Conference: Towards Educational Programs that Strengthen Citizenship and Counter Extremism

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Saturday June 3, 2017
Novotel Hotel, Tunis

As part of its efforts to counter extremism and its commitment to the need for educational reform, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, in collaboration with the Network for Education, Training and Scientific Research, organized a conference titled “Towards Educational Programs that Strengthen Citizenship and Counter Extremism” on Saturday June 3, 2017 at the Novotel Hotel in Tunis.

The following experts spoke at the conference: Dr. Mohammed Belrached, Professor of Sociology at the Higher Institute for Humanities, Dr. Fadila Senoussi, teacher and doctor in educational methodologies, Dr. Ahmed Labyadh, doctor and researcher in psychological and social affairs, and Dr. Hamadi Bargaoui, head of the scientific committee of the Network for Education, Training and Scientific Research.

After welcoming the audience, Professor Wided bin Issa, the official spokesperson of the Network, emphasized the unique character of the conference, which will be followed by a series of seminars aimed at reforming educational programs through a new and sophisticated approach to teaching that seeks to produce balanced students who are not prone to extremism of any kind.

At the beginning of his intervention on civic and political education, Dr. Mohammed Belrached emphasized the need for Tunisian society to develop civic and political education suitable for a democratic society. Civic education was first introduced in Tunisia in 1989 and replaced”national education”, which focused on praising the President of the Republic.It dealt with important topics such as the constitution, the state and citizenship but its results remained limited as it contradicted real-life practices and schools were unable to translate its values into reality.As for political education, Dr. Belrached took the view that this is found in both oral and written educational materials. However, when it comes to methodology, political education is completely lacking.

In an effort to find solutions to these problems, Dr. Belrached highlighted the following points: First, the need to teach students to prioritize the public interest over private interests; second, to ensure that civic education is governed by principles so that we can reconcile students with their identity; third, the need to develop a sense of political responsibility, including thinking, analysis, choice and responsibility; and fourth, the principle of identifying the right approach and abandoning purely theoretical approaches, and in particular ending the obsession with exams.

Dr. Fadila Senoussi introduced three levels of analysis in her presentation. First, she highlighted the importance of personal development in building each i’scharacter, as seen in the emergence of personal development in Europe more than a decade ago. Second, she noted the need to protect students, against anything that threatens their character or thinking. Third, she presented the concept of extremism and defined its dangers.

Ms. Senoussi highlighted the following key points: First, given that the key pillars of personal development exist in Arab-Islamic culture, Western approaches to personal development, which are based on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), should be abandoned in favor of an approach based on Islamic human values. Second, the need for the school to play its cognitive, educational and developmental role in order to avoid creating a wide gap between what the student learns and what he or she experiences in real life. Third, the need to include personal development in educational programs in order to strengthen cognitive mechanisms and develop the individual’s intellectual, critical and behavioral skills and thus protect students from extremism. Fourth, the need to promote a balance between the rational and spiritual sides of each individual.

Dr. Ahmed Labyadh stressed the need to focus, in educational programs, on religious education that promotes intellectual emancipation. In his paper, he pointed to the levels involved in liberating the mind: first, the need to acquaint students with Quranic texts on the creation of mankind and the need for Islamic education to introduce a more profound analysis of, and commitment to, the laws governing our existence. Second, to educate students on the values of self-respect as vicegerents of God on earth, so that they will not be subservient or passive,since human action is based on knowledge. Third, the need to instill students with a strong Arab-Islamic identity. After all, the Quranic verse that tells the story of the People of the Cave says, “We awakened them that they might question one another” (Surat al-Kahf, Verse 19).This highlights that the religion of Islam is based on questioning, discussion and using one’s intellect in order to comprehend the laws of the universe and achieve progress and innovation.

Dr. Hamadi Bargaoui’s presentation delved into more philosophical questions. He introduced the issue of the dialectic between identity and citizenship in an examination of the philosophy curriculum for Year 4 students. Dr. Bargaoui argued that the criteria for choosing philosophical texts for the curriculum are entirely arbitrary. For example, in the topic on “Myself and Others”, a text was added that belittles the importance of the body and presents it as the source of problems, while revering the self. As for the topic of “Science, Between Truth and Models of Reality”, science is presented as a purely Western product. Scientific modeling is highlighted and its relationship with Arab-Islamic identity, so that the student finds himself or herself dealing with identity issues through an ideological lens.

Dr. Bargaoui stressed that those who set the philosophy curriculum are obsessed with an ideological approach to the issue of identity, which leads to lack of clarity when selecting texts and clarifying concepts for students. Dr. Bargaoui considered that the dialectic of identity and citizenship in the philosophy curriculum leads to the paradox that the program has no identity,so we cannot expect it to provide a vision of identity for young people.

The presentations were followed by an open discussion, during which most members of the audience engaged with the various speakers. Dr. Mohammed bin Fatima emphasized that the issue of citizenship is not a straightforward subject like mathematics but rather a completely different type of subject that needs to be re-examined. He pointed to the existence of epistemological errors in dealing with the subject.

Yosri Dali stressed the need to abandon NLP and replace it with communicative psychology and Islamic psychology in order to ensure that personal development is beneficial and has no serious repercussions on the recipient’s mind. Fadia Chkoundali, a teacher, also noted the need to highlight the character of the educator, who is the vehicle for education and the guarantor of the success of educational programs, their content and their desired features.

During the discussion, Dr. Mohammed Belrached pointed out that educational reform requires a renewed vision of success and a focus on identifying approaches to the issue through an epistemological approach. Dr. Fadila Senoussi noted the need to produce an active individual in a society capable of creativity, since developing individuals is fundamental to developing the nation. Dr. Ahmed Labyadh stressed the need to educate students about the special status that human beings enjoy in the Qur’an and in creation, because real development requires wisdom before knowledge. Finally, Dr. Hamadi Bargaoui referred to Arab-Islamic literature, which is filled with philosophical texts, arguing that those who set the school curriculum must abandon ideological identity wars.