For Global Citizens: an Education Fit

We believe this is a model for how we enable students to become genuine global citizens, at ease with the cultures, faiths and beliefs that inspire so many people around the world.

for-global-citizensGlobalization will be the greatest force for good in the 21st century, but it will also create the century’s greatest challenges, including the resulting conflict and extremist views that can arise when different faiths and cultures are thrown together.

Young people are now more connected with the world than ever. So it is vital that our education system helps them respect difference, especially when technological advancement means they are vulnerable to those that advocate division.

Through the prism of an 18-year-old, there is no longer on or offline. It is just there – the connections, the news, the views and the bad stuff. Young people are at the forefront of a revolution in technology that continues to bring the world ever closer together.

We can all now be first hand witnesses to provocative events half way around the world. Without the context that time and traditional news reporting allowed, the flames can take hold instantaneously. Distortion is simple and misinformation easy to prosecute.

This is evident when we think of those who twist and hijack religion for their own, often violent, ends. They know how quickly the fire takes hold, and are using it to their advantage.

If we can teach our children to recognize our common bonds, our common humanity that we share with the other cultures of the world, then we can have a better idea than those who seek to distort and divide.

It is vital we create compelling counter narratives to make the unfamiliar familiar. What’s needed is the practical support required to help prevent religious prejudice, conflict and extremism.

Understanding the scale and nature of the manipulation is only the first step. We need to create our own firebreak. A safe space where we can build resilience among all communities so that they can reject the distortion and divisive messages others try to seed. For our part, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is empowering young people to make just these connections through our schools program.

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Active in more than 30 countries and connecting more than 35,000 students worldwide, we combine education with opportunities to make familiar the unfamiliar.

Through video conferences, a familiar medium to the Skype generation, we facilitate personal interactions with lasting emotional resonance by exposing people to others with different cultures and beliefs. This is an exciting time for us in the US. Our target is to connect 1,000 schools in the US to 1,000 schools in Muslim-majority countries and beyond.

This is not about forcing views on anyone – they discuss each other’s perspectives in a respectful and safe way. It’s about helping young people gain the knowledge and skills to understand religion and its impact on the world, building greater capacity for them to be resolute in the face of negative influence.

The Foundation already works with several governments, and wants to work with more, to ensure we achieve this impact worldwide.

We believe this is a model for how we enable students to become genuine global citizens, at ease with the cultures, faiths and beliefs that inspire so many people around the world. Helping them ultimately to respect, not fear, difference.

Charlotte Keenan is the Executive Director of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, US http://www.tonyblairfaithfoundationus.orgRead more articles by Charlotte.