Here is a short list of key ways in which educators can play a constructive role.
Educators need a shared understanding of pluralism, and skills in navigating meaningful dialogue on ethnic divisions. Teachers are traditionally seen as the holders of knowledge and learners as the receptacles.
However, teachers usually come from the same society as their learners and share their cultural biases. Many are reluctant to challenge existing prejudices.
Teachers need to begin with a shared understanding of pluralism and enough data to defend what they say. A skilled teacher would then be able to use facts to explain the root causes of a particular ethnic conflict.
Teaching pluralistic practice demands infusing daily lessons into incremental, habit-forming activities. It also needs to be tested alongside other subjects, not integrated or mainstreamed, so as to measure learning outcomes.
We need to learn from success stories about sustaining stable and pluralistic societies. For instance, why is there so little violence between ethnic groups in Ghana and Tanzania?
We need to start teaching pluralism to children at an early age, before the outside world shapes their understandings of “us” and “them.”
Learners need to see themselves in educators, and in their learning material. This means we need teachers from several ethnic communities in our schools, and we need history textbooks that tell the story of every ethnic and racial group.
We need to understand how individual learners grasp pluralism to achieve sustained change. The educational institutions I have worked with tend to focus on long-term institutional outcomes. But learners who hold strong ethnic or racial biases are often confident and can be great influencers.
Their fellow learners, family, and friends listen to them. When such learners come to understand pluralism, they can interrupt other learners’ prejudicial statements. They can draw others into programmes to increase their knowledge and skills.
Educators with a new understanding of pluralism need time to integrate this knowledge. Educators may receive training in pluralism but they return to unchanged communities. The training needs to include institutional and peer support.
Signs of progress
We need ways to assess whether educational institutions have the capacity to promote pluralism.
Signs of progress include: Changed policies, invitations to people from different ethnic groups to speak at or participate in school activities, teachers’ willingness to speak up in support of pluralism and against inequity, and new opportunities for staff to build knowledge and skills in pluralism.
In conclusion, it took the 2007 post-election violence for the NCIC law to be put in place. Implementation has proven difficult but Kenya was still the first African nation to attempt to deal with ethnic relations through legislation.
I have found that the most consistent leaders in changing mindsets and working towards pluralistic solutions are the men and women of the teaching profession.
The educators I work with in conflict zones give me new insights about the possibilities to engage ethnic and racially mixed groups in productive dialogue. Teachers are respected. People seek them out for opinions.
Many want to contribute to solutions but do not know how. They want to embed pluralism in existing values and build new attitudes. Let’s build a generation of teachers who respond to the uncertainties of this world by creating an ethic of respect for human differences. This is pluralism.
Alice Wairimu Nderitu is a former commissioner of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and a co-founder of the Uwiano Platform for Peace, which led efforts to ensure a peaceful process during Kenya’s 2010 constitutional referendum and 2013 elections. She has served as lead mediator in armed conflicts in Nigeria. In 2017, Ms Nderitu received a Global Pluralism Award.
The above is an abridged version of a speech delivered in June 2018 at the Oxford Symposium on Comparative and International Education at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.