Second statement on the informal meeting of EU Ministers on 'promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination trough education'

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have come together as ministers of education to learn from each other about the role education can play in promoting good citizenship and in countering radicalization. I am pleased that we have been able to share experiences and examples during our lunch today.

I would like to tell you about two recent encounters.

The first encounter was with the “Dutch teacher of the year twenty-ten”, who has been working at a school with dozens of nationalities for years. She told me that she was ready to throw in the towel for the first time in her career following the attacks here, in Paris. She was shocked by her pupils’ often raw reactions to what had happened.
After a few days she realized that her pupils are still just children who went on the defensive, blind to the impact of their words, and that now was the time to keep the dialogue going.

The second encounter was with a Muslim girl of about fifteen years old at a Literature Festival for high school students.
She told me she did not really like to read. But she made the exception for Kader Abdolah, an author of Persian origin who found asylum in the Netherlands and who has grown to become an acclaimed writer. She said she really understood him, because of their similar backgrounds.

These encounters made me realize that teachers and school administrators have a dual task: to set clear boundaries for their pupils and to solidify the link between young people and society. We, government leaders, must support them in this task.

As a group of school administrators recently impressed on me: make sure support is readily available when we see signs of radicalization, and support teachers in explaining basic democratic values based on their own values. They said this final point was crucial. They told me: ‘You cannot build a bridge starting in the middle. You have to start at the banks.’

We have set up hotlines in the big cities, and coaches visit schools to support our teachers. And we will implement this model on a national scale.

Furthermore, we intend to augment our citizenship education programmes with themes such as radicalization, extremism and exclusion. And our teacher training programmes will also have a greater emphasis on safety and security in society, and on topics such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia.
This is also one of the recommendations from the manifesto of the anti-radicalization project (RAN) chaired by Omar Ramadan: a marvellous initiative.

But teachers and school administrators cannot do this completely by themselves.
I feel that role models and opinion leaders from the Muslim community also have a major part to play both inside and outside the classroom. Think of parents and social workers, and also artists, scientists and spiritual leaders who are intimately familiar with the Muslim tradition, faith and culture, while also being at home with Western values.

In the United States I experienced how Muslim organizations help young people and their parents with the interpretation of the Quran, to make sense of current developments such as choosing one’s own partner and homosexuality.
This is a process that we could foster here in the Netherlands.
And this is also a job for our universities: to ensure that they remain accessible to future generations, Muslim students included.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to call on you to work with me to strengthen education in Europe, jointly committing ourselves to “training and supporting teachers so that they are able to meet the needs of pupils from diverse backgrounds.”