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Teaching Tolerance

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Teaching Tolerance

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In conflicts across the world education has been crucial in helping to build lasting peace. In the right circumstances the classroom can be a garden where reconciliation and tolerance bloom. Northern Ireland, which is still emerging from decades of sectarian violence, provides a good example of this.

Divided communities have come together in special integrated schools where barriers are broken down and a culture of peace and mutual respect prevails.

Although surveys suggest that 84% of parents would like their children to go to schools with both Protestants and Catholics, there are still very few of these schools in Northern Ireland and 95% of children go to schools which are segregated along religious lines.

Learning to live together after a conflict is a huge challenge for former enemies. To accept each other they must learn from their shared history, and that is not always easy. War in the former Yugoslavia ended 15 years ago, but as one teacher in Croatia tells us “there are still walls in the minds of people”.

Here they are implementing a programme designed with Unicef to reduce violence and bullying in schools.

The ex-Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, who is also the founder of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, said: “The education must be truthful and that means that different groups cannot only reproduce their truth. Peace starts at home, peace starts in school, bringing people together, giving them a shared history, so they can have a shared understanding of the future – that is the key.”

And finally, can music mend broken lives? They certainly believe so at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul. Here, young people whose early years have been blighted by war are being given hope for a brighter, harmonious future.

This music school in Kabul is an oasis of peace but only a few months ago, these children were amongst the 70,000 children living on the city’s streets. For them, music is much more than a hobby.

Students here get a small grant to compensate them for loss of earnings on the street. They also restore traditional instruments like the sitar. But modern music is not neglected. They learn rock and roll too.

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