On the eve of International Day for Tolerance, celebrated on November 16, we highlight evidence for education’s unique ability to boost tolerance and reduce discrimination.
One of the fundamental roles that education plays is to increase tolerance. Tolerance, in turn, underpins democracy and strengthens the bonds that hold peaceful communities and societies together.
Education’s contribution is especially vital in regions and countries where lack of tolerance is associated with violence and conﬂict. And the more equal the education, the greater its power to increase tolerance. As we show on our Education Transforms website, in sub-Saharan Africa the risk of conﬂict in the areas with the highest education inequality is almost double that of the areas that have the lowest education inequality.
The human toll of intolerance can be catastrophic. UNESCO pushed for the establishment of International Day for Tolerance in 1995, a year after more than half a million people were killed in the genocide in Rwanda. On November 16, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the signature of UNESCO’s constitution, UNESCO’s 185 member states adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, whose Article 4 begins: “Education is the most effective means of preventing intolerance.”
Secondary education plays a particularly powerful role in increasing people’s tolerance towards those from other social groups. In Latin America, for example, those with a secondary education are 47% more likely to express tolerance to those of a different race than those who have only reached primary school; and in the Arab States, those with secondary education are 34% more likely to express tolerance to those speaking a different language. We have captured this impact in an infographic for our Education Transforms booklet.
Lack of tolerance rebounds on education: it leads to discrimination that keeps some children out of school, including those from minority ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. The EFA Global Monitoring Report’s World Inequality Database on Education shows how disparities in education affect ethnic and religious minorities. In Nigeria, for example, the proportion of those aged 7 to 16 who had never been to school was 27% on average but 72% among the Fulani ethnic group. In Thailand, 1% of the Thai have never been to school, but this goes up to 55% among the Myanmar minority (2008 figures).
Intolerance towards the needs of children with disabilities and with HIV means their access to education is often restricted. In Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania, having disabilities doubles the probability of children never having attended school. In India, 58% of women and 43% of men from households not affected by HIV and AIDS would not send their children to a school with an HIV-positive child.
To tap education’s power to boost tolerance, it is vital that policy-makers commit to building more inclusive schools, recruiting and training teachers from disadvantaged groups, facilitating learning in indigenous languages, and ensuring universal secondary schooling.