A common project of the Swiss Coalition for Cultural Diversity and the Swiss Commission for UNESCO
Cultural diversity is cultivated first at school. But other channels play an active role such as cultural activities promoted by local authorities and civil society.
The school has a mission: to transmit the culture, knowledge and values of our country by which it defines it, humanizes it and ensures its well-being. The school plays a key role in the perpetuation of democracy through the education of future citizens.
Public education is the result of the general will of the people; this is why it is entrusted to a State institution and its teachers are certified by appointment. Its contents must not be subordinated to private interests or regulated by the law of supply and demand.
The school must provide the knowledge and tools to understand the world in all its diversity. Faced with the enormous wealth of information means (Internet, images, TV, media), we must train young people, set on a solid base of knowledge, to master the sources of information by sorting, arranging and maintaining a critical distance.
The desire to “standardize” teaching does not fulfil legitimate educational needs. It is through teachers, their culture and their professionalism, that knowledge is transmitted, and not through systems. The methods and procedures lie within their jurisdiction and should remain as flexible as possible to meet the wide variety of situations that characterizes our society.
The scientific approach has suffered from a double devaluation: rejected by some circles due to consequences considered to be harmful (nuclear, GMO...), or reduced to its commercial potential.
An over-valuation of knowledge that is “useful” to the labour market has led to the introduction of specialization at the expense of disciplines such as the arts. It is an illusion to try to anticipate what would be useful for the labour market.
Modern civilizations are founded on the written word. All ability to study, be informed and think is based on it. Illiteracy is a major factor of social and cultural exclusion:
The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) is indiscriminately introducing two foreign languages in the 3rd and 5th grade of primary school at breakneck speed. At the crucial moment when the difficulty in reading - which affects one out of five or six pupils - should be detected and compensated by appropriate measures. This measure fatally penalizes the weakest pupils; yet the very disappointing results obtained so far from early education do not support the official line.
The regional language of the place of study is simultaneously the language of integration, study and conceptualization. It must be mastered in all its oral and written aspects. It is probably the teaching of the first language that has suffered the greatest decline in the past decade.
There is a parallel trend to the desire to “standardize education” in the standardization of educational material, particularly in language teaching, that is more in line with commercial imperatives than educational needs.
Recent findings of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) have shown to what extent the family and social environment play an important role in success or failure at school. Therefore, public education must also be able to rely on external channels.
The policy of democratization of studies in the years 1960-80 focused on all approaches to compensate for deficiencies in the family environment to achieve academic success: creating libraries, services to help study (support, advice, etc.), resting places for children who cannot return home, school kitchens at low prices, advice for parents, etc. Yet it is this support that suffered most from the economic policies of the 1990s.
Apart from this, the school is not the only place for cultural education. Youth centres, community centres, welcoming newcomers should also be part of the cantonal and local authority policies to complement academic effort.
Since the 1960s, museums, concert venues, institutional theatres and cultural centres developed policies to sensitize the public to culture with the sponsorship of public authorities, primarily of the cities and municipalities and secondly by the State. These cultural institutions contribute to the promotion of culture.
Switzerland is blessed with an important and very diversified civil society that simultaneously plays a role of stabilizing democracy and integrating people. Many local organizations offer the opportunity to practice a cultural activity in amateur theatre, music, dancing, and film clubs. They should be encouraged.
National languages, cultural languages, languages of international communication, immigrant languages, each have their place in our country. The reversal of historical priorities in the 1990s and promises for the labour market that owed more to publicity than actual opportunities introduced considerable confusion.
While it is important to give consideration and welcome immigrant populations (especially by promoting the transmission of their culture of origin) and to ensuring openness to the world through international languages, the historical continuity and stability of countries are based on citizenship and languages.
That a majority of the German-speaking region of Switzerland identifies itself with English before French cannot remain without consequences for the long-term cohesion of Switzerland and its historical choice of a multilingual identity that has assured us a century and a half of civil peace. The highly polarized vote of the Federal Assembly of 2007 on the priority of national languages or the freedom given to the Cantons cannot be the last word.
The conflict between the second national language and English is a false problem that comes from confusion about the objectives of the acquisition of one or the other. Most students are required to use English during their studies. So far, they manage very well with what they learn in secondary school and that they may supplement by targeted university courses in the field of study.
The Swiss Conference of Rectors of Universities of Teacher Education (COHEP) has made several recommendations aimed at encouraging the mobility of young trainees. It instructed its “mobility team” to clarify the terms with an initial implementation in bilingual Canton of Valais where teachers during their training now spend one year out of three in the other language region of the Canton (Brig and/or Monthey). The Canton of Fribourg is moving in the same direction.
Meanwhile, in March 2008, the Swiss Society of Teachers of Secondary Education (SSPES) adopted the project ‘For a Swiss Erasmus’, a result of the work over many years of its Commission for modern languages. This involves encouraging students through incentives to spend part or all of their study time in another language region so that in the medium term, this mobility would become widespread. The end of adolescence is a time of life that is particularly conducive to mobility. The advantage for the country of a course of study in a second national language is twofold: to train elites familiar with both a national language and the lifestyles of those who speak it.
Today, school has been extended to 18-20 years for more than 80% of young people. Everything is not definitive at 12 years old, or even 15 years old, a fact that must be taken into account before introducing the teaching of two languages early on and that would heavily penalize students with difficulties learning the first language.
The school is the core of socialization of new generations. Children and young people live in the ‘now’, and their ‘now’ is their actual environment. Their school experience is thus absolutely crucial. It is a melting pot of cultural diversity with three conditions:
a) A teacher trained in cultural diversity and tolerance
We need to be extremely attentive to the cultural and civic training of teachers and those responsible for schools by integrating in their training, knowledge of the issue and dialogue mechanisms to defuse conflicts of identity and to promote intercultural education.
b) A school experience respectful of all and free from stigma
The safest vector of tolerance between cultures lived within the school is a peaceful coexistence between students with their own cultures, accepting differences without stigmatizing them. This cohabitation must be guaranteed by rigorous attention to all manifestations of intolerance and a clear demarcation of identity claims that are opposed to humanist values. This is not promoting just anything, but rather defending without compromising cultural diversity based on knowledge.
The school should be a place of active tolerance, i.e. all players must be trained in and adhere to the values of the “social contract” that unifies society.
c) Integration into the teaching of values supporting respect for diversity
A modern education, incorporating advances in anthropology, should show any human being in its cultural and “physical” diversity without wanting to establish a hierarchy; this represents a significant contribution to both tolerance and the perception of diversity.
The school alone cannot deal with antisocial behaviour of children living in criminogenic cities; tolerance and civility also depend on controlled neighbourly relations. Urban and cantonal authorities as well as civil society organizations have an educational duty to create the conditions for peaceful neighbourhood relations.
The rise of sensitivity to ecology is a factor favouring reflection and developments that take into account the population-environment relation and cultural needs. The living environment is an essential element of integration or discrimination. If one settles ethnic minorities in a location that is, in addition, poorly designed, this immediately gives rise to the ideological confinement of a monoculture and manifestations of exclusion.
By focusing on the immediate environment, neighbourhood associations open a space for expression by the population as it really is, regardless of origin.
Without going into detail, we note that many “underground” or “alternative” music movements that have mobilized some of the youth since the 1980s have largely contributed to a familiarity with other forms of cultural expression that were not transmitted through education and our family traditions.
Original text: French
Erica Deuber Ziegler. Art historian. firstname.lastname@example.org
Christa Dubois-Ferriere. Professor of German. email@example.com
Ninian Hubert van Blyenburgh. Lecturer at the Universities of Geneva (History of Anthropology) and Neuchâtel (Museum Studies). firstname.lastname@example.org
Gerald Morin. Film producer (Almaz Film) and professor of film at ECAV (Academy of Arts Valais) Sierre; Editor of the magazine “CultureEnjeu”. email@example.com
Marco Polli (Commissioner). Retired professor of German, philosophy and computing, retired. Secretary General of the Swiss Federation of Amateur Theatrical Companies. Linguist. firstname.lastname@example.org