August 29 – 31, 2017 | New Delhi, INDIA
UNESCO MGIEP organised a three–day capacity building workshop for educators on the theme of preventing violent extremism through education from 29-31st August 2017 in New Delhi. This was a follow-up activity to the International Conference on the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) through Education: Taking Action organised jointly last September 2016 by UNESCO MGIEP and UNESCO HQ in New Delhi. This year’s workshop was attended by 35 educators and policy-makers from ten countries, namely; Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Columbia, Finland, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Zambia.
The workshop employed a transdisciplinary approach to education for PVE by integrating neuroscience, contemplative science and critical pedagogy to create a unique learning experience aimed specifically at building competencies for critical inquiry, mindfulness, empathy and compassion. The objective was to train and empower educators in applying these innovative and evidence-based pedagogies to address violent extremism through education in their classrooms.
The workshop began with a unique short exercise of mindfulness arriving conducted by Prof Marilee Bresciani from San Diego State University, who is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute. In his welcome address, Dr Anantha Kumar Duraiappah, Director of the Institute emphasised the critical role of education in preventing young people from resorting to violence and extremism, and gave a glimpse of the Institute’s programme on global citizenship education with its roots in neurobiology. The opening address was delivered by Mr Kewal Kumar Sharma, Secretary at the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development in India. He applauded the cutting edge work the Institute is doing, and further emphasised on the need for a holistic approach to education in a fast changing and technologically advancing world.
Following this, the participating countries presented a brief report on the state and forms of extremism existing in their country, its various driving factors, the challenges its poses to education and schooling as well as the country specific interventions undertaken by the government or the civil society to address it. The session on ‘Humanizing Extremism” intended to nudge people to break down the binary worldview that often colours people’s perception of the world.
Two former extremists-turned-peace educators shared their life story with the participants. Mr Basit Jamal, Ashoka Fellow and social entrepreneur shared his journey from a bright and inquisitive school student from an elite Delhi school, to an ideological radicalized Islamic youth who actively supported violence against the west, to finally coming around as a rational, thinking young adult committed to fostering a comprehensive understanding of the Holy Quran by educating Islamic clerics and at-risk youth to rethink and interpret Quranic scriptures in its totality. His story highlighted the importance of fostering independent and critical thinking in learners, and need for dislodging blind faith in figures of authority from people’s mind. The second speaker was Mr Arno Michaelis, a former white extremist in United States and founder of the organization, Life After Hate. Ironically, he couldn’t physically attend the workshop due to the Charlottesville violent protests as he was required to address the growing fear and uncertainty amongst the schools in the US. Nonetheless, he interacted with the audience over Skype. He shared his story as an urban, middle class white kid who became radicalized into the white supremacist movement, unleashing violence and fear among those he regarded as an out-group, and thus a threat to his in-group identity. He underwent a transformation of heart and perspective following the birth of his daughter whom he raised as a single parent. He has now committed his life to tackling prejudices and hate amongst adolescent boys, and involving them in various service learning activities to foster the defenses of peace in them. Finally, the intense first day concluded with a presentation by Dr Nandini Singh, a neuroscientist and Senior Programme Officer at UNESCO MGIEP on the roots of intellectual and social emotional learning in our brain, and how this has informed the design of MGIEP’s Libre programme.
The second day of the workshop allowed a hands-on training on two main components of Libre- critical inquiry (CI) and mindfulness, empathy and compassion (MEC) training. The sessions were woven into each other, divided into short 1 hour session including questions and answers. CI sessions were conducted by Prof KP Mohanan, visiting professor at the Center for Integrative Studies at IISER-Pune Pune. The MEC training was conducted by Dr Ludvik who guided the participants through various mini modules on cultivating open awareness, focused breathing, mindful listening, empathetic listening, offering kindness and just like me exercises, to name a few. The day ended with a presentation on the Youth-led PVE Guide, by Ms Yulia Nesterova who is one of the five dynamic young professionals developing it with the support of UNESCO MGIEP along with Centre for Prevention of Radicalisation Leading to Violence in Canada, Australian Government, and United Nations Alliance of Civilization.
On the final day, H.E. Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO paid a visit to interact with the audience. In her remarks, Madam Bokova said, “the mandate of PVE is more relevant today even though it was written in 1945.” She commended the amazing and daring work of the Institute and invoked Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “There is no route to peace. Peace is the route.” She went on to highlight the work that UNESCO is doing to help build the capacities of the member states to be able to prevent violent extremism, while mentioning the Teachers Guide on PVE and the Guide for Policy Makers among some of the readily available resources.
This was followed by a brief presentation by Raunak Jain, MGIEP’s Chief Technology officer, on an interactive digital platform which would host Libre programme. The workshop concluded with a discussion around the way forward to guide the participating countries in implementing the pilot phase of the project in their respective schools, as well as clarifying their doubts and concerns. Many countries were excited about the curriculum and embraced the idea of working with UNESCO MGIEP Libre team for the next three years of piloting the Libre curriculum.
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