14.05.2012 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Ethics education: a challenge for international cooperation

Henk ten Have © UNESCO

Founding member of the International Association for Ethics in Education (IAEE), created in 2011 with UNESCO’s support, Henk ten Have stresses the importance to develop exchange of experience to reinforce the quality of ethics education in all regions of the world. For the one who directed, during 7 years (2003-2010), UNESCO’s Division of Ethics of Science and Technology, the success of the 1st conference of the IAEE, which was held in Pittsburg (United States of America), from 1 to 3 May 2012, reveals the need to encourage, everywhere, ethics education as a serious academic issue to enable all populations to meet the challenges posed by scientific advances.

Why was it important to create this association when experts can already find a lot of information on internet and share their experiences and ideas through social media?

It is true that there is indeed already a lot of information available but most of it comes from programs in developed countries and exists almost only in English. In addition, there was no platform to exchange information and experiences about ethics education at the global level.

Ethical issues raised by scientific advances are increasing as fast as progress is being made. In this perspective, how can ethics education be strengthened in all countries without the specialists of these questions having the possibility to share their knowledge and practices?

As Director of the Division of Ethics of Science and Technology of UNESCO from 2003 to 2010, I have seen a growing demand in this area starting with the governments themselves, since it was at the initiative of UNESCO Member States that a global Ethics Education Program was created in 2004.

Through this program, efforts have been made to identify teachers and programs especially in Africa and the Arab region. Regional meetings were organized with teachers from groups of countries, and this was often the first time that ethics teachers were meeting each other and could analyze teaching programs.

From that time on, I felt the need for a more continuing scholarly platform that was not only really global but that could also promote ethics education as a serious scholarly issue, open for research and publications in order to improve the quality of ethics education around the world.

What were you expecting from the Pittsburg Conference?

The expectation of the conference was that it would create a certain dynamics, bringing ethics educators together from many different countries, making them enthusiastic about their teaching, and providing incentives for learning how teaching could be improved and diversified with new ideas. From this point of view, this first conference was truly a success.

There were more than 200 participants with 125 presentations from 33 different countries. Many were from the United States of America and Canada but all regions across the world were represented through speakers from countries such as Australia, Botswana, Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Malawi, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Pakistan, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia or Turkey.

Many participants said that this was the first time they met so many colleagues from so many countries. It gave them new ideas and inspiration. It also encouraged a more scholarly approach to education, stimulating research and promoting publication of experiences.

What are the main activities that you will implement in the next months to develop ethics education?

The members of the Association decided to organize two international conferences next, one in 2014 in Turkey and another in 2015 in Brazil. In the meantime, the first priority will be the creation of an interactive website which will allow us to share information and experiences and, naturally, will link to UNESCO’s website so that our visitors can access the various databases of the Global Ethics Observatory (GEObs) and the teaching materials produced by the Organization such as the "Bioethics Core Curriculum".

Interview by Cathy Bruno-Capvert

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