First statement at meeting European Ministers of Education on 'Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination trough education'

Let me start by offering my special thanks to you, Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem, for uniting us here today in response to the cruel attacks in Paris and Kopenhagen. These attacks have moved citizens and politicians across Europe to show their outrage and express their sympathy. It is a powerful reminder of the words of the poet Paul Éluard, as I may paraphrase: “We are born to know liberty and call it by its name.” And we must guard against new attacks on our values.

Investing in education is an important part of this process.

The Mayor of Rotterdam Ahmed Aboutaleb urged us to acknowledge that some people turn their back on our society and resort to violence. In his view, we can only prevent this by building bridges between different groups while at the sáme time establishing clear boundaries and defending the fundamental and non-negotiable values we embrace.

In education, this means taking firm action when young people are in danger of becoming isolated. But it also requires an investment in good education, opportunities for work experience, dropout prevention and promoting good citizenship.

This last point is particularly relevant for us here today.

Shortly after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a Dutch schoolteacher hung a cartoon in the classroom to spark a discussion among her ethnically diverse pupils. The school’s directors made her remove the cartoon, for fear of angry reactions from pupils and parents.
I said, however, school directors should support teachers who wish to address these important issues.

Such conversations are not easy, because they touch on emotions, beliefs and personal values.
Together with my colleagues from other government departments, I want to provide extra tools and support for teachers and schools.

I aim to do this in three ways:

Firstly by providing support to teachers who see the signs of radicalization in their classroom. For example: a hotline, additional training, an accessible network that involves the local police, social workers, sports clubs, and so on. Cooperation at local level and a customized approach are both vital elements.

Secondly schools are strengthening their education on the themes of radicalization, extremism, discrimination and exclusion.
Teacher education schools are asked to put greater emphasis on citizenship education.

Thirdly I want to make use of role models to enter into a dialogue about the basic values of our democracy. These should be individuals young people look up to, with the authority to speak about religion, culture and tradition, individuals who can help pupils understand that there are different ways of looking at the world. They might be parents, academics, religious leaders, artists or politicians like Ahmed Aboutaleb.

I am looking forward to the lunch debate and the opportunity to share our practical experiences and to learn from one another.