The Paris Declaration of 2015 and the dramatic facts happened in Europe (Paris, Brussels) and in other areas around the world enlighten the necessity to involve youth, and therefore schools, in a deep and articulate reflection on the social impact this new cultural environment can represent for our children, especially considering that several people who played an active role in these dramatic facts are EU natural-born citizens who acted against civilization in the name of an abnormal interpretation of religious sentiments.
It is a very dramatic alert that suggest us to discuss the nature of citizenship and the role of school and education in creating future citizens who are aware of all their rights and duties. European citizenship consists of its dynamic and dialogical characters: it is inclusive and based on the complementarity and cultural diversity of its membership. Its unity and stability are inextricably linked with the ability of institutions and citizens to protect and responsibly maintain pluralism. For this reason, one of the essential elements of European citizenship is interculturality (Thematic Reports Eurydice 24, 2005): since religion is a paradigmatic element of culture (Hugen 2001), the development of religious pluralism and the implementation of tools to ensure it are necessarily relevant aspects. In this sense, education to religious pluralism is a key to achieve civil awareness and social cohesion in the construction of a fully democratic model of European citizenship.
In 2007, with regard to the promotion of the study and teaching of religion in multicultural contexts, the document entitled “Principles of Toledo for the teaching of religions and beliefs in schools” was prepared by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of OSCE. The goal of this document was to stimulate, within schools, the respect of human rights, fundamental freedoms and civil values, through the involvement of families and religious organizations. In the so called “student-centred” approach, teachers play more the role of a facilitator in the students’ learning process. Though their knowledge of the content remains crucial, interactive techniques such as discussion, debate, research, group work, project work, drama and presentation play a prominent role. Also, the opinions, experiences, feelings and reflections of students are strongly taken into account when studying issues relating to religion and belief systems. Students are encouraged to reflect upon their own beliefs, values and decisions. This is sometimes referred to as “learning from religion”, in contrast to “learning about religion”. The creation of a safe learning space where each student feels comfortable enough to give his or her opinion is a pre-requisite for such work. Given the dynamic nature of student-centred pedagogy and the discussions it provokes, it is more likely that personal values and beliefs will become visible. Such openness can provide opportunities for sincere and respectful discussion about beliefs and values.
The project faces the defined needs providing teachers of primary schools with specific methodologies, in order to respond to the complexity of multicultural and multi-religious societies, starting from the laboratory of citizenship that school is and must be. In the field of education legislation, most European Countries highlight the importance of promoting a culture of participation in school which is modeled on democratic values, including respect for others, tolerance, mutual trust, solidarity and cooperation. It follows from these provisions that the effective transmission of the culture of citizenship cannot ignore the emotional dimension that only participation is able to provide. Therefore, participation has established itself as an educational method in Europe, since it does not only guarantee free expression of students but it is also an effective collaborative learning method (Eurydice Thematic Report, n.24, 2005). On the other hand, it does not appear, from the European experience, that this instrument has been applied to religious education, whose methods are rooted in traditional protocols, probably inadequate to the intercultural context and plural European citizenship.
The main core of the project addresses to children: by making teachers aware of the religious pluralism in Europe, the project gives them the cognitive and methodological instruments to elaborate, through a participatory method, an innovative pedagogical model aimed to lead pupils in an autonomous reflection on pluralism in Europe. Through the recognition and appreciation of religious experiences, teachers will be trained to handle the differences, in order to become facilitators in their own classes of a process of critical research enabled by children themselves, in which they will be asked to express their needs, their vision of their selves and of the world, and their aspirations in relation to the religious pluralism.