Rwanda, on January 24, joins the global community in observing the International Day of Education, celebrating the role of education in promoting peace and development. This celebration focuses on the crucial role education and teachers play in countering hate speech, a phenomenon that UNESCO says has snowballed in recent years with the use of social media, damaging the fabric of societies. ALSO READ: Day against hate speech: We must walk the talk It is crucial to examine the role of local educators in not only in disseminating knowledge but also combating the spread of hate speech. Caleb Mukunzi, a high-school teacher residing in Rubavu District, highlighted the foundational role of personal well-being for educators in countering hate speech, stating that individuals cannot give what they do not possess. We must cultivate critical thinking to silence hate. And this begins in the classroom. This year, UNESCO dedicates #EducationDay to countering #HateSpeech. Join us: https://t.co/ai5j9AXQXC pic.twitter.com/WhxLTMClFy — UNESCO #Education #Sciences #Culture (@UNESCO) January 23, 2024 Countering hate speech should start with educators and their families. If they understand how important it is, they can easily help those they educate. As an educator, you also have to recognise that your responsibilities serve as exemplars, influencing many people, he explained. Mukunzi said that addressing instances of hate speech requires a compassionate and loving approach, adding that one must first understand the root cause of the exhibited hate speech. Knowing the person’s background and understanding what drives their hate speech can help you bring them in line, he said. ALSO READ: UN official denounces rising hate speech in eastern DR Congo Regarding individuals who engage in hate speech on social media under unknown names, Mukunzi suggested raising awareness about the consequences of such behaviours. This, he believes, can contribute to a positive change in mindset by instilling values of understanding and respect in them. According to UNESCO, the world is grappling with a surge of violent conflicts and a disturbing rise in hate speech, intolerance and discrimination and, as such, a deep commitment to peace has never been more critical. For the specialized UN agency promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture, “that is where education comes in.” The UN agency advocates for learning that is rooted in human rights, dialogue, solidarity, and equity is essential to create more peaceful and just societies. Promote open-mindedness, empathy, and critical thinking Pauline Mukankiko, an educator from Kayonza District, said her role in countering hate speech revolves around fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment. “I make sure that I promote open-mindedness, empathy, and critical thinking among my students,” she said, adding that it helps her to raise awareness about the impact of hate speech on individuals and society. ALSO READ: Hate speech is a seed of unending conflict – Rwandan envoy Mukankiko addresses instances of hate speech promptly, providing education on the consequences and working to instil a sense of responsibility in students and other people in the community she lives in. She also collaborates with colleagues, parents, and school administrators to ensure students have good values whether at school or at home, especially respecting and understanding each other. Felicien Imanirafasha, a primary school teacher based in Gasabo District, emphasised that when countering hate speech, the initial step involves teaching students the importance of collaborative teamwork and fostering an understanding of their emotions. By doing so, he believes, students learn to respect each other's ideas and opinions, acknowledging the value inherent in their diverse life experiences. This approach helps individuals see each other as valuable human beings, and discourages the use of hate speech or derogatory names based on physical appearances or living conditions, he said. Imanirafasha noted that teachers are instrumental in guiding children on handling hate speech on social media, encouraging them not to engage in it but, instead, working against it while focusing on meaningful and constructive activities.