WISE 2009 – EXCERPT OF THE FINAL REPORT
November 16-18, 2009
Day 1 / Pluralism: Civil Rights and Minorities in Education
Education and Diversity
Our institutions have to function within legal frameworks but what we usually ignore is that there are some international norms involving civil rights, minorities and education. UNESCO adopted a convention against discrimination in education in 1960 and the Hague Recommendations were adopted in 1995. The topics of civil rights and minorities are of recurring importance for most universities. Emigration is a major phenomenon in many societies and institutions increasingly have to take pluralism and diversity into account in the light of international norms.
Access is a big challenge, and northern institutions in particular have a duty to make international students welcome. Curriculum development is also a challenge. Respect is another, and it has to be considered in terms of freedom of thought and expression, religious practices and values. This raises the question of whether we should adopt secularism as a value. The experience varies a lot from country to country, and it can be difficult to implement it actively through assertive secularism. Passive secularism means having to adjust to minority requests so far as possible and the challenge is where to draw the line between the acceptable and the unacceptable.
It might be time to put forward international standards for universities, as the current norms only bind states. These standards could be student-oriented, could encourage dialogue and tolerance of differences, and could work towards the removal of barriers and the suppression of discrimination. Adoption of norms is easy, whereas the implementation is the hard part. It might be time for institutions to join in a declaration on pluralism, civil rights and minorities in education.
[Excerpts] Questions and Answers to Jacques Fremont
From the floor: Education should integrate the diverse cultures of Africa by using the African languages.
From the floor: We have other international instruments such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which recognises collective rights for indigenous people, and it might be good to see a declaration from this seminar in recognition of cultural rights.
Jacques FREMONT: Canada has not signed the Convention but we have worked for a long time to provide Aboriginal people with their own institutions and worked toward accommodating them in ours. However, we will have to wait some time before we see genuinely Aboriginal institutions in our countries.
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From the floor: The key of education is to empower individuals for local and global benefit. We need to develop curricula that will encourage students to return and develop the activities of their communities, such as agriculture.
From the floor: Some studies have found that 80% of education funding in developing countries goes to the top 20% of the population. This form of discrimination needs to be addressed. The structure is designed to serve the political and social elite, so the potential of the vast majority of young people goes to waste.
Jacques FREMONT: You can teach agriculture in primary school, but education about human rights and obligations is just as important to create more conscious citizens for tomorrow.
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From the floor: When talking about education rights we should also discuss guarantees to ensure that those rights materialise and who in the end is responsible for implementing them.
Jacques FREMONT: I do not believe rights should be defined only by compliance. Governments have to prioritise education rights as fundamental. It takes 10-30 years to reap the fruit of your investment in education, which is why you need to be forward-looking.
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From the floor: Western countries tend to assume that identity is the same thing as national identity but developing countries do not necessarily see it that way. There is a long way to go for stakeholders to develop a worldwide vision of identity.
Jacques FREMONT: The world is enriched by its identities. The concept of the nation has demonstrated its uselessness in recent history and we need to find a new and more adequate concept.