17 April 2008 World ORT supports Council of Europes promotion of intercultural dialogue Special programmes should be made available to train teachers how best to guide children on factual and comparative material on religion, World ORT Director General Robert Singer told a meeting at the Council of Europe. Highlighting ORTs involvement in promoting cross-cultural understanding and tolerance in the UK and France, Mr Singer recommended that these programmes be used as models for other countries. The promulgation of the material should be accompanied by teacher training programmes to ensure that the teachers who will be responsible for delivering the material in the classroom will be active partners in the process, fully on board, motivated and involved. World ORT would be happy to assist in all aspects of this endeavour, he said. Mr Singers comments were part of a paper he presented at the Council of Europe 2008 Exchange on the Religious Dimension of Intercultural Dialogue, which brought together senior representatives of the Councils 47 member states, non-government organisations and religious communities as well as academics and other experts. The theme of the days discussion was teaching religious and convictional facts a tool for acquiring knowledge about religions and beliefs in education; a contribution to education for democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural dialogue. In 2005, Moscows education authority recognised ORTs high standards by amalgamating three vocational colleges into the ORT Technology College. Consequently, the Colleges 2,400 students are enrolled in courses ranging from finance, advertising, fashion and retail to vocational retraining and qualification upgrading for teachers, and part-time courses in drawing, painting and 3-D graphics. Addressing the meeting in Strasbourg, Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio said: Fact-based education on the diversity of religious and secular beliefs is indispensable if we want to be able to live together as equals in dignity. It is indeed a key element of education for democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural dialogue. Mr Singer said that while ORTs primary goal was to equip graduates with the skills and knowledge to enable them to pursue productive careers, it also accepted its responsibility to ensure that its students grew up to be tolerant and sensitive. As a Jewish organisation teaching about tolerance, ORT draws on centuries of traditional Jewish wisdom and text as well as on a variety of non-Jewish sources that promote the need to value each and every member of society and to treat each person with respect, he wrote. One example of how ORT confronts the ignorance that underlies bigotry was ORT Frances programme for high school students, Understanding the Monotheistic Religions. Distributed on CD-ROM, the programme comprises 12 one-hour sessions with supporting texts, maps, table and illustrations and shows the similarities as well as the difference between Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In the United Kingdom, World ORT has partnered with Jewish communal organisations to produce an interactive multimedia CD-ROM for primary schools entitled The Jewish Way of Life. The material describing and explaining Jewish identity, culture and religion is augmented with interactive activities designed to capture young students imagination. There is also a companion website providing tips and supplementary information for teachers. It would be wonderful if these programmes and others like them were to be made more widely available across Europe, Mr Singer wrote. We urge the Council of Europe to consider how The Jewish Way of Life programme could be adapted for other faiths and that it, and the Understanding the Monotheistic Religions material be translated into other languages and distributed. The Foreign Minister of San Marino, Fiorenzo Stolfi, who chaired the Exchange, said: This has been an innovative and experimental event I thank all the participants who have shared their knowledge and opinions concerning the principles, concepts and aims of the educational mission, in particular in the field of democratic citizenship and the religious dimension, as well as examples of best practice in the relationship between schools, the state and religions in Europe. General Rapporteur, Professor Jean-Paul Willaime, is due to make a summary of the days discussions which will be included in the files for next months session of the Committee of Ministers, which will consider what further action should be taken. Mr Singer said after the meeting that ORTs inclusive nature meant that it had extensive experience working with different religions and so understood the importance of intercultural dialogue and understanding. World ORTs representative at the Council of Europe, Jean-Hugues Leopold-Metzger, said it was important to note that the invitation for Mr Singer to speak at the meeting had come from the Council of Ministers, the grouping of foreign ministers which sets the policy direction of the Council of Europe. This is the first time that the Council of Ministers has asked a Jewish NGO to address such a meeting, Mr Leopold-Metzger said. For the Jewish community, this recognition of the quality of World ORTs work is particularly important at a time of rising antisemitism and hostility towards Israel.