Table of Contents

  • The Commonwealth Secretariat launched Civil Paths to Peace, a Report of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding, in 2007. This was the outcome of a mandate given by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their 2005 meeting (CHOGM) held in Malta to look into causes of conflict, violence and extremism in Commonwealth countries. At the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (17CCEM), held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Ministers discussed how education could contribute to enhance respect and understanding among its citizens and urged the Secretariat to focus its work on fostering education for Respect and Understanding based on core Commonwealth values, among other priority areas.

  • Commonwealth countries face a range of significant challenges in contemporary times, relating to conflict, HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, threats to social cohesion and disengagement of young people. The Civil Paths to Peace report in 2007 gave education a central role in promoting the ‘respect and understanding’ agenda across the Commonwealth and responding to these challenges. However, engaging education for these ends requires a sustained focus on the nature of educational processes. While expanding educational access is essential, research shows that attention must be paid to the content of schooling, since schools can promote as well as work against conflict.

  • While there have been significant advances since the Second World War in global understanding and the protection of fundamental human rights, many people around the world still contend with conflict, discrimination, insecurity and poverty. In responding to these tragedies and challenges, education – in its many forms – is often granted a pre-eminent role.

  • This well-known reflection by the seventeenth century English poet John Donne is a timeless expression of the idea we should feel solidarity not just with our immediate relatives, clan or nation, but with the whole human family. These ideas have a philosophical formulation in the idea of cosmopolitanism. Yet what is the basis of the idea that we should feel care for and responsibilities towards all human beings? Is it not right that our responsibility should be restricted to those closest to us, our family and friends or perhaps to our village, city or nation? These questions are central to discussions of ethics more broadly, but have come to the fore with the increasing prominence of debates around the concept of ‘citizenship’ in recent years. Citizenship has become a focal point for a variety of reasons, including the increasingly diverse nature of many formerly homogeneous societies through migration, debates over the granting of official residents’ rights to undocumented workers, as well as disillusionment with the conventional political processes and institutions and the consequent decline in voter turnout in some countries.

  • Today, I add my small voice to what I hope will become a groundswell of protest from a mature citizenry against a destructive, ethnically polarized political culture which has been entrenched for too long and which threatens to plunge us into civil disorder. Stop fanning the flames of ethnic antipathy in exchange for votes… For the sake of beauty, fragility, the astonishing creative potential of our New World Civilization, let us be mature enough to… recognise and respect differences, to seek healing, to build bridges, to honour and appreciate diversity.

  • Citizenship education across the Commonwealth shows considerable diversity, as might be expected given the significant differences in the member states. Given that all education has civic implications – whether or not these are made explicit – to provide a comprehensive review of the effects of schools and education systems on citizenship would be a considerable undertaking. Instead, this section will focus on conscious attempts to promote various forms of citizenship via the curriculum, whether through taught subjects or other educational experiences. In this, it will focus primarily on government initiatives within formal schooling – as these are the initiatives that the Commonwealth Secretariat can influence most directly – although it will also cover some work undertaken by community and non-governmental organisations, and non-formal contexts. Instead of attempting a comprehensive coverage of countries, this review presents some snapshots of policy and practice from around the world, so as to highlight the key dynamics and trends.

  • This chapter highlights examples of best practice in the development of respect and understanding. Most do not come under the label ‘citizenship education’ as such, but represent innovative ways of working towards political empowerment and intercultural understanding, and so share the same aims. There is also an extended discussion of school linking at the start, given its potential importance for respect and understanding. The examples are diverse in terms of the countries represented, with some taken from outside the Commonwealth – countries such as Kuwait and Mexico – since it is important to maintain awareness of practice elsewhere in the world, and learn from it. There is also substantial diversity in terms of the level of education, with some examples taken from school level and others from higher education and adult learning, as well as diversity in the provider and form of education, involving governmental and non-governmental initiatives in formal and non-formal education. Most of the examples involve transformation of the curriculum or educational environment, but importantly in some cases also involve extending access to marginalised groups. Needless to say, this is not an exhaustive account of best practice, and many other cases (such as UNICEF’s child friendly schools) could also have been included.

  • The central dilemma for education in divided societies lies in the way its schools engage with issues of difference. The historical role of education systems has been to promote social cohesion either by inculcating children into the national community through a process of assimilation, or by preparing them for their appropriate station in life within the ordered hierarchy of society, or, perhaps more often, both at the same time. Conflict arises when elites have to work hard to maintain a position of domination or when oppressed groups see a possibility of change; violent conflict emerges when there are no alternative routes to prosecuting these claims. What then of the role of education?

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