Diversity Education to Promote Tolerance

02/16/2015 09:16 am ET | Updated Apr 18, 2015

During one hour at the World Economic Forum's 2015 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, I found myself engaged in a conversation with French President Francois Hollande. I was sharing with him my views on how including diversity within an educational system from the primary level itself, would potentially promote tolerance of other cultures in a country in its long run.

Imagine a group of five year olds walk into a class called World Stories. Their teacher gathers them around her and reads aloud the fable for that day. It is a story that has been carefully picked by her prior to the class from a wide choice of translated fables from different regions around the world. Through the interplay of characters set in a backdrop of their traditional culture, this particular story talks about a certain moral needed in life in order to be a good person.

It also peeps into facets unique to that culture such as customs and rituals, which the children listening to the story hear about for the first time. Most of the children in the class are homogenous in their cultural makeup. Hence the more their teacher delves into the story, the more curious they become of embracing the unfamiliar.

The next day, the kids eagerly look forward to World Stories for something special is going to be happening. Based on the region of the fable that was read the day before, the teacher has prepared a visual activity for her students. Today, she will be explaining the clothing attire, surroundings, food and interesting facts of the selected region through a series of photos. Some weeks when applicable, she also plays cartoons or other animations from the chosen region for her students.

At the end of the year, the students celebrate the World Stories class by throwing a big party. As every single region has been covered over the course of several weeks, everyone has been allocated a certain country to represent and is expected to come dressed in its national attire. Parents accompany their children by bringing homemade or store bought snacks from the delegated countries that are being represented. World music plays in the background and traditional games unfold in full force.

What kind of an impact would such an educational model have on very impressionable young minds if implemented right?

In this world littered with discrimination and hate crimes, a lack of awareness of cultures often deemed as 'the other,' is a prevalent problem in many countries. For this reason, governments need to introduce reforms from their primary educational systems itself that would introduce the vibrant diversities of this world. This is because children at that age are the most vulnerable to having their minds molded. Positive depictions of global diversity is therefore essential in that stage to produce citizens who will be educated, respectful and tolerant in their conduct in the long term.

Other than teachers who would need appropriate training to relay culturally relative concepts to their students, parents also need to play an active role. They should take the initiative to introduce cultures very different from theirs to their children through fun filled family activities. Like Maria Montessori said in The Absorbent Mind, "The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future. If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities."

Places worldwide that host much diversity within their populations should utilize it as a resource to promote tolerance in the future. Primary schools should encourage students of various cultures to share attributes of their backgrounds and traditions through exciting class projects. We need to see more intra and inter school events that focus on integrating diversity while simultaneously being of an academic or informal nature.

While privileged and generally very expensive schools around the globe bank on diversity through both their internationally recognized curriculums and extracurricular activities like Model United Nations, the accessibility to such resources lacks in mainstream schools in most countries. As a Global Shaper at the Forum's Global Shapers Community, a network of dynamic individuals between 20 and 30, and a world citizen, I would like to see governments implement what is currently available to a select few to the majority of their population.

The educational model mentioned here should also continue to more complex forms at the middle and high school levels. But it is important to start diversity education from the beginning itself for it to be the most effective. Only then would we be able to truly respect the power of diversity.