On November 8, 2014, AFS Intercultural Programs, under the patronage of UNESCO, hosted an international high-level symposium Learning to Live Together—from Ideas to Action: AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium for more than 1,000 attendees.
It was an amazing milestone in AFS history when representatives of the AFS global community convened with global luminaries in the world of peace and justice at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France to make a bold statement about the importance of global citizenship education and the role AFS has taken to advance this movement.
“Our mission for the Symposium and going forward is to drive the global citizenship education movement to reach and cultivate partners, advocates, influencers, thought leaders and potential global citizens—young and old—especially those living or working in areas of great turmoil,” explains Melissa Liles, Chief Education Officer of AFS Intercultural Programs.
Building on the powerful recommendations presented at the 100 Years Young! AFS Youth Symposium earlier in the day, both the audience and the speakers were charged with anticipation and excitement. The theme of the conference was inspired by Jacques Delors’ challenge that we “learn to live together by developing an understanding of others.” Mr. Delors is the former three-time President of the European Commission and Chairperson of the UNESCO Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century.
The distinguished roster of speakers then facilitated a thought-provoking conversation exploring the dimensions and challenges of developing global citizens who can work across cultural differences to create a more just and peaceful world.
“We must recognize that our students are not ready for the world if they have no grasp of the 21st century’s challenges, stated Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990, 2006-2010) in his keynote address. “We must make intercultural understanding, not a footnote in our educational systems, but rather a mandatory course of study.”
The panel included Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of Iceland, Chernor Bah, the youth representative on the High-Level Steering committee for the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative, Andreas Schleicher, head of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Éric Falt, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO, and J. Brian Atwood, Chair of Global Policy Studies at the University of Minnesota and former Administrator of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID). They all sent a powerful message pushing for global education.
Facilitator Vishakha Desai, Special Advisor for Global Affairs at Columbia University and President Emerita of the Asia Society, encouraged everyone in the audience to think differently about their own efforts.
“Be the change you want to see in the world. That is, my friends, what we are all about,” advised Dr. Desai. “If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try to fall asleep with a mosquito in your room.”
We thank Sheryl Tucker of AFS International for contributing to the blog. To find out more, please see an extended version of this article in the upcoming issue of our AFS Intercultural Link news magazine.