Interfaith charity promotes respect for cultural diversity among school pupils

Interfaith Explorers is endorsed by UNESCO

An interfaith charity is helping primary school pupils in Peterborough learn the value of cultural diversity and respect for others.

Some 22 languages are represented at the growing Discovery Primary School and many of the 620 pupils are from a Muslim or Jewish background.

The growing diversity at the school reflects an influx of new migrant communities drawn to the city in recent years.

With that in mind, one of the school's key objectives is helping pupils to respect and value religious and cultural diversity.

"We are a changed school," says headteacher Anne Hampson. "While we've always had an international focus and felt that we wanted to teach our children about all different faiths, the new make-up of the school made that even more important."

Interfaith Explorers is a UNESCO-backed programme which has at its heart the belief that there is more to unite people than divide them.

A favourite with pupils is The Lemon Activity

The free online resource is designed to add value to RE and PSHE lessons and help students develop core personal and social competencies.

"With Interfaith Explorers, I really like their angle that, ok, we may all have a different religion, but we also have a tremendous number of things in common," Hampson said.

The resource was developed by school improvement specialists Edison Learning, and based on the idea of Professor Nasser David Khalili, founder of the Maimonides Foundation, who works to encourage dialogue, cooperation and understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

A popular Interfaith Explorers activity involves each child choosing a lemon and learning to see beyond their initial perceptions from seeing the lemons as all the same, to realising that they are all, upon closer inspection, different in size, shape, colour and texture.

By the end of the activity, the children are able to pick their own lemon out of the bunch and go home with the understanding that, just like lemons, people who appear to be similar can be quite different.

"Although community cohesion work is not top of the agenda under the coalition government, it was key under the previous administration and is still a core part of what we do here at Discovery," said Hampson.

"Education is a great way of promoting community cohesion and the Interfaith Explorers resources are very good at demonstrating the commonality between faiths.

"Getting on together is what we are about at this school and this promotes it. We feel there is a lot of good stuff in it."

Interfaith Explorers complements Discovery's own initiatives to foster greater inter-cultural appreciation among pupils.
One of the things the school does is choose pupils from different cultures to be a 'Language Ambassador' for a week, with one of their duties being to lead an assembly where they talk about their faith and culture.

"With a topic such as interfaith there is little hard data to use to assess our efforts, but what I can say is that, considering some of our white working class families don't always appreciate the changing nature of the place, we have very few racist incidents, if any," said Hampson. "Staff here say it's brilliant and the activities are really good. They pick and choose the ones they want to use.

"We mainly use it, as suggested, at the end of the summer term as part of the pupils' preparation for senior school life. Obviously it best complements our RE curriculum, but we mould it for our own context and use it across a few different subject areas.

"At the last count, our pupils were speaking 22 different languages between them, so anything we can do to help them respect each other's cultures and customs has got to be a good thing."

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