Scherto Gill’s Contribution to the 2020 G20 Interfaith Forum

On 15th October, Scherto Gill, presented a G20 Education Policy Brief at the 2020 G20 Interfaith Forum. In her presentation, she highlighted the importance of exploring interfaith perspectives and interfaith organisations contribution to the global agendas, such as UN SDGs, the UN Convention on Climate Change, and so forth. Below is the transcript of her presentation.

“Greetings to all. It is such a privilege for me to take part in this distinguished panel, and my sincere gratitude goes to the organisers for creating such an important space at the G20 Interfaith Forum for a most timely dialogue about education.

Let me begin by recalling the two aspirations that have brought us together:

One is this year’s G20 Presidency Agenda, which calls on G20 leaders to “empower people, pave the way for a better future for all.” Hence, the theme: Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All.

The other is the raison-d’etre of the G20 Interfaith Forum. As already highlighted during the Opening Plenary, the Forum offers a platform where rich ideas, and values-based actions of the world’s religious, faith and interfaith communities contributing to the global agendas are heard and understood.

Indeed, under these aspirations, and in partnership with the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, the G20 Interfaith Forum launched an Education Task Force, consisting of experts from major global organisations, such as the Aga Khan Global Network, Arigatou International, Dream a Dream India, Open Society Foundations, Global Centre for Pluralism, and Plan C: Culture and Cohesion.

I had the honour of facilitating the Task Force research that explored precisely the intersection between interfaith organisations and communities’ educational initiatives and the relevant UN SDGs especially 3, 4 and 5, namely promoting health and wellbeing, quality and equality of education.

The research brought to light that during the COVID-19 pandemic, interfaith organisations in many settings have been empowering local communities to close the gaps resulted from school closures, lack of public services due to lockdown, and isolation. They also provided practical support to address the acute social, emotional and spiritual needs of children and young people at this difficult time.

What else have the Task Force learned from the research in terms of the priorities in education policy that encourage inclusion and diversity? I will briefly mention three points which I believe are particularly innovative and pertinent to this panel’s dialogue:

First, from an interfaith perspective, educational inclusion is more than ensuring access to schooling. Many interfaith educational programmes conceive inclusion as, above all, the nurturing of the whole child, and supporting every child’s well-being in all dimensions of their development, physical, social-emotional, intellectual, moral, cultural, and spiritual.

Second, an interfaith perspective, especially through the lenses of love, compassion, respect, and humility, tends to advocate the view that human diversity is to be celebrated, and that the presence of difference in the educational environments can serve to enrich our pedagogical practices, and encourage educators to be more sensitive to the evolving well-being and learning needs of all students.

Third, an interfaith approach demonstrates that embracing inclusion and diversity must be an integral endeavour. That is to say that these must not be treated as isolated gestures, or add-ons. Instead, inclusion and diversity must be a whole system process where the empowerment of educators is a key.

Based on these insights, the G20 Interfaith Forum Education Task Force were able to develop an education Policy Brief for the consideration of G20 leaders, highlighting three policy priorities:

  1. Advancing the Wellbeing of Every Child as the Core Aim of Education
  2. Ensuring Active Participation of All in Inclusive Learning Environments
  3. Aligning Teachers’ Professional Learning with a Wellbeing and Inclusion Focus  

Illustrative practices within these policy priorities include, for instance, interfaith curriculum, interreligious literacy, relational pedagogy, democratic participation, actively engaging students at the margin, empowerment of girls, dialogic and collaborative learning, and connecting teaching and learning to students’ lived realities,

To conclude:

These interfaith perspectives also prompt us to realise that education already holds the ‘cure’ of the widespread social malaise. Hence it is not an exaggeration to propose that the ‘vaccine’ to end the hidden pandemic, i.e. the prevailing social inequality and injustice, that has plagued humanity for so long, is precisely to be found in our education system only if it is inclusive, human-centred, and caring, and only if it aims to nurture the well-being of all, and realise opportunities for all.

As John Dewey cautioned, unless we do so, we will rob our children of their tomorrow.

Learning to Be Caring: Students’ Well-Being Through Ethical Education by Scherto Gill

In this lecture, I explore two questions:

  • How might we understand well-being, especially spiritual well-being, given its importance in post-Covid recovery and as a collective global focus?
  • How might we understand ethics and ethical education?

Conceptual reflection around these questions is important because it can help us consider a meaningful framework for ethical education in schools because without placing values in the right place – we will not be able to address the current global situations in a systemic way.

Well-being:

Covid-19 pandemic presents a great challenge to all educators, that is, to develop a common vision of well-being. Indeed, well-being has been notoriously difficult to define, and depending on the disciplines, cultures, and traditions, there can be different concerns to address when conceptualising well-being.

There are however some aspects to well-being that seem to help anchor all discussions without falling into one camp or another. For instance, we can all agree that well-being presupposes that humans are bearers of values whose dignity and intrinsic worth should be respected and appreciated equally regardless our differences. Viewing human’s being and our life as non-instrumentally valuable is a paramount to our understanding of well-being.

We also share a view that well-being is holistic, involving our being well and living well physically, emotionally, cognitively, relationally, identity-wise, and spiritually. This means that there shouldn’t be some aspects of human life omitted from an account of well-being. As a person must be perceived as a whole-person, these facets ought to be considered in an integral way. Also well-being concerns the person whose life it is and should be understood from the perspective of the person who is living it as such.

Hence well-being involves:

  • All the relevant aspects of human life, such as our experiences, activities and processes;
  • Meaningful relationships and connections with oneself, others, world, and with all that is sacred;
  • Our awareness of these as non-instrumentally valuable, that is living for living’s sake;
  • Our self-consciousness of our life as meaningful, including past, present and future.

Indeed, it is the synergy amongst all these facets of human life constitutes our well-being.

Within this conceptual framework, spiritual well-being might refer to our self-conscious awareness of ourselves as beings of dignity who are embedded in both the transcendent and the immanent dimensions of life. In other words, it is an awareness of oneself as a spiritual ‘I’, or a soul. This consciousness might be the fruit of religious practice, faith, or a deeply felt connection to nature or a passion for others, community, and society.

Clearly, our understanding of well-being underscores that education is a key to students’ human flourishing along these well-being domains. Students’ life in schools must comprise of rich activities and experiences, meaningful relationships and opportunities to nurture self- and other- awareness and self-consciousness. As Dewey once says: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Education and schooling should be site where students, teachers and others in the community nurture each other’s well-being, and co-create the good life for its own sake, i.e. living well together.

Ethical Education: Learning to become caring

Seeing from this vision of well-being, it is clear that ethical education is to be directed at learning to become more caring. Indeed, Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we can be profoundly ignorant of people’s differences, including their perspectives, beliefs, traditions and practices. These are often presented as fear. It also illustrates how unconcerned we can be about the suffering and plight of others. There is little love, no care. Therefore ethical education is very important. Without it, we may be contributing to a culture of apathy and uncaring. 

Traditionally, the field of moral education dominated by three approaches.

  1. Some schools focus on teaching moral values and virtues as a subject matter;
  2. Some schools emphasise the training of students’ moral reasoning, e.g. critical thinking;
  3. Others schools stress the cultivation of students’ character traits, e.g. social emotional learning.

Given the kinds of challenge confronting us, let’s review it from the perspectives of ethics.

  • Ethics is more than propositional knowledge and cannot be taught only as a subject. Ethics requires cultivating our sensitivities that constitute caring.
  • Ethics is rooted more deeply in the socio-emotional aspects of human relationships than in the moral principles and in reasoning from these principles. Ethics requires awakening and enlivening our appreciation of others;
  • Ethics cannot be expressed fully as characters to be worn by an individual. Ethics requires living out our loving and caring feelings towards others in relations with others.

From the view of ethics, relationship, relational process, and relational flow is always a primary consideration of human well-being and flourishing.

When education is based on a moral theory, it would be more concerned with teaching students to do the right thing, complying with a set of externally imposed duties, and schooling might involve enforcement of morally right actions and prohibition of wrong doings, or a system of praise, blame, guilt, and punishment.

When education is influenced by ethics, it is concerned with the quality of a life for the person living it, and for the community. Our peers, friends, families and other people are in part already constituted in our well-being. It is in the interest of the ethical life that we love, care, and relate to others with respect. Ethical considerations are therefore not an external imposition.

In this sense, the kind of ethics we are advancing through education is in effect Relational Ethics, concerning learning to become more caring, including caring for oneself, others around us, and people who are more distant. Caring is respect the intrinsic values of persons.

Relational ethics can avoid the false dichotomy between reason and passion, or rather cognition and emotion. For instance, ethical education can bring students attention to a particular situation that invites their feelings and emotions, and help them understand why it is important to care, and care deeply. Reason and passion together can deepen students’ sensibility and sensitivity to the relational nature of our well-being.

A relational approach to ethical education suggests a whole-school process, encourages these qualities in the students through safe and open learning environment, dialogue, encounters and other relational processes collaborative learning, project-based learning, lived citizenship, service learning.

It looks upon relationships as co-construction by two or more people together, and takes seriously the claim that meaning arises out of social practices and is itself relational. Relational process presupposes a collective trans-personal WE, rather than an interpersonal ‘me’ and ‘you’. The more we experience ourselves as part of a WE, the more we become caring.

Bringing our conceptual framework of well-being, and the relational orientation to ethical education together, there can be significant implications of ethical education in schools. Take the wide spread mental ill-being amongst students and teachers as an example. An understanding of well-being suggests that students’ and teachers’ mental ill health not only owes to social economic situations, ignorance, embedded discrimination, but within the school, these can be symptomatic of our educational system’s failure. It is a result of the dehumanising factory-model of schooling that prioritises students’ test scores over their holistic well-being, competitiveness over collaboration, fear over caring, and treating students as manufactured goods rather than respecting them as human beings of intrinsic dignity.

In many parts of the world, these tendencies are exacerbated by the false dichotomy between traditional moral views based on religion, which tend to be insular and dogmatic, and secular conceptions, which tend towards relativism. Globally, education is yet to resolve this tension.

Ethical education is therefore more important than ever. Respecting students’ human dignity requires that education must care for their interests and needs, and support them to have a sense of who they are, to understand their well-being, and to enable them to assume responsibility for their learning and well-being, and that of others.

As highlighted, ethical education must take a whole school approach, including:

1. aligning aims with well-being of all 

2. advocating an ethos of caring

3. encouraging a relational approach to enriching the lives within a learning community

In the classrooms: practices include collaborative work, dialogue, critical thinking (not just cognitive exercise but also addressing practical issues and real-life moral dilemmas), pedagogy of caring, questioning, listening, storytelling but also deep dialogue,  listening, prayers, and friendship across the differences

Within school environment: how do we express care, and spaces of inclusion, respect, curiosity, and responsibility 

In the community: community engagement, nature visit, respect and care across the difference within our community,

Clearly, when ethical education in schools takes a relational approach, it can truly encourage, support, and nurture students to become more caring – for oneself, each other, and the distant other, and caring for the environment, and other good causes in the world.

Relational Orientation to Educational Evaluation

Recently, Scherto had a conversation with Robyn Stratton-Berkessel on shifting from traditional measurement-based assessment in schools from a relational orientation. They touched upon how relational evaluation of the entire school ecosystem can enhance learning processes, students’ engagement and vitality of relationships in primary and secondary classrooms. It flows into the evaluation of teaching and the school as a whole.

In this Podcast, Scherto highlighted collaborative learning, dialogic pedagogy, and flexible curricula as viable alternatives to testing. She concludes that educational evaluation from a relational perspective can truly speak to the demands of a rapidly changing world.

This is connected to Scherto’s other work such as caring in education, as in Gill, S. (2019). “Caring in public education, FORUM: For 3-19 Comprehensive Education, 61:2, 201-208.

Beyond the Tyranny of Testing

Gergen&Gill2020_Beyond-the-Tyranny-of-Testing_Relational-Evaluation-in-Education

This book is the most timely contribution to address our current educational impasse. It leads the dialogue and imagination about a post-Covid world where systemic transformation in education is possible, and where education can nurture the holistic well-being of our students in an inclusive and engaged way.

In particular, the book

  • Offers a compelling alternative to the measurement-assessment orientation to evaluation that undermines learning and well-being in schools today
  • Improves on the patchy critiques of testing and grading by offering a coherent account of the historical and cultural assumptions on which the measurement-testing tradition is based
  • Richly illustrated with school-based examples that inspire the possibility of a relational approach to evaluation of students, teachers, and whole schools
  • Provides concrete, classroom-rooted practices that can stimulate discussions among school leaders and policy makers

See more about the book HERE.

Contact Scherto if you wish to purchase the book using her author’s discount (@50%).

Inclusive and Caring Education

Scherto is currently coordinating a G20 Interfaith Forum’s Education Task Force, a partnership initiative sponsored by the GHFP. She leads a research into Inclusive and Caring Education from a Faith Perspective. The research consists in two parts:

  • a literature review to understand better how religion/faith/spirituality tends to define inclusive and caring education;
  • a questionnaire survey to seek examples and case studies of faith-inspired approaches to inclusive and caring education.

For further information, please read G20-Interfaith-Forum_Edu-Task-Force.

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”

In her review of Toni Morrison‘s book “Beloved”, Scherto suggests that one of the book’s features be that it allows us to remember the unremembered, and reminds us of the need to face the oppressed collective memories of slavery.  Without embracing these memories, the unremembered continues to hold our societies, and we live simultaneously in the present and in the past.

Scherto says:

Clearly, the unremembered is never forgotten, and they wear different guises today in racism, poverty, and violence, the three evils of structural oppression identified by Martin Luther King Jr.

That unremembered demands to be remembered, is because memories can imprison but also liberate. By remembering, the formerly enslaved can re-acquaint with their bodies once so violated by brutality and torture, and can return to their community, a community from which they once ran away, because it identity was associated with commodity and utility.

Dr King calls this new place of belonging our Beloved Community, built on dignity, mutual respect, and compassion. For Morrison, this Beloved Community must start with listening to unremembered past … because she knew only too well, it is in the remembered that lies seed of forgiveness, redemption, and healing.

Collective Healing

Scherto led a Desk Review research aimed at mapping meaningful approaches to healing the wounds of slavery. The Review draws on a conception of healing wounds that perceives the wound of trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as systematic dehumanisation. This in turn highlights the imperative of healing as addressing dehumanisation through four processes:

  • Process One is directed at dehumanising acts per se;Process Two is directed at the traumatic effects of being dehumanised;Process Three is directed at the dehumanising relationships; andProcess Four is directed at the structural conditions that enable and have enabled institutionalised dehumanisation.

The report concludes that understanding the significance of collective healing and taking the steps towards healing can be amongst the most powerful ways to eradicate racism.