Last night, I had the opportunity to attend the Nuit des idées (Night of Ideas) organised by the French Office in Taipei. The theme was ‘Imagination in Power’ and part of the evening was dedicated to education. One of the guests, Jérôme Saltet, might be familiar to some as you as the ‘inventor’ of the educational game Les incollables (more than 50 million copies sold worldwide). The concept behind the Night of Ideas is to hold public debates, to bring innovative ideas to the table and to encourage reflection in order to bring about change.
It’s hardly surprising that the event is a French initiative. In school, for example, we spend hours studying EMC – enseignement moral et civique – a subject which finds its closest equivalent in English as ‘Civic and Citizenship Studies’. A great number of themes and topics are examined in EMC and it has many objectives, underpinning them all though is the desire for the individual to thrive in society.
Firstly, we invite our students to realise that a person’s moral code – that which they believe in, their values and the conscience that drives them – must not run counter to their role as a citizen in society – living side by side with others. Indeed, the opposite is true, although it must be acknowledged that historically morals and citizenship have often been considered irreconcilable. History yields myriad examples of times when individuals’ moral beliefs were seen to be in conflict with their duties as a citizen – often unfortunately leading to discrimination against certain groups, whose moral code was considered incompatible with the establishment of an egalitarian civic society.
Secondly, we look at more political questions, which allow us to teach what we call in French les valeurs républicaines – the values of the republic. They are not specifically French values; they are universal. However, they have been formed and reformed at key moments throughout French history, and students learn to recognise and identify them. An example is the Marianne statue, a symbol of the republic and the struggle against the monarchy.
Behind these theoretical objectives, EMC is above all a unique forum where we develop a taste for debate and verbal jousting, where we learn the fundamentals of living together, about respect for others, how to face ethical dilemmas, when and how to have the courage to say no, about the guiding principles of democracy, the power of our voices, our actions, our passion and our commitment and about the right and the duty to protest against injustice. It’s a place where we develop a critical mind, where we understand the importance of the protection of the weak and of the delight to be found in defending our convictions.
It is often said of the French that we love a good moan and there is probably some truth to it. It is maybe because we learn from a young age how to express our discontent, just as we learn from a young age how to identify what deviates from our beliefs and what matters to us. These character traits predate the writing of the EMC curriculum, however the EMC curriculum in turn emphasises their importance.
Our British and German colleagues have their own approach to Civic and Citizenship studies, but as with most things, our objectives are the same. I said it earlier, these values are universal and we hold them dear. The mission of TES – to teach European values in a Taiwanese context – sums it up aptly.
Have an excellent weekend