17 September 2012, United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA – Following the call of the Secretary General, who emphasized the crucial role of democracy education for the long term success of democracies, the UNITAR New York Office, together with the Council for a Community of Democracies and the United Nations Democracy Fund convened representatives from Permanent Missions, the UN and from civil society to discuss the role of democracy education in promoting healthy and peaceful societies. More than fifty attendees joined the panel discussion with H.E. Mr. Od Och, Permanent Representative of Mongolia, H.E. Mr. Ryszard Sarkowicz, Permanent Representative of Poland, Mr. Roland Rich, Executive Head of the United Nations Democracy Fund, Mr. Robert LaGamma, President of the Council for a Community of Democracies, Ms. Lenore Yaffee Garcia, Director of the Office of Education and Culture of the Organization of American States and Mr. Philippe Kridelka, Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in New York, while many more followed it via live webcast.
Ms. Yvonne Lodico, Head of the UNITAR New York Office, stressed in her opening remarks, that “Learning about democracy means learning about why active citizenship is important, why tolerance for divergent views and respect for human rights are crucial for a society to flourish.” Fostering democracy education, thus, also means overcoming frontal educational approaches: “You cannot simply teach democracy by standing in front of a classroom and lecturing”, Ms. Yaffee Garcia pointed out. Education for democracy instead must be built on a dialogue dedicated to the exchange of opinions, view points, experiences and best practices.
Several organizations are currently dedicating great efforts in creating innovative educational programs which encourage and empower children, teenagers and adults to become active citizens engaged in promoting respect for diversity, tolerance and human rights. As Mr. Kridelka illustrated, UNESCO, for example, launched in January of this year, together with the US Department of State and the government of Brazil the “Teaching Respect for All” initiative, which aims to develop a framework for promoting anti-racism through innovative school curriculums. Also, the Organization of American States has been carrying out since 2005 an Inter-American Programme on “Education in Democratic Values and Practices” which supports public, private and civil society institutions in developing policies and programs in the field of citizenship education. H.E. Mr. Och and H.E. Mr. Sarkowickz further pointed out the need to pay more attention to the use of modern technologies and means of communication in the field of democracy education. Thus, the Working Group for Democracy Education of the Community of Democracies, chaired by Mongolia and Poland, currently dedicates its efforts to the development of a democracy education IT platform which will include general information on civic/democracy education as well as an e-library of democracy education resources and experts.
These programmes represent a first step in promoting democracy education not only in everyday’s life, but also on the political agenda. However, education for democracy in a globalised world facing the challenge of building a sustainable global peace is more important than ever before and one central challenge consist in keeping it high on the political agenda. Resuming the discussion in a nutshell in the words of Ms. Lodico: “The education of peace and democracy are mutually inclusive. There cannot be a realistic agenda for peace education unless there is an emphasis on reason, open-mindedness and a fairness, which the education of democracy promotes.”