In a classroom on Jolo island, schoolchildren will soon hang out with students from around the globe to learn about the world’s religions and share their own Muslim beliefs.
Out of such virtual play dates, friendships across faiths would grow, according to a religious literacy program former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is bringing to the Philippines.
Sowing seeds of peace for the younger Filipino generation is the name of the game through which Blair, who arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a 24-hour visit, seeks by linking schools from the four corners of the earth to build peace through conversation.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF) and the country’s education agencies on Wednesday launched the initiative that aims to develop interfaith and intercultural understanding among students in the global village and avert future conflicts rooted in religious intolerance.
“I actually think the big challenge and risk in today’s world are conflicts of cultural and religious ideology. Because people are living together more than ever before, they are aware of the differences and if they are ignorant about the other person, they become resentful, fearful, and sometimes they become aggressive towards them,” Blair said in a press briefing.
“The purpose is that we come together in an environment that is secure and intelligent and wisely constructed in which we can learn more about the other, learn how to work with the other, live with the other and co-exist peacefully,” he said.
‘Face to faith’
During his visit, Blair signed agreements with Education Secretary Armin Luistro and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Patricia Licuanan to implement his initiative.
Blair said he had been “anxious” to bring the Philippines into the program because of the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.
The Blair program’s two-fold approach includes the “Face to Faith” project, which would interface students of different faiths from around the world through teleconferencing for exposure exercises.
The Philippines is the 17th nation to adopt the project which has been pilot-tested in six private schools: Erda Technological School, Mahatma Gandhi International School, La Salle Zobel and Xavier School in Manila, Ateneo de Zamboanga and Ateneo de Davao.
Luistro said two public schools will soon test the program—Ramon Magsaysay High School and Jolo National High School.
“We use technology to link up schools in different places around the world. We’ve been operating it very, very successfully, allowing young people to get the other person’s beliefs, their reactions, their culture,” Blair said.
Good starting point
The “Face to Faith” program will be integrated in the current curriculum and interspersed with social studies, among other subjects, Luistro said.
“I believe education can be a good starting point to bring about a culture of peace in a world that is continuously being buffeted by religious and social intolerance,” Luistro said.
TBFF’s partnership with the CHEd would introduce to Filipino college students a course on “religion and its place in the modern world,” Blair said.
The program debuted at Yale University in the United States and is now in seven other universities around the world.
Respect and understanding
“We call that course “Faith and globalization.” And what it does is to take all thorny and difficult questions—religion and conflict, religion and gender, religion and its place in democracy—and we explore these,” said Blair.
Started in 2008, TBFF aims to “promote respect and understanding between people and faith” and tap the power of “multifaith action” to fight poverty and conflict.
“I think our task is urgent. Because unless people who believe in peace will stand up and engage with each other, then I think there is a risk that a generation of young people get a view of religion that is negative,” Blair said.