January 27, 2020
The month of January is always associated with new beginnings. And for many of us, it’s also about the “back to school” routine, when blissful school holidays end and the school term starts. Fittingly, this is also the month in which the world marks the International Day of Education on Jan 24.
As proclaimed by the United Nations, it is a day that celebrates the role of education in spreading peace and development, and also a day to remind the global community that education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.
As one of those who went through the whole “back to school” routine, I can say now with the benefit of hindsight that it was truly a privilege to have grown up receiving an education not only from schools but also from informal and non-formal channels that have shaped and developed me.
In an increasingly globalised world, we inevitably have to deal with a spectrum of people across genders, languages, races, cultures and more on a frequent basis. In doing so, one of the biggest challenges is not only coping with this diversity but harnessing it as a strength by embracing diversity and practicing inclusion. I believe that education, be it formal, informal or non-formal, plays an essential role in helping us to rise up to this challenge.
Education as a human right is something that is often taken for granted. For those in the developed world, it is easier to relate to the idea of children and adolescents refusing to go to school rather than the stark reality that in this day and age, there are still 262 million children and youth who do not get to attend school, and more than 617 million children and adolescents who cannot read or do basic mathematics.
One of the most obvious impacts of missing out on formal education is that it becomes significantly harder to break out of the cycle of poverty. The other more subtle yet equally damaging impact is that these individuals may lack exposure on how to deal with diversity and overcome differences in opinions, which will in turn harm their ability to integrate into society.
Institutes of formal education are typically melting pots of diversity. It may not necessarily take the form of diversity in culture, language or religion, but can be present in a diversity of opinions, ideals and beliefs. Being exposed to diversity and how to deal with it from a young age go a long way towards promoting social inclusion and tackling discrimination. Further-more, this strengthens the community spirit of society as differences are embraced and respected, thus enhancing the sense of belonging and integration.
However, formal education alone is not enough in equipping a student to cope with diversity. Informal and non-formal education play equally essential roles. Informal education is learning that takes place outside of institutions, and non-formal education refers to learning that results from daily activities such as in work, family upbringing or religious schools.
Non-formal and informal education have a great influence on how members of society cope with diversity. Just ask any Malaysian, and regardless of their culture and background, most will readily be able to rattle off a few catchphrases and basic sentences in a non-mother tongue that they had learnt from a friend, colleague or neighbour.
Many of us also understand the significance and even embrace the celebrations of major religious events without having to step in a mosque, temple or church – again, having been “educated” by fellow members of society.
One of the most powerful examples of informal education that I experienced is through my involvement with the DIYC Movement. The DIYC Movement (which began as a Diversity & Inclusion Youth Camp) is an educational youth movement born right here in Malaysia that seeks to enable youth to become ambassadors for embracing diversity and practicing inclusion, and empowering them to become force multipliers by spreading the movement and its messages within their respective communities.
The DIYC Movement is unique in that it is run by youths for youths and it transcends borders, having reached out to more than 1,400 youths from over 27 countries representing a diversity of nationalities, languages, religions, beliefs and more.
The DIYC Conference is a biennial milestone of the DIYC Movement that brings together university and pre-university students from different backgrounds to participate in a Model United Nations-inspired conference where they will undergo a transformative experience learning about leadership, empathy and overcoming differences; they will also learn the importance of these factors as they begin to play a greater role in society.
Having been a part of the DIYC Conference in 2018, I have gained a new appreciation of embracing diversity and practicing inclusion. I witnessed firsthand how diversity in opinions and positions can not only be overcome but also dealt with inclusively, allowing all participants to collaboratively pass a single resolution based on consensus at the end of the conference.
At the beginning of this new decade, the outlook may appear bleak at times with issues such as the climate crisis, populist politics and fake news, among many others, springing up to challenge society.
However, with the right formal, informal and non-formal education opportunities given to all, the next generation of youth will be empowered to step up by embracing their diversity and harnessing its power to achieve a greater success than all the generations preceding them.
Secretary-General DIYC 2020 and President, United Nations Association of Malaysia Youth