“I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion”
– Kurt Hann ( Founder of the UWC Movement)
The purpose and mode of education vary internationally according to the national and international needs of human resources, learners’ passion, societal needs, family needs, and resource availability. One of the common themes that span across all educational systems is the need for producing humans with values that can ensure and empower the learner to be resilient and compatible to survive successfully while being empathetic and mindful of others' rights and realizing their duties and responsibilities. International education at TISR provides such opportunities within and beyond its classrooms, where every community member, irrespective of their role in the school, is involved in the teaching-learning process. One such activity is the TISR Global Issues Forum (TISR-GIF), where we facilitate in-depth discussions in a collaborative learning atmosphere where a selected theme or local issue which could have a global significance or impact is churned through the intellect of all ages and abilities to answer some burning questions. We started this forum this semester. Currently, the Vice-Principal is facilitating the forum on behalf of the future TISR-GIF Committee, to set the ground rules, which will be followed and led by students of TISR to continue this legacy of outstanding pedagogy.
We identified several themes to be discussed at the TISR-GIF this year during our initial discussion on the Impact and Challenges of COVID-19 through the eyes of TISR students. Our first TISR-GIF, on the 28th of February, “Stereotype and Discrimination,” emerged from this discussion. The TISR-GIF will become a fortnightly event once we resume regular school days. We invite all the school community and their family members to join and participate in this forum and benefit from the unique learning experience.
For the TISR-GIF discussion on Stereotype and Discrimination, we started with four prompt questions:
1）What are stereotypes, and what factors are responsible for building stereotypes?
2）How do stereotypes influence our knowledge and behavior?
3）How are stereotypes and discrimination linked to each other?
4）How can we learn and educate our generation and the future generation to refrain from building stereotypes and discrimination?
The discussion group shared their knowledge of stereotypes and discrimination definitions from their reading and gave examples from their life and experience. Stereotypes were identified as fixed perceptions, rooted ideas build over time through different sensual perceptions, learning of history, or through media of diverse forms. Stereotypes are inherited through generations, and over time they become detrimental in the judging capabilities of human beings. Stereotypes get robust or inundated based on the nature of the interaction between people and contemporary knowledge transformation when people keep an open mind and are ready to learn to unlearn and re-learn.
Examples were cited covering a wide variety of experiences related to gender, body shape, height, place of birth, country of origin, hobbies and passion. The group could identify the role of stereotypes in influencing discrimination in day to day life in local as well as global contexts. Some of the exciting stereotypes related to gender led to moments of reflection where a specific gender was perceived to be positively correlated with intellectual abilities and strength. Examples of society treating a child of a specific gender providing opportunities for personal and professional growth while ignoring the need for equity among all children led to the recognition of a perception that is not only local but also seen in many other societies. Place-based stereotype related to peoples’ religious identity, tolerance to environmental condition, or body color was also discussed as a typical example.
The forum could appreciate the link between stereotype to be one of the factors for discrimination in local as well as in the global arena. The discussion group reflected on historical perceptions related to various civilizations built over time and how that has influenced their behavioral response towards people from a different civilization. The role of media and advertisement, particularly the ones which are endorsed by social celebrities was also seen as a driver for stereotype building.
The group also realized that being open-minded, knowledgeable, an inquirer, balanced, and thinker could help us understand the degree of fallacies in different stereotypes. The forum recognized the validity of education in building perceptions that could prevent tenacious stereotypes from building up in them and the people around them. They also appreciated the educational opportunities at TISR, which has helped them broaden their scope of knowledge-seeking and critical thinking, thus helping them see the importance of this type of learning opportunity where they can openly discuss their thoughts, experiences, and views.
The indicator of a fruitful discussion in a Global Issue Forum is not to find answers to the questions but to question the answers and ask further questions. Just seeking and agreeing to a set of answers will become a reason for another set of stereotypes developing in them, leading to extremist views and polarization. So, it was interesting to see that the discussion culminating with a set of questions to ponder and explore.
The forum adjourned their discussion with the following questions.
1）How and who should regulate the information and knowledge that could help prevent discriminatory stereotypes from building in people of any society?
2）How can we put stereotypes to good use? This question emerged because the group recognized that stereotypes are a global phenomenon, and whether they are good or bad is a subjective judgment prone to debate based on the context.