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Does nation-building require a unified educational system?

I guess this question can be raised when it comes to every country in the world, but it started playing in my mind while reading about Lebanon, an incredibly heterogeneous country that has been under construction for several decades. And what is one of the most important elements when creating a national identity, notably according to the German doctrine? Exactly, History! Indeed, the state's authorities have been struggling to create a unified History since the end of the bloody Civil War that ravaged the country and left many psychological scars behind (some of them are opened from time to time, like, for instance, weeks ago).

The hallmark 1989 Taif Accords that put an end to the conflict called for a civic education to be uniform across the territory, in order to promote a (still fragile) national unity. This consensus was however ignored, leading to considerable void in the subsequent generations' education, or at lest general knowledge (I am talking about public establishments). By virtue of this agreement, Lebanon's most prominent historians presented the ministry of education with a curriculum they deemed suitable for Lebanese of all backgrounds. Nonetheless, the then Minister of Education did not agree with one of the historical interpretations and refused to allow the textbook into circulation.

The current curriculum is consequently decided by a controversial Committee, whose members have been involved on the various conflicts that have for years (and still do) devastated the country, thus making blatantly either biased or moot choices. For example, the expression "Cedar revolution" (the popular widespread events that resulted in the ousting of occupying Syrian forces back in 2005) has been suppressed from the Curriculum, even though some believe the uprising that unified hundreds of thousands of Lebanese hailing from different factions could represent a valuable unifying symbol. The content of government-approved History books used in different establishments normally depends on the religious affiliation of the school (notably stressing a stark difference between Muslim- and Christian- related events, for example either describing the French as colonialists or liberators or portraying the Ottomans as conquerors or as administrators). And the last straw: most History books sharply stop in 1943, the year in which Lebanon became an independent country. So children are not taught modern History because adults cannot agree on it.

The unsurprising consequence? This void leaves the task of both teaching and interpreting historic events to the children's parents (or even worse, religious leaders), thus cementing completely contradictory sectarian views among the country's new generations, and creating a perfect breeding ground for future infighting. Sometimes, History lessons have to be skipped or shortened in order to avert conflicts between students, specially when it comes to the 15 year war. Evidently, children finish by identifying themselves with their communities and not with their nation. Can you imagine? I don't know about you, but I personally believe these sensitive issues have to be (sensibly) tackled with the children themselves: taking care of letting the pupils learn which are the things that unify them, and which are the ones that tear them apart, in order to let them think how the latter can be circumvented, together.


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