Beyond conflict to solutions

4th July 2003 at 01:00
When you look at the world that the children of the 21st century will inherit, it can be hard to feel optimistic. It's a ball of confusion and discord, with opposing factions growing further apart, even amid struggles to bring peace.

Here in Britain, there are fears that a hot summer could bring more riots, as inter-racial suspicions are heightened by international terrorism and tougher talk about asylum seekers at home.

This TES supplement looks beyond conflict to solutions. In many of the world's hotspots, schools and teachers are among those working to bring people together. We've reported on three: Israel, Cyprus and Northern Ireland. And if children grow up to appreciate and respect other cultures, and avoid dehumanising those who are different, then there is hope.

How do you bring social harmony where there is discord? According to musical conductor Daniel Barenboim, you do it by sharing the same music stand and playing the same notes (page 5). To prove the point, he has brought together young musicians from Israel, the Arab countries and Germany to form an orchestra.

David Ward, a local councillor in racially-divided Bradford, says the same thing with a different metaphor: "What works is sharing crisps with someone different" (see opposite). And teenagers in a cross-border Irish reconciliation project discovered their counterparts were "just like us".

For children in other parts of the British Isles, Ireland can be a good focus for learning about culture, conflict and resolution (see pages 8-10).

For one thing it is close,yet has its own traditions and history, art and legend. Many children across Britain have Irish ancestry, and for schools without ethnic-minority pupils, learning about Ireland can be a comfortable way to begin looking at multi-cultural Britain.

The strength of feeling in Northern Ireland surrounding the Troubles and their history may seem alien to those with English reserve, but a 1999 study found that more than half of Northern Irish 10 to 11-year-olds had seen shooting incidents, and 37 per cent had witnessed a bomb explosion. In other words, nearly every child had suffered to some extent because of the Troubles.

The Irish experience helps to illuminate the powerful emotions wrapped up in conflicts around the globe. To learn about and respect cultures from further afield, what can be a better vehicle than the arts? African art, for example (see page 4), can be used to present another continent's view of history, and to counterbalance negative stereotypes.

Not every conflict can be resolved, nor should we accept every point of view. But the more children know about and respect other people's cultures, the better they will understand the value of living together.

Design Dane Wilson Production editor Mark Hayes Pictures Lindsay Cameron, Suzanne Bosman

The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of the Times Educational Supplement and not of the NUT

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