DIPLOCAT and CATESCO hold a conference on democratic and human rights education

One of the goals was to analyse which educational approaches offer solutions to the issue of hate speech

Yesterday, Thursday, 18 April, DIPLOCAT and CATESCO hosted a conference for government officials and actors in the educational and social sectors on the role of democratic and human rights education as an antidote to hate speech. Among the activities organised as part of the conference, which took place at the Institute of Catalan Studies in Barcelona and was supported by the Government of Catalonia, were round tables and practical workshops led by experts from Catalonia and abroad to analyse the 2023 guide published by CATESCO entitled Addressing hate speech through education: a guide for policy-makers. The guide calls for education systems, both institutions and educators included, to provide safe and inclusive learning environments that uphold human rights and equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for critical thinking and intercultural dialogue.

Teresa Cabré i Castellví, president of the Institute of Catalan Studies, Eduard Vallory i Subirà, president of CATESCO, and Laura Foraster i Lloret, Secretary General of DIPLOCAT, inaugurated the event. All three stressed the importance of bringing these discussions into the public domain so that education in values and critical thinking plays a pivotal role. The ultimate goal is to reduce society's growing polarisation, particularly among young people, and thus minimise fanaticism and violence. Foraster added that one of DIPLOCAT's objectives is to promote dialogue between people from Catalonia and abroad and that she was especially grateful to the international speakers for participating.

Christopher Castle, the head of the Division for Peace and Sustainable Development within UNESCO's Education Sector, was the first to address the attendees. Castle explained that the recommendation document (Recommendation on Education for Peace and Human Rights, International Understanding, Cooperation, Fundamental Freedoms, Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development) adopted by UNESCO in 2023 is a reworking of the recommendation adopted in 1974, which has been updated to bring new issues into the organisation's agenda, such as gender equality, climate change mitigation and health and well-being. He went on to say that the scope of the document is intended to reach beyond the limits of formal education and serve as a tool that can be used to promote the values inherent to democratic societies by all actors in society. Linked to this idea, Castle emphasised the importance of lifelong learning in achieving more peaceful societies.

Next, Cécile Barbeito Thonon, a researcher and trainer at the School for a Culture of Peace (UAB), moderated the first round table, which focused on understanding the concept of hate speech and how it can affect the education system. Carles Fernández Torné, associate professor of International Public Law and Transitional Justice at the Blanquerna Foundation - Ramon Llull University, began by saying that while there is no internationally agreed definition of the term, hate speech is always directed towards minority groups and publicly incites violence. He also added that teaching history to bring about change by raising awareness of past violence, referring to colonialism and its atrocities, is essential. Cristina Figueras Franquesa, head of Verificat Escola, explained the non-profit organisation's work, which aims to combat hate speech and disinformation. For Figueras, schooling today should be geared towards offering a comprehensive socio-personal education that will equip pupils with the skills to detect false information. She added that schools should teach information media literacy, focusing on emotional education and critical thinking. Finally, Karlos Castilla Juárez, research coordinator at the Catalan Institute of Human Rights, stressed that hate speech is not protected by freedom of expression and, therefore, constitutes a crime. In this context, he explained the importance of focusing on the victims rather than the aggressors, pointing out that hate speech is a missed opportunity to learn from those who are different and from diversity.

The second round table, moderated by Marina Gay, director of CATESCO, examined which educational approaches offer solutions to the issue of hate speech. The first speaker, Cecilia Barbieri, head of UNESCO's division for Global Citizenship and Peace Education, highlighted the complexity of hate speech on social media and beyond, which reflects verbal expression and mirrors the problems in our society. Barbieri suggested that schools alone cannot address the issue as it involves various spheres and stimuli that require a shift to an education system involving multiple actors. Next, Khrystyna Chushak, head of the European Wergeland Center's programme "Schools for Democracy: Supporting Educational Reforms in Ukraine", argued that empowering teachers, who should be more involved in political and bureaucratic processes, is vital. She added that we must view schools holistically, with civil society and families also playing an important role, and underlined the need to produce more teaching materials with a bottom-up approach, listening to the teachers who are in direct contact with the pupils. Meanwhile, Joan Cuevas Expósito, director-general for Innovation, Digitisation, and Curriculum in the Catalan Government's Ministry of Education, explained some of the initiatives taken by the department with a view to achieving a more democratic society. One such initiative is arranging meetings to allow different Catalan schools to exchange good practices and materials. Furthermore, he argued that the issue needs to be addressed by the whole ecosystem, not just by schools, pointing out that we are placing the burden of all society's conflicts on the education sector and that teachers are already under a lot of stress. Anabel Rodríguez Basanta, head of the Human Rights Department at Barcelona City Council, concluded by describing her work, which focuses on training students and teachers. Rodríguez argued that government departments should adopt a shared strategic vision to give coherence and consistency to the government's actions as a whole.

After a break for lunch, Kyriaki Messiou, professor of Education at the University of Southampton, gave a speech entitled "Creating Safe, Respectful, Inclusive and Stimulating Learning Environments". She explained that witnessing Polish girls being teased by English girls on the bus to school made her realise the importance of observing children first-hand and motivated her to launch an innovative research project that focuses on hard-to-reach pupils, understood as those likely to encounter difficulties in the course of their schooling, in several schools across Europe. The research focuses on the student voice and dialogue, designating some students as researchers or co-researchers and encouraging active participation in lesson planning and self-assessment. Messiou spoke about the results in primary schools, where both teachers and pupils agreed that the experience had been extremely positive, increasing the children's involvement, their communication of what they felt, and their ability to observe and reflect, among other aspects. To conclude, Kyriaki shared the materials used in the research, stressing that they would need to be adapted to fit different contexts.

Four workshops rounded off the day, allowing participants to learn in a more relaxed and interactive way. The workshops were as follows:

  • Workshop 1. Democratic education to foster school cultures that encourage diversity and inclusion, by Laura Farré Riera and Jesús Soldevila Pérez from the University of Vic and Kyriaki Messiou from the University of Southampton.
  • Workshop 2. A wholeschool and student-centred approach, by Khrystyna Chusak from The European Wergeland Center and Eulalia Sanz Armengol from CATESCO.
  • Workshop 3. Strengthening educators' capacity to address hate speech, led by Cécile Barbeito Thonon, researcher and trainer at the School for a Culture of Peace (UAB).
  • Workshop 4. Deconstructing hate speech: school, families and community, led by Ljubov Lissina and Xavier Baró Urbea, trainers at the Council of Europe and members of Ahead.

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