Learning Unity, Respecting Diversity

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

By Ida Nurbagus

Published: Sun 8 Feb 2009, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:51 AM

But how about religion? For me, as a mother of three children, I want all the religions of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible too.

I think it is widely accepted that “speaking” different religions is beneficial for the development of pluralism. And adopting this outlook in my household means my children instinctively gain a better understanding of what religion is all about. However, what about taking this beyond the household to our education system? Do we need formal religious education? And at what age should it begin?

Recently I met a mother who sends her son to the same kindergarten my child attends in Jakarta. She was complaining about religious education in our sons’ class. Every Friday the children are separated for different classes — Muslims with a Muslim teacher, Christians with a Christian teacher, while Hindu and Buddhist children just play on the playground.

She thought it was alright at a higher level but for children at the kindergarten level, religious freedom should be discussed in class so every child knows that choosing a religion is the right of each citizen and that a person does not have the right to attack another over a difference of opinion.

No religion teaches hostility, she claimed. If someone is critical of a belief system, he or she should approach the matter with sensitivity, so that, as the children grow older, tolerance will be increasingly present in society.

Her remarks did not surprise me.

Many parents were very impressed and influenced by the annual “Gema Perdamaian” (Echo of Peace) event this past October at the Bajra Sandhi Square in Denpasar, Bali. The event, held every year in conjunction with the commemoration of the 2002 Bali bombings, has given hundreds of children the chance to have fun while learning about religious tolerance through a series of performances featuring various Indonesian traditional songs and dances, as well as prayers presented by various prominent religious figures in Indonesia. “We try to open hearts and minds to the notion that differences and diversity in Indonesia are the base for peace”, said Suadiarta Indrajaya, the head of the organising committee. This year’s Echo of Peace event focused on pluralism.

The event taught youth to respect differences and strive to work together on the basis of equality. It also demonstrated that dialogue is an important part of pluralism and helps nurture relations between people of different backgrounds. With pluralism comes cooperation to achieve common goals.

Religious tenets are featured in almost all of the world’s cultures. They have been the source of long-standing disputes and local, regional and international conflicts, but also the inspiration for much of the world’s great art, music, architecture and literature.

The aim of education is to bring an awareness and understanding of global issues, not just those of one particular country, culture or religion. A valuable education not only teaches values within each culture or religion, but also across cultures and religions.

An education that teaches religion at the kindergarten level should encourage children to understand that all cultures are equally valid and to practise tolerance and understanding as the basis of a peaceful world. Let’s make a difference — at an early age — by teaching children a respect for diversity.

Ida Nurbagus is a mother of three and a practitioner for the School-Based Management and Women Empowerment programme in Jakarta. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service

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