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Religion and International Mindedness and Education

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Religion and International mindedness

“I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds but our hearts and souls”-Malala Yousefazai

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“Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.”Adolf Hitler

The term “universal education” that Hitler feared, I imagine is the concept of international education that has made a mark for itself post World War II. He fretted on the philosophies of the liberals as they fought for equality and freedom. An educational system that supported such a process, that accepted every individual for who they are would be the face of true development. Hence, Malala is true in her belief that education needs to elevate a person’s heart and soul. What struck me about the particular quotes are their polar views about education.One by a girl who put her life at stake for education and the other by a tyrant who will be remembered for years to come.

As education is still undergoing reform to break away from its economic shackles, the world suffers from the rigid and political propaganda that seeps through the educational systems.

The easiest target of such propaganda is ‘Religion’. It seems to be the primary weapon used to lead people astray. I will speak for my religion as we have become targets of endless prejudice. As a Muslim, when I scrutinize the situation, I realize that it is a lack of education and understanding of our own scriptures that are the root of our problems. As a community, we are drawn to follow the most powerful or influential person. If one was to wonder why the Nazi’s followed Hitler it is very easy to see how his propaganda misled thousands of people and led to the annihilation of millions more because people just want to believe and do not want to spend time learning or understanding for themselves but rather just follow somebody who ‘SEEMS’ to know. He is famously known to say “Let me control the textbooks and I will control the state.”

So the questions that arise are:

Are the current educational systems that offer religious education equipped to create individuals who can change the world i.e., in a nutshell, create “internationally minded students” who are able to think for themselves and understand what makes us different and why?

Or will the complete boycott of religion help students view each other as humans above all differences and divisions?

International-mindedness and Religion

Over the course of the entire term in EDN 519 the one thing that has been a point of countless debate and challenge is the definition of the term “International mindedness”.As a concept, it is intertwined with many factors which makes it difficult to differentiate it from multi-culturalism or intercultural understanding (James, K. 2005). The fact that most of the cultures have their roots in religion or religious practices, one may argue that international-mindedness is closely linked to religious awareness and understanding.

International education and Religion

The IB was set up with the aim to ensure an education that crosses boundaries and creating responsible world citizens. However, as noted by Walker (2010) it has been widely criticized for its western influence and the need for cultures to be integrated to promote international mindedness in a true sense. With such an argument in mind would it becomes necessary to educate students about religions around the world. This is evident in different parts of the world as some countries strongly believe in religion being a part of the education such as UK, Norway, Middle East, Ireland.

The reason is that it is believed that the human values that are taught by all religions are the same such as tolerance, understanding, and respect. While some states choose to educate students in the religion of the country such as the UAE, other countries educate students in religions from around the world such as the UK and Ireland. Which approach is better is a topic for further research. As I am a teacher at an Islamic school I interviewed the VP of our school on the pros or cons of students who leave school having experienced only one culture. She was quick to point out that although we are an Islamic school our community is made up of individuals from all walks of life, with students and teachers from over 60 different nationalities and at least 4 different religions, as students and faculty from other faiths are also accepted into our Islamic school. This, therefore, creates an international environment under an Islamic umbrella ensuring exposure while keeping the students rooted in our culture. Which brought to mind the quote from the Holy Quran(49:13)” O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other .”

A further conversation with a Christian mother who opted to send her child to our Islamic school to provide the child options of different belief systems was an eye opener as it shows a real open minded and forward thinking approach on the part of the parents.

With these points in mind one might argue that a strong and correct (I stress ‘correct’ as it is the ignorance and a lack of proper understanding of scriptures that gives way to the brainwashing phenomenon of religious fascists) base in an understanding of religion whether one’s own or that of others would create a stronger sense of brethren and respect as it would enable students to see the world from the viewpoint of others as well as accept the differences, ensuring greater adaptability and less friction between different sections of the society.

International Education and Human values

Nussbaum (1997) suggests that given how complex each culture is and how difficult it would be to amalgamate them, it is perhaps easier to start at the most human of needs and observe how different cultures deal with each aspect and by accepting these differences the students could possibly gain an appreciation of different paradigms. The IB highlights these attributes in its learner profile which aims at creating individuals who are open-minded, knowledgeable and caring thinkers who understand that there is always more to learn and that there will be views that are different from their own. They accept that their duty is towards the world as a whole and they are the ones who can make a difference. Hence, they would ideally hold human life and rights above everything else as they would view the world as a shared space. This would inevitably lead to a harmonious existence.

Many countries around the worlds believe in separating state and religion such as Lebanon that is a secular country and aims to stay neutral hence neither banning nor promoting religious education. Similarly, Japan is of the view that a religious education would contravene the constitutional separation of state and religion, therefore religious education is replaced by a compulsory subject “Ethics”. This has been a result of numerous changes and reforms following World-war II to avoid hurting any religious sentiments and keeping the calm between the numerous religions and sects in the country. The many cycles of reforms in the Japanese constitution regarding religion rightly highlight the complex and delicate balance between religion and education.

Conclusion

The role of religion in creating internationally minded students is still debatable as at the root of any educational system whether based on religion or human values are tolerance and mutual respect. Hence, one has to wonder what or who are the catalysts of prejudice and religious discord. Undoing the damages of external factors such as media, internet, community and government are the teachers and school community who are entrusted with the herculean task of opening the minds of their young learners and developing their skills to be able to create citizens who are able to accept individuals for their differences and adapt to different circumstances while holding their own beliefs. Therefore, a good education begins with good teachers as pointed out by Aga Khan, in his speech, wherein he stressed the importance of educating teachers to go beyond books and accept the beliefs and ideologies that would make the world a better place. Now whether these beliefs are rooted in religion or international ideologies seems to be of little importance. What is important is the role and responsibility that we as a teaching community are willing to take on. This makes the suggestion by Leslie Snowball (2007) about educating teachers to be international-minded and a certification that requires teachers to be ‘adaptable’ and ‘reflective’ is very important. As a practice, this needs to be adopted irrespective of the curriculum that a school follows, as noted by Zsebik (2004) different curriculums differ on issues and the importance of creating a truly international outlook, although the IB curriculum has a head start in this matter it still has a way to go. How this would affect the ability of the students to adapt to different cultures would be a question that can be explored and researched in the years to come as educational systems around the world work towards instilling 21st-century skills in their future generations.

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