25 February 2009 Teaching values amid diversity Nobel Prize winners Frederik de Klerk and Lech Walesa were keynote speakers at ORT Mexico’s annual education conference, which this year offered workshops and lectures on the theme of Values, Equity and Diversity. Opened, like last year’s inaugural conference, by Mexico’s First Lady Margarita Zavala de Calderon, this year’s event attracted huge media interest and more than 6,000 teachers from 300 schools – a 50 per cent increase on 2008. Although attendance was lower than expected because of recession-hit school budgets, the conference was an ‘absolute success’ said ORT Mexico National Director Jimmy Salinas. ‘There is no other way to describe an event in which more than 6,000 people attend our training and trade show and which is reported in every newspaper and every radio show in Mexico,’ Mr Salinas said. ‘This is the only event in Mexico which addresses teachers. The most important sector of the educational world that hasn’t been attended to is the teachers. You may have scholarships for students and building programmes but if you don’t train teachers, if you don’t show them how to use the most advanced models of education, then education will stay as it is while the world around it moves on.’ With 15 intensive workshops and 12 lectures, the three-day conference offered unparalleled opportunities for teachers from across Mexico to tap into the latest pedagogical theories and techniques dealing with the often overlooked aspects of teaching values and maintaining equity amid diversity. The impressive line-up of international lecturers included New Zealander Gordon Dryden, co-author of the world’s fastest-selling non-fiction book, The Learning Revolution, who looked at transforming the way in which the world learns. And Mexico’s leading contemporary novelist, Angeles Mastretta, author of the internationally successful Tear This Heart Out, dazzled listeners with her plea for a greater encouragement of students’ creativity. Among the training workshops were ones led by Spain’s Dr Maria Isabel Aguilera, examining how school staff can prevent and stop bullying, nurture respect and manage conflicts, and Everardo Garcia, whose theme was Science, Thinking and Values. ‘There’s a crisis in values in the world and in Mexico because teachers are trained to teach academic subjects but they don’t know how to transmit values to their students,’ Mr Salinas said. ‘They don’t know how to address a situation with students with increasingly diverse needs, whether diversity is measured by gender, class, disability, ethnicity, religion or individual students’ strengths and weaknesses.’ The values that need to be taught are ones that are often taken for granted, and so overlooked, but are vital for the well being of society and for the positive adjustment and success of individual students as they enter that society. ‘In science, for example, there are values such as respect, sharing, team work and listening to others which are vital,’ Mr Salinas said. ‘We assume they are common courtesy and they are not promoted in the classroom. But they are not common sense for most children; they need to be taught these things.’ In his keynote address, Mr de Klerk, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with Nelson Mandela for his role in dismantling apartheid while president of South Africa, placed the ORT Mexico conference into a global context. ‘One of the inescapable implications of globalisation is an enormous increase in the interaction between people from different backgrounds, cultures, languages and religions. The management of the resulting cultural, language and religious diversity will be one of this century’s greatest challenges – for the international community, for countries and for organisations like ORT,’ he said. ‘In the final analysis,’ Mr de Klerk concluded, ‘managing diversity is about accepting the need for freedom of choice, toleration and common values: people should be free to be themselves and to maintain the many concentric identities that make them individuals; managing diversity is about promoting a culture of toleration and respect for difference, but it is also about reaching agreement on core values and approaches that bind people together.’ In introducing Mr de Klerk, World ORT Director General Robert Singer noted that while ORT was a Jewish organisation it was ‘totally committed to equality and diversity, and the services that we provide reach individuals, families and communities irrespective of their race, religion or nationality’. ‘One lesson that ORT has learned during the past 130 years is that things do not stand still,’ Mr Singer said. ‘We have experienced the destruction of war and the opportunities to build during peacetime; we have had to contend with huge changes in the fortunes of our donors and we have ridden the waves of constantly-developing technology. We do not shy away from change; we embrace it, we harness it and we use the energy that it generates to build and to help our beneficiaries to grow – both personally and as contributing members of their communities. That is why I feel a very strong empathy with [Mr de Klerk]. He is certainly no stranger to change; he is a legendary architect of change.’ Mr Walesa, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his role in overturning Communism as leader of Poland’s Solidarity movement, spoke about the need for democracy. ‘Mr Walesa said governments should strive to bring democracy to everyone in their countries and not just pay lip service to democratic ideals,’ Mr Salinas said. ‘And he said that inclusivity should extend to the education sector.’ The Chair of World ORTs Board of Trustees, Mauricio Merikanskas, attended the conference and said he was very impressed by ORT Mexicos accomplishment. I was very encouraged in talking to teachers who attended the conference they were very satisfied by the lectures and the guest speakers, said Mr Merikanskas, who lives in Mexico. Thanks to initiatives like this conference, ORT is now considered one of the best organisations to capacitate the people of Mexico. Were now very well recognised throughout Latin America. Perhaps the greatest complement extended to conference organisers was that by Mrs Zavala, wife of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon. Invited to open the conference, she decided to stay for the whole conference, attending lectures and workshops. ‘She is a teacher by profession,’ Mr Salinas said. ‘Now, as First Lady, she has many official duties but she cleared her busy timetable in order to stay with us because, she said, she wanted to learn. She told me at the end of the three days that it had been one of the best conferences she had ever been to.’ The main corporate sponsors of last year’s event, telecommunications giant TELMEX and BBVA Bank’s Bancomer Foundation were joined this year by UTEP, PrendaMex, Steren and Liomont.