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Education programs everywhere in the world must be rigorously researched to prevent the spread of the real-world consequences of prejudice and discrimination which, left unchecked, erode the foundations of progress, writes Lord Simon Isaacs.
In the public health field, it’s not hard to recall cases where flawed research has had far-reaching consequences, from erroneous claims discouraging COVID-19 vaccination to debunked theories linking the MMR vaccine to autism. These and other examples have been well documented.
However, the well-being of society does not depend solely on public health. The impact of educational programs and textbooks that children study not only shape millions of impressionable minds, but are also essential to the future of society in the decades to come.
So when these true foundations of education fail, they must be treated with the same sense of alarm.
An obvious example is the recently published textbooks in Russia, which justify the invasion of “ultranationalist” Ukraine and describe the occupied lands as part of Russia.
Clearly, the Kremlin calculated that training young people today would help bolster its expansionist goals in the future.
At the same time, it is clear that the different perceptions of the European Union contained in school textbooks are closely linked to individual national narratives on the issue.
A comparative academic study of English and German textbooks found that the English curriculum presents the EU primarily as a controversial issue, while German textbooks reflect a more positive approach.
Problematic textbooks and analysis gone wrong
It is clear that in any country the publication of textbooks can have a profound influence on societal norms.
The production of school textbooks must therefore be carefully monitored, especially when it is financed by European taxpayers.
A prime example is the textbooks published by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which are full of hateful portrayals of Jews and encourage violence against Israel: acts of terror such as the 1972 Munich massacre are endorsed and even scientific theory is taught through the prism of the shootings and attacks against Israelis.
Given that the EU is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, it is not surprising that Brussels is keenly interested in this issue.
This is why, from 2019 to 2021, the EU commissioned the George Eckert Institute (GEI), a German center for international textbook analysis (named after a former Nazi who volunteered to Hitler’s brownshirts and defected in 1944 to join the Greek resistance), to “provide the EU with a critical, comprehensive and objective basis for political dialogue with the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the subject of education “.
Unfortunately, there is nothing “critical” in the institute’s report, which totals approximately 170 pages of analysis of 156 Palestinian textbooks and 16 teaching guides published between 2017 and 2019.
When research is wrong, decision making is affected
On closer inspection, mainstream media, public figures and organizations have revealed alarming gaps in the GEI’s work.
Cases of anti-Semitism and incitement to violence were neglected and the institute’s study director, Dr. Riem Spielhaus, even admitted to German media that in some cases the wrong textbooks had been analyzed .
One glaring error was the presentation of an Israeli textbook in Arabic promoting peace and tolerance, which the George Eckert Institute mistakenly identified as a Palestinian textbook.
GEI director Eckhardt Fuchs ultimately admitted in testimony before the European Parliament that AP textbooks did not meet UNESCO standards, and the FAQ section of the report released after its publication confirmed that “Textbooks contain anti-Semitic narratives and glorification of violence.”
However, the institute has still not acknowledged its mistakes or taken responsibility for its faulty work.
Whether the GEI report is evidence of high-ranking incompetence or disturbing bias, the failure to conduct research with accuracy and integrity has serious consequences.
After all, the debate over the Palestinian Authority’s incitement to violence and poisoning of millions of young minds through its education system is an important and lively debate in the European Parliament, the British Parliament and other decision-making bodies key internationals.
More often than not, the opinions expressed in these forums and ultimately the decisions made by national and international leaders are based on accurate, quality research.
Preventing the corrosive effects of prejudice and discrimination
The harsh reality of the PA’s incitement to hatred through its school textbooks and the IEG’s subsequent failure to properly analyze the issue, alongside Russia’s exploitation of school curricula for political purposes, should sound the alarm.
After all, in all countries, whether in conflict zones or not, education plays a crucial role in perpetuating national narratives and promoting societal norms.
Education programs everywhere in the world must be rigorously researched to prevent the spread of the real-world consequences of prejudice and discrimination that, if left unchecked, erode the foundations of progress.
If we want to build better societies, we need more analysis and greater awareness of the importance of textbooks studied by millions of children.
Just as public health research has been subjected to endless scrutiny, the same maxim must now be applied to the analysis of curricula that will define the attitudes and values of the next generation.
The Right Hon. Marquess of Reading Lord Simon Isaacs is the chairman of the Barnabas Foundation.
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