Students, teachers and other education stakeholders have a deep-rooted desire for peaceful, harmonious and prosperous communities.
By Muhsin Nuwagaba Kaduyu
For almost a year and a half now, I have been deeply involved in programmes that seek to promote dialogue and tolerance among students in both religious and secular institutions of higher learning in Uganda with a goal of preventing radicalisation and violent extremism.
One thing that strikes me as common among the students, teachers and other stakeholders that I have met is the deep-rooted desire for peaceful, harmonious and prosperous communities.
This is an issue of global concern. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) has expressed a commitment to peace and human rights education and more recently to global citizenship education (GCED), which aims to nurture respect for all, building a sense of belonging to a common humanity and helping learners become responsible and active global citizens. As such, it has developed many policy guidelines for education policy makers to support efforts to integrate GCED in their education systems and so much more.
While at Gulu University recently, the Minister of Education and Sports, First Lady, Janet Museveni said: “The learning process attained at university must make students find better methods of conflict resolution like dialogue…”
However, it is very unfortunate to note that this has not always been the case. We have witnessed cases where students use violent means to address their grievances and others recruited by violent extremist groups, something that has devastating consequences.
This extremist and radical behaviour raises very many questions that we must work together to find answers. For example, do the education stakeholders have the capacity to develop and implement educational interventions and approaches that contribute, effectively and appropriately, to the prevention of violence through resilience building and the promotion of global citizenship?
Are we giving the right kind of education that addresses the cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural dimensions of the learners? Are we creating the best kind of environment in our schools that fosters dialogue, respect and peaceful resolution of conflicts?, Are we fully utilising the available resources within and without our institutions in a bid to help students realise their full potential?
Are we fully helping these young people to channel their energies, talents and skills into more productive activities that contribute to the common good?
One great opportunity today that we can perhaps explore is social media which has tremendous potential to accelerate improvement in resilience and building social cohesion. Almost 68% of the students I have interacted with in all regions of the country use social media platforms to get information and to communicate with their peers. The challenge, however, is the availability of negative and extremist propaganda that sows seeds of hatred and intolerance and encouraging violence.
If we do not utilise this resource, the youth will continuously be exposed to daily bombardment of ‘fake news’, manipulative ideas and opinions that have criminal goals.
In my opinion, being able to defy such threats will highly depend on our commitment as a country to ensuring that all education stakeholders play an active role especially in three major areas;
• Ensuring that the class rooms become safe spaces for dialogue and mediation between conflicting parties at a school level.
• Ensuring training opportunities for students in interfaith dialogue and conflict mitigation, digital and critical literacy and management strategies and inclusion of all persons.
• Promoting extra-curricular activities that are focused on increasing understanding, appreciation, and collaboration across the various groups represented in the school.
Although it may appear that requiring schools to carry out these activities is difficult because of lack of enough time, scarcity of resources and the lack of direct ties to the curriculum, it is still very important to try because if we do not, the cost is too high in the long run.
This will no doubt be very helpful in our bid to cultivate in this important segment of the community, the youth, a more tolerant and respectful attitude towards diversity but most importantly, a concern for the common good by fostering values of participation, tolerance and responsibility.
The writer is a peace practitioner and interfaith dialogue activist