International Opinion

The Importance of Diverse Perspectives and How to Foster Them

By Heather Singmaster — November 12, 2018 6 min read
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This week we celebrate International Education Week, an opportunity to recognize and honor the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.

Education is strongest when diverse perspectives and voices are shared and heard in settings of learning and development. In the classroom and the surrounding community, a rich educational opportunity is available to those who are able to create an environment in which varying ideas and insights built on broad backgrounds can make themselves known.

In the spirit of international exchange and collaboration, we, with the help of Generations For Peace, have reached out to some leading organizations around the world—one in the United States, one in the United Kingdom, and one in the Middle East—to get their perspective on the importance of diversity in education.

Here are what their experts had to say about two important questions:

  • Why is it important for a classroom to be shaped by diverse perspectives and voices?
  • What is a key factor in fostering diverse perspectives and voices to enhance student learning experiences?

Why is it important for a classroom to be shaped by diverse perspectives and voices?

“It is important that diverse perspectives and voices are included in any setting, including within classrooms and youth groups, in order to foster a societal culture of tolerance, respect, and understanding. Any processes which look at addressing conflict within a society are more effective when a range of perspectives—which represent the true breadth of the population—are included. If young people are exposed to a broad variety of viewpoints, rather than absorbing only entrenched and one-sided narratives, they are more likely to strive for peace.

“When empowered, young people can become powerful advocates for peace and unity within their own communities. For example, in northeast Nigeria—an area severely impacted by the Boko Haram insurgency—young people, supported by international NGO Conciliation Resources, have formed youth peace platforms and are leading the way in reconciling communities torn by conflict. These platforms reach out to even the most marginalised youth, recognizing the importance of including the perspectives of those often left on the sidelines in the processes of building peace."—Sara Bradford, Head of Communications at Conciliation Resources; London

“The inclusion of multiple perspectives from youth and students with diverse backgrounds lends to the creation of an environment that more directly reflects the world outside the walls of the classroom. Studies have shown that, whether on a school campus, in a community centre, on a sports pitch, or in any setting that brings together diverse youth, ensuring all are heard helps to improve the overall performance not just of the individual, but also of the group that shares in and benefits from that diversity.

“I have seen through our programmes at Generations For Peace that representation of multiple religions, ethnicities, races, nationalities, etc. is essential in everyday life. Without the welcoming of diversity in a learning setting, youth and students are limited—both those whose voices go unheard and those who go without hearing those voices will not be able to experience differences that can shape their ideas, perspective, and future.” —Dr. Mohanned Al Arabiat, President of Generations For Peace

; Amman, Jordan

“When I engage either as a learner or an educator, I value rich discussions that emerge when people freely share diverse experiences. Learning involves stretching and growing, and being challenged by new ideas and perspectives. As a public-health professional, I often educate diverse groups of adults. I find that our collective ability to explore new knowledge is strongest when people representing diverse professional or cultural backgrounds and those from dominant and historically marginalized groups can openly share their analysis to help us all broaden our understanding of conditions shaping health, safety, and well-being.

“Supporting diverse groups is not easy. It requires us to build capacity to listen and teach, to inform and be informed, and to step up and step back to create space for all voices to be heard and engaged—especially in tough conversations, because that’s where deep learning happens."—Manal Aboelata, MPH, Managing Director of Prevention Institute; Los Angeles

What is a key factor in fostering diverse perspectives and voices to enhance student learning experiences?

“It is important that in any setting where diverse perspectives need to be heard, young people are given the space and safety to express their views without fear of recriminations. Experienced workshop and dialogue facilitators are able to elicit a wide range of perspectives and include a variety of voices. In situations of violent conflict, for example, bringing young people together and providing safe spaces for them to reflect and share enables them to learn from each other.

One such example is from Jammu and Kashmir, an area impacted by long-term violent conflict. Here, Conciliation Resources brought young people from different sides together to jointly reflect on and analyse their situation, and share their views. This work resulted in a combined vision for peace: Vision 2020. For this to happen, it was important that a truly representative group of youth from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities were identified, and a safe space created for them to express their opinions freely."—Sara Bradford, Head of Communications at Conciliation Resources

; London

“Fostering a space in which diverse perspectives and voices are shared with respect, acceptance, and tolerance can be challenging, but the results are worth the efforts in overcoming the difficulties. It is important, however, to note the different contexts in which these spaces are being constructed.

“In classrooms in Jordan and around the world, teachers come not just with knowledge, but also with training and values that they believe they must transfer to the students. Encouraging these teachers to take on a facilitative role, in which they can step back and foster an environment both in and outside of the classroom allows them to open up the floor to more diverse conversation and reflection. Generations For Peace works with teachers around Jordan and the world to show them that their influence does not stop at the classroom door: it can extend beyond, into the local communities.” —Dr. Mohanned Al Arabiat, President of Generations For Peace

; Amman, Jordan

“New experiences shape learning in profound ways. Experiences allow us to taste, smell, hear, and see diversity and unity. Experiential learning teaches us deeper ways of seeing, tapping compassion and greater awareness of how interconnected we are. Though we may be taught to shun those sidelined by society, such as people living in poverty, people who aren’t a country’s dominant race, class, gender, religion or culture, experiences can enhance clarity and spark a willingness to confront social inequities.

“I was recently part of a delegation visiting Skid Row, the largest concentration of homeless people in the United States. I was struck by the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings I experienced. I spoke to people who, despite lack of resources, showed generosity and dignity. I now question more deeply all the systems—schools, health care, banking—that fail people before they lose housing. Authentic experiences foster deep learning through immersion."—Manal Aboelata, MPH, Managing Director of Prevention Institute; Los Angeles

Connect with Center for Global Education, Conciliation Resources, Generations for Peace
, and Prevention Institute, on Twitter.

Join the U.S. Department of Education for “Global Competencies for Career Success,” a free webcast celebrating International Education Week on Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 12:05 p.m. - 1 p.m. U.S. Eastern time.

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