Emirati children are taught peace, tolerance, study finds

Peace is highlighted as the ultimate goal for a global society.

A man takes a picture of his children on the corniche in Doha, Qatar, June 6, 2017. (photo credit: NASEEM ZEITOON/REUTERS)
A man takes a picture of his children on the corniche in Doha, Qatar, June 6, 2017.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has broken new ground in the region with the introduction of a Moral Education curriculum designed to teach morality to enable students to navigate the modern world successfully. Remarkably, it is the first curriculum in the region to separate moral education from religious education.
The finding came in an initial report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), a research and policy institute that analyzes schoolbooks and curricula within the prism of UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance.
Well-versed in the content of school textbooks throughout the region, IMPACT-se found that the Moral Education curriculum was unique in the region for its willingness to embrace an outward-looking, inclusive worldview.
"The fact that this Moral Education curriculum is independent of religious education makes it unique to the Arab world, IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff said, adding: "It is a highly visible result of Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s stated aim to take back control of the education ministry from the Islamists who originally wrote the country’s textbooks. The material we have reviewed so far is a roadmap for young Emiratis towards moderation, respect for the 'Other', peace-making and tolerance."
Moral Education was introduced as an initiative into Emirati schools under the directive of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2016 as a way to introduce values and principles valid across all communities. The report notes: "At its heart, the ME course aims to teach children to participate in life in a responsible, productive and engaged manner. It is less about instructing students on how to behave and more about enabling them to determine the right course of action on their own. Eventually, the overall aim of this holistically-inspired course is to link all children in the UAE, regardless of nationality, to the common thread of humanity and share with them universal values and morals."
It's genesis originated in the UAE's 2021 vision of creating a knowledge-based economy, preserving UAE heritage and providing wellness and social well-being of citizens and residents, and as such, ties in with policy changes such as the recent peace deal between the Gulf state and Israel.
Although the curriculum contains four units: character and morality, the individual and the community, cultural studies and civic studies, IMPACT-se's preliminary report focuses only on the character and morality unit, measuring it against UNESCO-derived standards of peace and tolerance which, according to the report, the textbooks meet.
Among the key findings within the report is that diversity and inclusivity are central, while peace is highlighted as the ultimate goal for a global society.
Students are taught that they must strive to "achieve and to remain in a state of peace," as they are taught that "at its foundation, the UAE placed central importance on the value of peaceful conflict resolution," the report found.
Conflict resolution is taught, as is advocating against violence at all costs, in stark contrast to the Palestinian curriculum which regularly encourages acts of violence toward Jews. Pacifism is taught through the examples of Mahatma Ghandi and Desmond Doss, an American soldier in World War II who refused to kill enemy combatants but instead carried 75 fellow soldiers to safety, at risk of his own life.
“When you live in this world, it is inevitable to meet people from different cultures and different backgrounds," Grade 6 students are taught.
"Our worldview is shaped by our environment. When we are little children, we assume that the whole world thinks and acts like us, and that culture is a permanent thing that cannot be changed. However, as we grow older, we begin to understand that culture is not something that stands still ... Many believe that the key to world peace lies in respecting and accepting the contradictions between us”.
IMPACT-se will be reviewing the full Emirati curriculum, Sheff said. "We have come across a social studies textbook that recognizes Judaism's place as belonging to the Arab World and to the Middle East. Elsewhere, Israel, The West Bank and Gaza are separately delineated on a topological map of the Arab world. This is not commonplace in Arab curricula.
"A robust peace education and the willingness of citizens to embrace peacemaking are inexorably linked," he added. "We view the UAE Moral Education course as a wonderful template for school systems across the region."