How can schools help change perceptions of diversity, so that it is regarded as a resource for bringing people together rather than as a problem? How can we better work with differences in school life? How can children and young people contribute as partners to help shape practices to accommodate diversity?

These are the topics of the Youth MIND Education (yMIND) project, which has brought together four European countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Germany and Greece – to work together with children and young people on diversity in schools. Although diversity has long been a central theme both in the classroom as well as school life as a whole, given the many demands on schools today, diversity is not always a priority. Teachers and learners need enough time and space to deal with growing diversity, so they can create structures which facilitate positive outcomes. If this can happen, there is an opportunity for the development of a diverse culture characterized by mutual respect, appreciation and equality. Their main aim is to promote an open school culture, to engage everyone in diversity-aware cooperation and help schools develop this culture further – creating an integrative learning environment that promotes acceptance and respect for others. Children have been empowered to better understand diversity, actively engage with stereotypes, adopt a clear stance against discrimination, and practice respect and moral courage.

“Helping children and young people develop skills in intercultural understanding and combatting discrimination has never been more important, in Europe as across the world. yMIND activities have provided a framework for children to engage in conversation about issues concerning them: bullying, sexual harassment, domestic violence, racial discrimination. Through yMIND young people have developed skills in communication, debate and critical thinking to address real problems in their lives, and to start finding solutions. Developing learner voice in this way has been a revelation, not just for the adults who work with them, but for the children and young people themselves. Within the project, some have taken action in their personal lives to counter the discrimination they have faced. For practitioners too, the value of learner voice has been reinforced. It has not been for the teacher to impose a moral framework on their students: rather, by bringing young people’s perspectives to the fore, it has been clear they already have a moral framework of their own, with an acute sense of what is right and wrong. Often, it is co-operation from the adult world young people have needed to help put things right – yMIND has helped close that gap. The interventions have shown the potential to build a consensus among peers against bullying and discrimination, given the time for reflection, and guidance in dialogue and debate. As learners have been given freedom to discuss, they have also had to learn appropriate behaviours, such as not interrupting and showing respect for others’ points of view. This has been the most challenging part of the project for practitioners and trainers, and yet the part of yMIND which offers the most value. With improved skills in communication, children and young people are better able not only to address the issues covered by yMIND, but these skills have the potential to support their learning more broadly. For the practitioner, yMIND activities align closely with the evidence base for effective pedagogy, developing good habits for learning, such as collaboration, activating learners as owners of their own learning, and making links between learning and their lives outside of school. In itself, it makes a useful strand for any school or authority’s professional development and learning offer. Where schools and policy makers have equality and diversity on the agenda, are acting to reduce bullying and gender discrimination, and are looking to bring children and young people of different ethnicity and religions, yMIND provides valuable strategies.”

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