Education for Social Cohesion
Online International Webinar
organized by the Bahá'í Academy, Panchgani, India
13-14 February 2021
On 13-14 February 2021, the Bahá'í Academy in Panchgani, India, with which the International Environment Forum partnered for its annual conference in 2020, followed up that conference with an Online International Webinar on Education for Social Cohesion with a number of distinguished keynote speakers and presented paper sessions. The webinar was organized by IEF member Lesan Azadi, Director of the Bahá'í Academy, and IEF board member Prof. Victoria Thoresen of Norway was one of the keynote speakers. IEF member Prof. Rafael Shayani of the University of Brasilia in Brazil also presented a paper. IEF was one of the co-sponsoring organizations along with a number of universities.
Victoria Thoresen spoke on "Education for Social Cohesion" with a very clear presentation on learning - within the school, community and family - what it means to be a content and responsible citizen. She cited extensive research showing that isolation and exclusion can lead to boredom, loneliness, fear, depression and mental illness, showing the importance of relationships to build trust and a sense of well-being. We need a new culture of learning, changing the paradigm from transmissive to transformative, exploring what we value and what is human development.
She described the principles and values that direct change, such as equity and quality of life, connectivity and cohesion, transference and transmutation, empathy and adaptation, moderation and sharing, finiteness in time and place, aiming to leave no one behind. She emphasized the importance of building partnerships in a dynamic of the material and non-material for positioning of personal ideas and the community, a sense of belonging through collective visioning, creating interdependence through cooperative action, building trust and caring, and a capacity for service. Education needs to include one's heritage of customs and traditions, individual and collective aspirations, and moral codes and ethical boundaries.
UNESCO has made great efforts to rethink education to build capacities for consultation, creativity and flexibility and lifelong learning skills around the Sustainable Development Goals and their interconnections. Competencies that need to be developed include collaboration, systems thinking that is anticipatory, normative and strategic, critical thinking and integrated problem-solving. This requires innovative, inclusive learning environments, including community learning leading to action on real-world problems that is participatory, cooperative rather than competitive, addressing issues in the environmental and social systems.
She referred to the positive deviance concept to encourage uncommon behaviours, finding better solutions with the same resources to solve complex problems. As an example, she cited a study of nutrition in Vietnam, that found that the poorest of the poor were better nourished than those who were a little better off because they were forced to eat fresh local herbs as they could not afford foods that were less nourishing. This showed the advantage of leveraging community wisdom, when practical experience can be better than acquired knowledge. It is important to learn to question, criticize, find connections, identify or imagine alternatives, and then define actions. She closed by reminding us not to lose the ability to share and to be happy.
The webinar was rich in shared experience, and showed the importance of social cohesion in addressing the problems the world faces today.
Last updated 21 February 2021