the two. In a national context, on the one hand, IMPACT-examines state-sanctioned education with respect to ethnic and religious minority groups, as well as other marginalized groups in society, such as women and immigrants. Examples of these include textbooks that reference the Sunni-Shia divide or the traditional role of women in Iranian and Saudi Arabian curricula, immigrants in the UAE’s multicultural school system, or the community Kurdish in the Turkish education system. On the other hand, IMPACT-se also analyzes the curricula of minority groups, such as the Haredi Orthodox Jewish education system and the Arabic language curriculum in Israel, to monitor references made to an ethnic, religious or cultural majority.

Case studies of international conflicts and animosity between peoples or coalitions of nations relevant today represent another category, like Ukrainian and Russian history textbooks. Here, textbooks present skewed historical narratives and contempt for the “other,” with little impetus for peacemaking as a conflict resolution strategy. Curricula do not offer balanced perspectives on historical events, which reduces students’ ability to challenge such narratives and move beyond them toward conflict resolution. However, the historically protracted conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is a case that transcends national borders. IMPACT-se pays attention not only to references to Palestinians in Israeli curricula and vice versa, but also to how conflict is framed in countries with large Palestinian populations, Jordan being the most prominent example.

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IMPACT-examines textbooks from many disciplines covering entire curricula, including Islamic studies, Jewish thought, moral education, history, geography, biology, mathematics, and science. In addition to textbooks, teaching guides provide authoritative models for how educational materials are interpreted and presented in the classroom, and therefore serve as key sources for research. Furthermore, as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) points out in its guide, beyond identifying obvious content, such as references and frequency of text and examples that incite hate or violence towards the “other”, a careful This approach is necessary to uncover the hidden curricula and underlying assumptions in the way historical events, religious issues, and ethnic and racial backgrounds are portrayed, or how stories are conveyed. civic and moral norms to future generations.

When conducting research, IMPACT-is closely monitoring the question of national identity and how it is presented. It considers essential the promotion of a national identity that leads to peaceful prosperity, respect for minorities and good global citizenship. When the teaching of national or sometimes transnational identities represents a reality that includes conflict and the repression of minorities, the alarm sounds. IMPACT-transnational identities, including discussions of expansionism, such as Pan-Islam, Pan-Turkish, Khomeinism, Pan-Arabism, and Pan-Kurdish are often identified.

Throughout its body of work, IMPACT-se is guided by international standards prescribed by declarations, international recommendations, and United Nations (UN) and UNESCO documents on education for peace and tolerance. Such historical documents include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the United Nations Declaration of 1965 on the “Promotion among young people of the ideals of peace, mutual respect and understanding between peoples, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance of 1995, the Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy of 1995 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966.

IMPACT-se international researchers are guided by these standards and conventions when searching for words, images, and ideologies that may foster prejudice, misconceptions, stereotypes, and misunderstandings, or foster mistrust, racial hatred, religious intolerance, and national hatred. They also address ideas or theories that justify or promote acts and expressions of violence, incitement to violence, hostility, harm, and hatred toward other national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. The ultimate goal is essentially to encourage the development of curricula that promote tolerance, understanding and respect by developing a capacity for non-violent conflict resolution, using up-to-date, accurate, complete, balanced and non-judgmental educational materials. and the use of equitable rules to promote mutual knowledge and understanding among different peoples.

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To ensure accurate representation of obvious and hidden content, IMPACT-se combines quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze descriptions of “self” and “other,” as well as historical and social constructions within school curricula. A comprehensive review of all disciplines and textbook volumes ensures that curricula are assessed as a whole, rather than based on selected books or pages. The identification of key content is assisted by secondary literature on peace education.

As part of the qualitative stage of content analysis, passages and images are classified into categories that establish their meaning to incite hatred and conflict or, alternatively, to foster reconciliation and peace. Excerpts that reference historical, political, social, religious, and cultural implications are discussed further. All extracts identified in this process are documented and coded in a program, allowing extracts to be contrasted within and between subjects. An additional method of discourse analysis allows researchers to account for the importance of particular social idiosyncrasies and characteristics that vary from country to country.

More attention is paid to the pedagogical specifics of how textbooks in a particular discipline are structured and how they use text, images, and exercises in unison. IMPACT-se reports do not paraphrase or attempt to illustrate preconceived notions. As part of the quantitative analysis stage, researchers apply frequency and space analysis to determine how much content is dedicated to a given topic, and then check the validity of the previous qualitative stage.

IMPACT is dedicated to conducting follow-up research on the countries and curricula it covers in its reports, keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of national and international politics, the dynamics of which often seep into educational programs. This reality also provides the organization with an opportunity to assess to what extent the improvement of educational standards that promote peace and tolerance in school curricula has had a positive impact on emerging policies and vice versa.

marcus sheff He is the executive director of the Institute for the Monitoring of Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se).

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Picture: A Syrian refugee teacher distributes books to her refugee students in her classroom at the Fatih Sultan Mehmet school in the Karapurcek district of Ankara, Turkey, on September 28, 2015. Of the 640,000 Syrian children in Turkey, 400,000 are not are at school, a Turkish official told Reuters on Friday, warning that those who get lost are likely to be exploited by “gangs and criminals.” Educating children among the more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, most of whom live outside purpose-built camps, is seen as a key part of the humanitarian response to the four-and-a-half-year conflict. Picture taken September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

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