For a number of years now, the provision of languages in British schools and universities has been in decline. Yet, as Brexit looms largely on the horizon, there has been much talk in the media and from politicians about the need for a “global Britain”.
Arguably, a country can only really be global and outward looking if language skills are considered essential for its citizens. The government seems to share this view – at least to some extent. This is reflected in the fact that the Department of Education has provided funding to open a National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy and to roll out a cross-sector mentoring project, which was piloted very successfully in Wales.
A number of surveys, such as the annual British Council survey of English primary and secondary schools, reports on the falling numbers of pupils participating in language learning. This is a decline that started in 2004, when languages were taken out of the compulsory curriculum in secondary schools.
There was a rise in the number of pupils taking languages in 2011 as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBACC) – which has a language as a core subject. However, this increase proved to be shortlived, despite the government’s ambition for 90% of pupils to gain the EBACC by 2025.
In 2014, the Guardian commissioned a survey which questioned young people about learning languages. The survey identified some of the main benefits people perceive to be linked to learning languages. This includes: better job prospects abroad, talking to other people, learning about another culture, learning another skill, and incentive to travel.
On the other hand, perceived downsides were seen as languages being difficult, the predominance of English, and that the way languages are taught in schools is “not useful in real life”.
To find out more about why young people choose (not) to study a language, we surveyed 107 students that were studying a language at Lancaster University or the University of Nottingham. This includes students who studied a language as an optional module to complement their main degree course, as well as those who studied a language as part of their degree.
Our survey showed that for the vast majority of these degree students (over 90%) and students taking optional modules (over 75%) their main motivation was enjoyment as well as a genuine interest in the language and the countries where it is spoken. This aspect ranks much higher than “employability skills” – despite this often being the main angle under which languages are promoted.
Students do, however, realise and appreciate the broad range of transferable skills gained from studying languages. This includes analytical and problem solving skills, the ability to communicate well (also in your first language), and committing yourself to a long-term project.
When asked what might put young people off studying a language and why they think there are not more language learners in the UK, many referred to the lack of engagement with cultural aspects – such as history, politics, society or literature – in language classes. They also spoke of the myth of English being the only language you need, poor handling of languages in the British education system, and the lack of governmental initiatives to promote the study of languages.
To get more people excited about languages then, there needs to be a rethink of the way in which they are promoted and embedded into the curriculum. And there must be more focus on enjoyment and intercultural competence and more cultural engagement and “real-life” tasks.
This is important, because studying a language is not just about enhancing your CV and adding something useful to your skills set. It is also about embracing other cultures, developing intercultural competence, enjoying languages as an exciting object of study, and reflecting on your own national and cultural identity.
The government should also recognise the importance of languages and rethink the value placed on foreign language competency in the British education system. A national policy on languages could help to address attitudes towards languages and further promote joined up thinking across the different education sectors.
A worldwide wave of school climate strikes, begun by the remarkable Greta Thunberg, has reached the UK. Some critics claim these activist-pupils are simply playing truant, but I disagree. Speaking as both a climate campaigner and an academic philosopher, I believe school walkouts are morally and politically justifiable.
Philosophy can help us tackle the question of whether direct action is warranted via the theory of civil disobedience. This states that, in a democratic society, one is justified in disobeying the law only when other alternatives have been exhausted, and the injustice being protested against is grave.
In the case of the climate school strikes, it is without question that the injustice – the threat – is grave. There is none graver facing us.
It appears reasonable to claim furthermore that other alternatives have indeed been exhausted. After all, people have been trying to wake governments up to the climate threat for decades now, and we are still as a society way off the pace set out even by a conservative organisation such as the IPCC.
But if that claim was strongly contested, and it was suggested that climate activism should continue to focus on conventional electoral politics, then attention might revert to the assumed premise that society is democratic. Do people in Britain and elsewhere really live in “democracies”, given (for instance) the vastly greater power of the rich, and of owners of media, to influence elections, compared to everyone else?
I don’t want to adjudicate whether we really live in a democracy. But what of course makes this a particularly salient question for school strikes is the simple fact that in any case children have no voice in this democratic system. And yet the climate crisis and the perhaps equally catastrophic biodiversity crisis will affect children much more than adults.
Our “democratic” system seems to have a built in present-centricness, and a weakness in relation to issues of long-term significance, that seriously undermines its claims to democratic legitimacy. Thus philosophers have sometimes argued, beginning with Edmund Burke in the 18th century, that to make the system truly democratic we would need to somehow include – and give real power to – the voices of the past and the future in that system. Most especially, for they are at risk of suffering the worst: the voices of children and indeed of unborn future generations.
So, a forceful argument could be made that it must be legitimate for children to take part in climate actions, for they do not even have recourse to the democratic channels (such as they are) that adults take for granted. This is especially true once we add that it seems reasonable for children to object to schooling that may well be rendered irrelevant by a climate-induced catastrophe. For example, much of the way that economics, business studies and IT are taught presupposes a world that will probably soon cease to exist.
Adults have failed
If you are convinced by this, then all well and good. However, at this point, I want to pull the rug slightly from under the argument that I’ve made so far. I put it to you that, if you are an adult, as I am, then your view in any case is somewhat beside the point.
For the brutal fact is that, try hard though some of us have done, we adults have categorically failed our children. This is a grievous wrong, perhaps the worst thing that mammals, primates, such as ourselves, can do: to have let down those who we claim to love more than life itself. We have set our children on a path to a “future” in which society as we know it may have collapsed. And even if we accomplish an unprecedented societal transformation over the next decade, the massive time-lags built into the climate system mean things will still get worse for a long time to come.
And so on this occasion we adults ought to humbly realise that it is no longer for us to tell our children what to do. We ought rather to take up the role of supporting them in their uprising, asking how we can help them in their struggle for survival. They are inspiring us, now.
The ultimate reason why we should support these school strikes, as I and hundreds of other UK academics have just declared we will do, is that, through our inaction that has led the world they will inherit to this pretty pass, we adults have forfeited the moral right to do anything else.
Mehdi was born and raised in Iran. Coming from a
farming family, he was by all expectations supposed to be a shepherd. However,
going to University in Tehran to study fine art and film changed this path.
Today he is a world-renowned muralist and the artist chosen to present his
large-scale artwork at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos.
Here we discuss his work for the
Congress Centre, the role of the artist in society and how art can be a
catalyst for change in today’s fast-moving world.
Do you think artists have a duty to
Most definitely. I feel our duty is
double that of an average citizen because we have the ability to grab people’s attention
and point it towards specific objectives. We have the skill to magnify
problems, incite feelings (both negative and positive) and really make a point.
This puts us in a privileged position, but it also comes with responsibility.
Propaganda is messaging created by artists, after all.
What is art for?
The role of art has changed. Artists
no longer just make art in the pursuit of beauty or to assist those in
positions of power, such as monarchs or the Church. Today art is very much
mixed with activism. For me, art is a reaction to what goes on around us and is
there to reflect what is happening in the world. For example, we have seen many
artists recently focus on the migration crisis, bringing specific attention to
this issue. Already during the Vietnam war, the work of photographers was
instrumental in raising awareness and galvanising the movements needed to bring
the war to an end.
An artwork the size of yours has
never been presented at Davos. It will be seen by many important influencers
and politicians. How has this influenced the work you will show?
I have never produced work for this
kind of audience. Usually my work is shown in public places, intended to be
viewed by everyday individuals. Thinking about the audience made me feel a
heavy burden of responsibility. I felt challenged to produce work with a
lasting effect. Work of this type and scale is hard to miss. It leaves an
impression on people – whether they like it or not. I knew narrative art would
not work in this context, so I rather focused on creating a thought-provoking
atmosphere that will hopefully affect the context in which discussions take
place in Davos.
Some of the people that may see your
work at Davos may look at your home country primarily through a geopolitical
lens. How does that make you feel?
Generally, I am an artist that
strives to go beyond my own geography and this work is no exception. I have
thus far managed to reach out to different people with different nationalities
in part by distancing myself from country-specific icons and visuals. I try
very hard to use visuals that are globally recognisable. For example, balloons
are used in celebrations throughout the world. I very deliberately attempted to
connect with my audience through a universal language rooted in “feeling”, and
that is something common to us all.
What do you hope to achieve with your
art at Davos?
I feel that currently the health of
planet earth and climate change are at the forefront of all our minds. For
example, water scarcity is a real issue here in Iran. While some still say that
this has not been caused by humans, I feel we are all responsible for the fate
of our planet. Be it those in positions of power or simple individuals, we are
all interconnected. For me, the future of our children is a central concern,
and I hope it will be also for those who see my work at the Davos meeting.
Recently you became a father for the
second time. How does fatherhood affect your work?
I feel a great responsibility towards
my children and towards all the other little ones on this planet. Parenthood
makes one a more responsible, interconnected person with a sharper sense of
urgency for the duty we have to ensure our collective future. My first-born is
a girl and having her showed me the real gender divide that exists in our world
today. I learned to appreciate the importance of feminist movements and the
regrettable endurance of “glass ceilings”. That is why I have chosen a female
figure to be the centre of my work for the Congress Centre. The closed doors in
my work are not accidental. I feel there is really still a long way to go.
Nonetheless, the piece has an atmosphere and message of hope.
Can art change the world?
As I already mentioned, artists
possess a powerful tool. We have a unique and special vantage point – that of
an outsider. Documentary makers, painters, photographers and performers can all
present an “outsider” point of view. This change of perspectives is a catalyst
for change and that’s what I try to achieve with my murals.
Care about being a researcher for your community. You have to document your ancestors and their lives here in this village from before the occupation. You have the right and you must prove that the occupation doesn’t have the right to be here – the occupiers want to displace you. Defend your rights to be here by giving evidence that documents your heritage.
Sharing stories in the South Hebron Hills. On Our Land Project, Author provided (No reuse)
These are the words of a 21-year-old youth researcher from the South Hebron Hills – and they herald a new form of resistance, a form of resistance that may help to protect vulnerable communities.
The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank, is currently at risk of demolition by Israeli bulldozers. The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, called on the Israeli authorities in September 2018 to halt the proposed demolition, while the UN human rights office has also denounced its planned destruction as breaching international humanitarian law. The Israeli supreme court, however, has defied the UN and twice ruled in favour of demolishing the village. Its fate is now on a knife edge.
The crisis in Khan al-Ahmar, has once again highlighted the precarious lives faced by Bedouin communities in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Marginalised within both Palestinian and Israeli society, and repeatedly displaced from their lands – the Bedouins in Khan al-Ahmar, for example, originally were expelled from the Nakab desert in 1948 – these communities are fighting for their very survival.
An act of remembering
But perhaps all is not lost. Against this backdrop, some young researchers working in the oPt have been developing creative and non-violent ways to help their communities survive by restoring their cultural heritage.
As academic and author Edward Said said: “It is what one remembers of the past and how one remembers it that determine how one sees the future.”
Now, these researchers hope that by taking care of their communities’ heritage they will be better placed to resist displacement from their lands. Aged between 18 and 26, they have been documenting the often intangible cultural heritage of their communities – Bedouin-populated villages sometimes so small that even Palestinian civil servants in nearby Hebron haven’t heard of them.
This heritage is at risk of disappearing under the stresses of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Communities such as At-Tuwani, Susya, Al Mufagara and Tuba, in the South Hebron Hills, face eviction as illegal Israeli settlements, guarded by Israeli military forces, continue to encroach on them. Life is hard; residents are restricted from accessing basic services due to the constraints placed on them by the Israeli military.
Given the daily hardships they face, preserving cultural heritage has, perhaps unsurprisingly, long taken a back seat in communities like these. But the young researchers have now collected evidence of songs sung during ploughing or at weddings, and traditional place names, farming practices, crafts, stories, recipes and much more, all tied to their communities and the land. They have used these histories to develop heritage trails, exhibitions and guides in their communities.
While many of these young people previously have been active in initiatives to support their communities, this is the first time they have engaged in a cultural heritage-based approach. And as one researcher from At-Tuwani put it:
The importance of heritage on a political level is that it helps us prove that this is our land and that we own it and we lived on it.
Bedouin communities in the oPt are all too aware of the risks of losing their cultural heritage. They fear that as it is lost, the Israeli government will have more pretexts to displace them from their land. They understand the value of this heritage as both economic, with the potential to provide valuable income in vulnerable communities, and social, sustaining links between communities stretched to breaking point.
Bedouin communities in the oPt find themselves disconnected as a result of the conflict. They are prevented from practising traditional cultural practices or from sharing this knowledge with future generations. Old and young have become divided.
By carrying out more than 75 interviews with the oldest community members, the researchers have helped to reestablish these lost connections, revitalising relationships between young and old community members. Sameeha, a youth researcher from At-Tuwani, explained how this process has affected her:
When you speak to an older man or woman in your area and they tell you a story you never heard before … for me that was an amazing feeling.
To feel pride in your past, to share in the joy of your community’s heritage, is surely an act of resistance in itself. But the youth researchers have also started to forge ties with Bedouin communities in other parts of the oPt and Israel. They are sharing their findings and research methods, and learning how these communities have used heritage-based approaches to support their own social and economic development. Together, they are becoming stronger.
Could this approach now help the people of Khan al-Ahmar? The youth researchers have shown how cultural heritage can strengthen communities and their ties to the land they live on. The researchers repeatedly talked about putting their villages on the map, and making them part of a wider Bedouin community which extends through both time (to previous and future generations) and space. They have become visible to local, national and international audiences.
All this provides a platform for solidarity from which oppression can be resisted without violence. Cultural heritage, and the actions taken to protect it, become a resource both to encourage equality and to share a different vision of what life could be in these embattled communities.
Today no one ignores that in the MENA region, countries’ education systems amongst others are undergoing difficult times. Here is a UN’s report review confirming whilst shedding some light on the goings-on.
Migrant and refugee children to face incredible hardships attending schools and accessing education, a new United Nations report released on Tuesday has revealed, highlighting also structural weaknesses in national systems that can sometimes exclude children on the move.
According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), factors such as non-certified schools, language different and limited resources are keeping refugee and migrant children away from learning and prospects for a better future.
“The right of these children to quality education, even if increasingly recognized on paper, is challenged daily in classrooms and schoolyards and denied outright by a few governments,” said the UN agency in a news release, announcing its new Global Education Monitoring Report.
Alongside this stark finding, the report did note some progress, especially in some of the largest refugee-hosting nations, in inclusion of refugee children in national education systems.
Champions include low income countries such as Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda, noted the report, adding that Canada and Ireland are leading in implementing inclusive education policies for immigrants.
Education ‘key to inclusion and cohesion’ – UNESCO Director-General
Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General or UNESCO, highlighted the importance of education to make communities stronger and more resilient.
Increased classroom diversity, while challenging for teachers, can also enhance respect for diversity and an opportunity to learn from others – UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay
“Everyone loses when the education of migrants and refugees is ignored. Education is the key to inclusion and cohesion. Increased classroom diversity, while challenging for teachers, can also enhance respect for diversity and an opportunity to learn from others.”
The 2019 edition of the report – which focuses on migration, displacement and education – also highlighted the need for additional resources for low- and middle-income countries, which host almost 90 per cent of refugees globally but lack funds to cope.
“Donors need to multiply their expenditure on refugee education by three and ensure long term support,” added UNESCO.
In addition, the report also called for better understanding and planning to meet the education needs of migrants and displaced people, as well as greater and accurate representation of migration and displacement histories in the curriculum to challenge prejudices.
Alongside, it also recommended that teachers of migrants and refugees be provided with better preparation to help address diversity and hardship.
Here’s a question that keeps me awake some nights – what will we do with advances in business, economy and technology if we do not pay attention to harnessing the capabilities of young people who will at some point be responsible for the successful functioning of their communities and the world? Are we doing enough to safeguard their basic rights to education, food, shelter, and other basic amenities? Are we making our best efforts to give them a real voice?
These questions present us an opportunity to think about the issues facing young people around the globe, and especially in the MENA region where the youth crisis is perhaps the most intensified. In our minds, youth stands for dreams, innovation, and new opportunities – or simply put, the future. Yet too many of these dreams are today being thwarted. Globally, youth unemployment is three times higher than that of adults.
Children and the youth face a bigger risk when displaced; they are far more vulnerable than adults when subject to violence and exploitation, physical and psychological abuse, trafficking, or when they pulled away from schools and given arms by extremists.
In 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report according to which 57 percent refugee population comprised young children including 173,800 unaccompanied and separated child refugees.
These are some realties that Sharjah’s leadership, who has entrusted the emirate’s future with the youth, has committed itself to help changing. Our ambitions led us to create an international platform ‘Investing in the Future: Middle East and North Africa (IIFMENA) Conference, held in Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre, to bring the world together once every two years to tackle a specific humanitarian and development challenge in the MENA Region.
The first edition of the conference hosted regional governments and international agencies to discuss ways and means to safeguard the rights and lives of refugee children and adolescents who are victims of conflicts and wars. The second edition focused on the crucial issue of the pressing need for gender equity by offering girls and women equal opportunities in society and economy.
The theme of the upcoming edition on October 24–25 is ‘Youth – Crisis Challenges and Development Opportunities,’ and it will be hosted by TBHF in partnership with UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and UN Women. This edition will shed the spotlight on youth-related issues with a focus on the consequences of wars, conflicts and disasters on them. The potential of a whole generation risks being wasted as the region stokes social tensions.
Through the conference, we would like to highlight that youth should have the opportunity to participate in the social and economic development of their communities. We need to establish a clear mechanism to involve them in the decision-making process, harness their potentials, and ignite their leadership skills.
IIFMENA will be hosting targeted discussions on how governments and private organisations can offer stronger support to countries that host victims of crises, whether refugees or immigrants, especially considering that 85% of displaced individuals have sought asylum in developing countries that are still struggling to promote their economy, infrastructure, heath, and education services.
Youth are agents of change.
Creating large numbers of decent jobs for young people is critical for achieving overall development objectives, from poverty reduction to better health and education. Globally, 600 million jobs will be needed over the next 10 to 15 years. Developing the youth’s employability skills will also be a core focus of the conference agenda.
The expert insights in this edition will seek to offer strategic direction to the agenda of youth empowerment with a special focus on how they can be prepared and equipped to be safely returned to their homelands once conditions are normalised. When given the space and opportunity to rebuild their own communities, young people can turn their energy and creativity towards solving today’s challenges and tomorrow’s problems.
International communities will need to rally efforts to be able to execute this strategy. It is our collective responsibility to ensure our youth does not feel abandoned, lost or cheated – it is in these times they are most vulnerable and have no choice but to seek an alternative environment not conducive to their own development or that of their community’s.
Displacement, marginalisation and lack of opportunities are all problems that humans created for themselves. It’s time we turn these problems into long-term solutions for us, and more importantly, for our children.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the importance of tackling youth oppression and unemployment, and calls for promoting their rights in education, employment and civic engagement. Through the IIFMENA Conference this year, we seek to take this agenda by demonstrating that a common global agenda can galvanise support from many different actors – something critical to the successful promotion of the youth towards a brighter, more just future.