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Group Submission Type: Panel Session
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisages “a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination” (UN 2015, p. 7). It places a strong emphasis on peaceful, just and inclusive societies, as an unprecedented opportunity to set the world on a sustainable course and to ensure a life of dignity for all.
However, while the world is progressively embracing principles of equity, diversity and tolerance, it remains deeply divided. An alarming number of serious instances of intolerance and discrimination – including acts of aggression, intimidation and coercion, and violence – have recently occurred in many parts of the world.
A growing threat is posed by terrorism and violent extremism. With its increasing intensity and global spread, violent extremism activity threatens the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and violates the universal standards of justice enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other agreements. Its effects can spill over regionally, nationally and globally, impacting economic performance, creating pressures in the form of displaced populations, both internally and as refugees, and diverting resources toward containing violence and thus away from development. This, in turn, “reduces the sustainability of economic growth, weakens social cohesion and security, encourages inequitable access to and use of global commons, undermines our democracies, and cripples our hopes for sustainable development and peaceful societies” (Mohammed 2015, p. 1). In the long run, all such activities undermine development.
Addressing these issues requires a unified response and an integrated agenda that looks at the problem across the social, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions, including access to education, healthcare and resources.
Central to these efforts is education. Promoting equitable, inclusive and quality education is “the way to disarm the processes that may lead to violent extremism, by undermining prejudice, by fighting ignorance and indifference” (UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, at the 18th Commonwealth Lecture in London, 25 February 2016). The process, which requires concerted action at all levels, from local to national, and regional to global, involves engaging children, youth and adults in strengthening the narrative of a single humanity and empowering them as agents of change.
In 2016, UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE) launched an initiative to prevent violent extremism through the mainstreaming of universal values in curricula. This initiative notes that the global vocabulary and dialogue on addressing intolerance, violence, and extremism have focused more on diversity than on similarities. While efforts to acknowledge and celebrate our differences are critical, they remain incomplete: we cannot fully appreciate our differences unless we recognize and embrace our common humanity.
At the heart of this position lies an understanding of the remarkable diversity of our world, coupled with a keen appreciation of the shared humanity that unites us. Our working assumption is that acknowledging and even celebrating the universality of human values is the first step toward living together in unity and harmony.
The IBE’s response builds on UNESCO’s raison d’être: to promote international understanding, cooperation, peace, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also builds on the third pillar of learning, underlined in the UNESCO Delors report: “learning to live together” (Delors et al. 1996). Learning to live together begins with a “qualified universalism of human values”, a stance that acknowledges the dominance of shared human values, tempered with the contextual particularity of some values.
The IBE proposes a hybrid approach that is both philosophically based and educationally pragmatic in recognizing both the universality and the particularities of values. This hybrid position may be referred to as ‘qualified universality’.
While acknowledging that a range of different interpretations, tensions, and assumptions confront the notion of universal values, the IBE maintains that a hybrid approach of qualified universality is possible, based on philosophical and socio-psychological arguments about common values across cultures. This qualified universality embraces cultural plurality, while recognizing that common values are paramount.
Diversity, pluralism, and personal freedom are not incompatible with the recognition of universal values. On the contrary, universal values are actually required if we are to protect diversity, pluralism, and freedom, “treating each human being as an agent and an end” (Nussbaum 1999, p. 63).
The IBE argues for ongoing, dynamic processes of deliberation on how such qualified universality can take place at multiple levels of education and learning – e.g., from national curriculum to schools, from formal to informal curricula, etc. – as well as in cross-national forums such as those that the CIES facilitates.
This panel brings together leading scholars and practitioners, whose work and thinking reflect a genuine belief in the urgent need to learn to live and work together, to improve the human condition.
Delors, J. et al. (1996). Learning: The treasure within. Paris: UNESCO.
Mohammed. A. J. (2015). Deepening income inequality. Geneva: World Economic Forum.
Nussbaum, M. (1999). In defense of universal values. The Fifth Annual Hesburgh Lectures on Ethics and Public Policy. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame.
UN [United Nations] (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015. New York City, NY: United Nations.
Universal values, democratic deliberation and addressing sensitive topics in the classroom - Felisa Tibbitts, Teachers College, Columbia University
Understanding prejudice and education: The challenge for future generations - Conrad Hughes, International School of Geneva, Switzerland
Community and school violence in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil: Resilience process of peace through education - Medardo Tapia Uribe, Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Education's role in preventing violent extremism: Opportunities and challenges - Laura Davison, Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)