Social awareness and non-prejudiced knowledge of our society in education

Correspondence between Mansha Sidhu (student at National Law University – Delhi) and Mourad Bezza (student at the Mohammed Premier University – Oujda)

Dear Mourad,

I hope you are doing well and are getting through these tough times.

The topic for our dialogue is “Social awareness and non-prejudiced knowledge of our society in education”.

Social awareness is defined as the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. For the development in a society, it is very necessary that people have this ability. People with more social awareness can bring changes in each and every sector that requires to be changed. Be it poverty  or climate change, every problem of today can be resolved with a population which is socially aware. I say that because when we are providing students social knowledge about the society we are making them aware about the reality of the society around us for example as i said poverty, students coming out of such a system will be more aware about it and at least someone out of them would have an urge to work on it to make things better, same for climate change. These students are going to be the change makers tomorrow and we need to provide them with basic social knowledge to instigate the urge of change. A population which is socially aware can think with a perspective of change (even if not all, at least some of them)because we have provided them with that required instigation and knowledge to power the urge of change  and they can actually work on it in future. And I believe that the right time to inculcate social awareness and non-prejudiced knowledge of the society is in the schooling years, because once we become adults we make a certain perspective, and to unlearn it and make a new one is a difficult task.

The education system as a whole plays a very important role in shaping the personality of an individual as well as the thinking of that person. We usually get a perspective through our environment and surroundings, and as a child we spend most of our time in schools and education institutions that shape our perspectives. Talking about the schools, since we are young and our minds are still developing, we tend to believe whatever is taught to us and whatever we see without thinking twice. So, for this I will give you an example of a real life event that happened with a child in my family, she is a small kid studying in the pre – primary stage of the school; one day when we were talking about something she tells me that because She has a dark skin tone she is not beautiful. This is the seed of racism that has been planted in a child’s brain and this happened because in her school, she wasn’t given the role of a princess and only fair girls were selected or even considered for it. This is a very small thing for the teacher who did this, but for the child this made her realize that having a darker skin tone makes you inferior and less beautiful than anyone who has a fair skin tone. Now as she will grow further this seed will grow and will make its roots in her brain. One of the reasons for this would be that she won’t get any social awareness as a part of education. Whatever social awareness she will get will be subjective for example – from her surroundings and the surroundings tend to differ from person to person hence, we don’t know if she will ever realize that having a dark skin tone is as beautiful as any other skin tone. This is just one example. I can list down many examples of how different seeds of political agendas, body shaming, discrimination, homophobia and what not, gets planted in the mind. I understand that every person has their own perspective and point of view. But children who are building their perspective and point of view should be given a neutral viewpoint so that when they are older,  they can analyze the situation since they will be having knowledge about both sides,  and can make an informed point of view.

We need to understand that children are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. And for a better population or generation as a whole we need to give them a non-prejudiced social awareness and this should be a part of the education system. Neutral Social awareness can work practical skills and knowledge that will help a child in its future.

Now let me give you my example. I have been a chubby kid in school and  the first time I realized that I am fat and according to society it is wrong, was when a teacher in my school pointed this out. For a very long time I have hated my body and have actually judged anyone who did not have a conventional body. It was after my school ended that I realized that I was wrong and I had to unlearn a lot of things. And the reason why I was able to unlearn and make my own perspective was because I got into an environment that was open and non-judgmental. But this is not a case for every person and people do tend to follow the societal norms that are wrong in many aspects.

Another example is when we had a biology class and after that we were discussing about transgender people; the next teacher who came in told us that it is not okay to talk about these things. And you should not do it.  This again might seem a very small incident but then this leads to a more important issue and that is of Homophobia, this incident just begins the whole process of making a person homophobic.

Now let me give you an example of an ideal world where apart from basic education social awareness and non-prejudiced knowledge about the society is a part of the curriculum. The children who will graduate from this kind of system will be more open minded and accepting. They will understand the differences in people and will accept that there are differences and it is completely okay. This new addition would not only tell them how the world should be but also give them a heads up about how the world is. We through this new system can inculcate the new seeds of problem resolution so that when they get out in the real world they can bring a change. For example – we tell  children that a male and a female are just physiologically different and apart from that there is no difference between any gender and everyone is equal. With this we also tell them that the reality is different because we have had a patriarchal society in which heterosexual men are considered to be superior as compared to women or any other gender. So with this we tell them what is the real situation and giving them alternatives and why these alternatives should be that. Everything is explained logically without any prejudice.

I seriously believe that if we give our time and research, we can come up with a proper list of issues and things that will be taught as a part of social awareness. There need is for a working plan that will vary from place to place and then to work on that plan.

This is what I believe and I would love to know your point of view Mourad.                                          

Eagerly waiting for your response

Yours                                                                                                             

Mansha ☺

22-MARCH-2021, Delhi

Dear Mansha,

I am doing great, thanks for asking and I hope you are doing fine as well. Your letter helped me see the topic of social awareness and non-prejudiced knowledge in education from another perspective, and I really appreciate the realistic examples that you provide.

Correct me if I am wrong my friend. By reading your letter, I see that you think that childhood is the best period of life for acquiring new perspectives, and it is the best period for educators to engrave the fundamentals of social awareness in the minds of children as well. I also understand that you think manufacturing a proper curriculum is the best way to manifest against the lack of social awareness and prejudiced knowledge.

 However, I think that the roots of the problem are ingrained in each society and need a substantial change instead of a superficial modification of the curriculum. The fact that two out of three teachers, you talk about in the examples you provide, initialized prejudiced perspectives proves that the issue is deeper than it really seems. In addition, based on what I have learned at the school of life, I believe that a problem should be resolved from its roots and not from the extremities. In order to do that, we must have a closer look at the origins of the prejudiced ideologies, and try to collect the main factors that empower them. 

The first factor that I think has the major impact is the recruitment of competent and qualified teachers. By that I mean people that are not only totally aware of the responsibility that lays on their shoulders, which is raising the leaders of the future as you called them, but also capable of transmitting the seeds of social awareness to the next generations. So firstly, are the people in charge able to recruit the right persons to do this heavy task? Secondly, what criteria are they going to refer to in order to determine whether the teacher is well placed to communicate with children?

The second factor that interrupts the implementing of non-prejudiced knowledge is the environment in which the child lives. The surrounding of the child plays a determining role in the perspectives they make, that is why I think that it is a priority to come up with laws that organize the outdoors environements of our children based on the morals and good manners. These rules  should also be accompanied with sanctions to support the obligation of respecting them, thus we can maintain the social peace and facilitate the social awareness propagation as well. For example the phenomena of bullying, which means the use of force, coercion, and aggressively dominate or intimidate the other person. The behavior is often repeated and habitual, and has not only a negative impact on the victim, but also the persons who witness it will be affected. The spectators of an act of bullying are divided to 3 groups; group A is composed of people who think that someday it might be their turn to be a victim of such an act and they won’t be able to do anything about it, group B is composed of people who enjoy the show and think that it is cool to be a bully, and start bullying others consequently, and group C which is composed of people who are socially aware that the act of bullying is not righteous and should not exist just because it initializes in the minds of the victim and the persons from group A and B a prejudiced way of thinking, that will be generalized eventually on all the aspects of their lives.

The third factor that I think is worth talking about is segregation based on social class referred to as social stratification. Class conflict, frequently referred to as “class warfare” or “class struggle”, is the tension or antagonism, which exists in society due to competing socioeconomic interests and desires between people of different classes. Children that come from an upper social class have on their minds most of the time falsified stereotypes about the children who come from a lower social class and vice versa. Making it easier for poor students to access schools that are presumed to be rich student’s schools, may start the interaction between the two society classes and clear away those wrong stereo types because in the end we are all humans.

The fourth factor is ethnicity and race. Ethnicity is used as a matter of cultural identity of a group, often based on shared ancestry, language, and cultural traditions, while race is applied as a taxonomic grouping, based on physical or biological similarities within groups. Sensitization campaigns assorted with the power of marketing might be the right key to press in order to erase the residue of historical events. Race is a more controversial subject than ethnicity, due to common political use of the term. This factor initializes negative perspectives such as that princesses must have a fair skin tone, and all the other known aspects of racism. I believe that the American history is full of examples that proves that racism is a huge handicap of the social awareness spread.

It all comes down to say that in order to inculcate social awareness and non-prejudiced knowledge in education, all the factors mentioned above should be taken into consideration. Those definitely are not all the factors that can prevent us from reaching our goal, but they are the ones I think have the major impact. Each one of them is a nest of lots of wrong perspectives that can be rectified by methodic way of thinking and by that, I mean a critical way of thinking that does not accept or reject any information received before being processed and analyzed. Only the qualified teachers can provide the raising generations, the tools to build and adopt perspectives based on good manners and social awareness. Tools that are offered to the teachers first by their own instructors through an adapted curriculum to the needs of a bright future for humanity

That is all I can think about for now concerning the topic, looking forward to hearing from you soon my friend.

Best regards

Mourad 😊

26-MARCH-2021, Oujda

Dear Mourad,

I am doing great as well and I am extremely sorry if this letter reaches you a little bit late I have been busy with the Indian Festival named Holi.

In the second paragraph of your letter you mentioned that I believe that childhood is the best period of life for acquiring new perspectives, I would like to frame it in a different way. I believe that childhood is the time when a perspective is formed that is the time when we acquire a basic knowledge of our society. In the initial childhood the child’s brain is like a blank paper, through different things around that paper gets filled. Now, if a particular kind of knowledge or perspective is filled on that paper then in the later years of life it will be difficult for that child to erase and fill up a new perspective if need arises.

The second thing you mentioned was that I believe manufacturing a proper curriculum is the best way to manifest against lack of social awareness and prejudiced knowledge, I would like to explain myself a bit more on this. I believe that curriculum is one of the ways, because see the perspective can be changed even when the person grows up, but what a curriculum does is that it streamlines the manifestation because otherwise the social awareness will become subjective and some people might be able to gain it while some might not.

I agree with your point of removing the prejudiced ideologies from the roots, but the point that changes in curriculum and providing social awareness in the school system is a superficial change is something that I disagree upon. Because we need to understand and accept that this prejudiced knowledge and lack of social awareness is something that has been continuing from generations to generations, yes it does get better with every subsequent generation, but the old generation has a certain perspective that cannot be changed overnight.

You have raised some great factors that should be kept in mind to bring a substantial change. The first factor you have talked about is “recruitment of competent and qualified teachers” and then you have asked some genuine questions. For this factor I believe that a good teacher is someone who teaches well and if they can teach their subject well they are competent and qualified teachers. On the fact of being capable to transmit the seed of social awareness, I believe that isn’t something that can be tested and checked while recruiting a teacher. Instead what I believe and have seen is that teachers also have a lack of knowledge about the emerging social awareness. For example – LGBTQ+ awareness has in recent years gained popularity and this wasn’t something normal when the generation of the teachers were young, so we cannot expect them to be aware about it, but if we can initiate conversations about such topics with the teachers and reach to them about how their small behavior can scar a child for their whole life then I believe we can target two generations and group of people at the same time and make them socially aware.

I believe that in my previous letter I wasn’t clear that I meant bringing a change in the education system and one of the things through which it can happen is by bringing a change in the curriculum. Another thing can be as I mentioned above training the teachers to be more cautious and neutral in their small habits. The main gap for teachers as well as the students can be filled by the right kind of awareness and knowledge. For teachers it can be given through trainings and for children it can be included in their curriculum. But the main thing that should be noted is that this curriculum for both teachers and students should be uniform all around at least in a country  and should be made after a lot of research and should be given by empathetic individuals who understand the other side as well. This is like a cycle, professional empathetic people train teachers and then teachers can in turn teach all this to students.

Another factor you mentioned was the environment, again I believe awareness and a proper help mechanism can help in fixing this factor. For- example if children know that bullying is wrong and if they witness it they can reach out to a safe non-judgmental place to find help then things will get a little bit better.

Then you have mentioned few factors relating to social class and ethnic races, I believe that when a child comes to school in their preprimary stage, they are fully unaware of anything like this but eventually with time and with their environment they gain a certain superiority or inferiority and I still believe that this can be tackled through awareness.

Ok so to conclude, I might be being overly positive that things can be changed through awareness and making the education institutes safe non-judgmental places, I still am positive about this. To develop such system it will definitely take a lot of time, but just because it will take a lot of time and just because there might be some loop holes and issues that might arise I don’t think we should just drop this idea. There will be a lot of issues that will arise once we start working on something like this, but I am also sure that we will succeed in creating this environment and this model where children are socially aware and do not have prejudices.

I have already passed the word limit and I am extremely sorry about that.

So I will end this here

Best Regards

Mansha J

30-MARCH-2021, Delhi

Dear Mansha,   

I wish you had a happy Holi my friend, and I would be glad to inform you that I am satisfied with the way you responded to my letter. Some of the expressions you used in yours provoked my curiosity and inspired me to read more about.

Now I fully understand your point of view thanks to the clarifications, you provide along the different paragraphs, that I enjoyed reading by the way. I see that we both agree about the fact that childhood is a period for the construction of socially aware perspectives in the mind of a child. As you said the child’s brain is like a blank paper, and that is what got me thinking about the time needed to fill the most of it.

As you know, the age of schooling worldwide is at the age of six. The astonishing thing is that at the age of three, the child’s brain has already reached 80 % of its adult size and 90% nearly full grown by the age of five. This particular information points to two things: first, the best time to learn is during the period when the necessary brain cells are created in the relevant area of the brain and they are hungry to be programmed with new connections; second the importance of Pre-Kindergarten Programs. The different areas of the brain are responsible for different abilities, but they are all interconnected. They all contribute to the child’s overall health and wellbeing, these early brain connections set the stage for higher-level skills to develop later on such as emotional intelligence, solving problems, and getting along with one another. A healthy brain development is the result of continuous positive nurturing relationships that the child has with his parents and the adults being around in the first six years of his life. Neuroscience has proved that positive interactions, during the early childhood with the surroundings, help a child to feel safe and secure and help their brain to develop a strong, healthy network of connections. Unfortunately the opposite is also true, studies has shown that negative experiences during the same period and persisting toxic stress like neglect and hunger, impacts the brain development of the child. The reason why I chose to talk about this is that those network connections that the brains of children develop are responsible for the way they behave in a society, and the same thing goes on teachers and adults in general as former children. Therefor I think that neuroscience can be very handy on many levels of the process of handling the lack of social awareness in our societies next to all social sciences.

I also agree with you on the fact that social awareness is evolving through time and teachers of today may not have enough knowledge to keep up with its evolution. However, the fact that is not possible to detect this incapacity during the recruitment process of recruiting is something I must disagree upon, because the tests that are used to determine the ability of a person to become a teacher are also in persistent progress. For example the TET (Teachers – Eligibility- Test) exam that is organized at least once a year in India, I am certain that the version of 2021 is more adapted to the educational demands of nowadays the previous exams versions are. To sum up, the lack of social awareness is an issue that needs the intervention of more than one part of society to handle, I believe that the whole society with all its components should consider and insist on solving this multigenerational illness. In addition, I truly believe that someday this problem will be history due to the continuous efforts provided by each member of the society.

Finally, I would love to thank you my friend for sharing with me your thoughts about this topic.

Best regards

Mourad 🙂

3-APRIL-2021, Oujda

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