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“The highest result of education is tolerance”
Helen Keller 1903
Annual IFAE Adult Education Conference.
Translated by Ron Farrell
The Hague, April
Good morning and welcome to this conference on Peace, Tolerance and
Understanding in education. I am honoured to have the opportunity to address you on this special occasion. I wish to congratulate all those who graduate today. Many of you have been out of formal education for a number of years and have over the past couple of years devoted yourselves to adding a qualification to your portfolio. We hope your experience was an inspiring one and that you will regard this not as an end but as one of the many forays back to education as a lifelong learners.
Ladies and Gentleman, the title of my address to you this morning is peace, tolerance and understanding. When a small group of educationalists set up the International Foundation for Adult Education in 1985, few had little idea of how relevant such an educational project would become. The motto behind the IFAE philosophy is a simple statement made by Helen Keller in 1903: “The highest result of education is tolerance”. The motto is based on the idea that most of us have been socialised to think and communicate in very limiting ways, we are quick to judge and criticise people and actions without adequate understanding and we can cause frustration and pain in ourselves as well as others. IFAE’s aim is to promote self development, self awareness, mutual respect and compassion. It encourages patterns of thinking that lead to functional handling of emotions and helps to reduce stress. I have over thirty year experience in adult education and one of the greatest reward at the end of a programme is undoubtedly the maturity that come with developing skills in nurturing and compassion and opposing prejudice, ethnocentrism and intolerance.
Our notion of peace, tolerance and understanding have been profoundly affected by conflicts in this decade. UNESCO’s Constitution, drafted at the end of World War-2 was dedicated to the permanent abolition of war states “ War begins in the minds of men… (and) it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. Just as violence is a learned behaviour so is peace. The key for the prevention of violence is in our minds, and education is an essential instrument in the development of understanding and harmony. A good starting point for learning tolerance and understanding is with Carl Rogers, the US psychologist. Rogers developed in the late 1940’s a positive view of humanity which sees the person as instinctively moving towards their full potential which he calls ‘fully functioning.’ This process of change which occurs through reflection is achieved through the core conditions of empathy, congruence and unconditional regard. Rogers believed that given these core conditions everyone would grow and develop awareness. It is non-threatening method which allows individuals to direct the process themselves. We need a type of education which differs from the didactic method which see the student as an empty vessel to be filled with the wisdom of the teacher. If we are dedicated to the development of the whole person in adult education we need to be adventurous in our programmes and testing methods and willing to move away from what Dr. Sunita Gandhi, president of the Council for Global Education calls a “model based on the 19th. century industrial revolution in England which is not adequate for the needs of the 21st. century.”
The IFAE teaches how to think, how to isolate observation from evaluation, how develop and form opinions and support them. We live in a world where we are bombarded with information from all sources: information influenced by the motives of those who give it, their knowledge and their emotional state at the time of giving it. Sometimes fact and opinion are intertwined. In modern society we need to develop the basic skill of thinking to help us recognise what is valuable. In “Teach your child to Think” Edward de Bono claims that thinking skills need to be developed. He states: “Information is easy to teach. Information is easy to test. It is not surprising that much of education is concerned with information. Thinking is no substitute for information but information may be a substitute for thinking”. Information is easy to evaluate, a computer programme can tell us if we are right or wrong. Thinking, on the other hand is far more difficult to test and requires guidance and devoted teachers and mentors. Thinking skills involve observation, reflection and evaluation. An educational programme which seeks to promote thinking skills must seek not only facts or information from their students but qualities, characteristics and potentialities that help the development of the unique dimension of the person. Or in other words, the development of the person’ s inner core which allows for personal development, growth and a unique approach.
There are many foundations working and striving for a better world at many levels. The Stichting IFAE is a model in promoting coexistence education for adults. The Stichting Vredeseducatie in Utrecht, which is involved in the development teaching packages and educational software also presents interactive exhibitions for children at primary and secondary level. There is a need among NGO’s to develop innovate educational expertise like these models. There must be commitment and resources provided for the further development of such projects at all levels of education. Financial commitment to
these projects must be long lasting and enduring and not just a governmental impulse, easily forgotten about in times of recession or economic hardship.
Among the graduates today are the first group who were recipients of the International Foundation of Adult Education (IFAE) scholarship programme. When this scheme was introduced it was greatly welcomed and we expect it will help many groups and individuals to achieve their educational goals and ambitions.
Finally I would like to thank you all for your attention and wish you all peace, tolerance and understanding in the years ahead. Today as you accept your parchment whether as teachers, community workers, researchers or practitioners in your chosen career, you also accept the responsibility to cultivate peace in your daily life- in your family, community, work and country. We must take control not only of our personal destiny but that of our family, community and country. A quotation from 1986 Seville Statement on Violence sums this up succinctly:
"Biology does not condemn humanity to war---the same species that invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us"