What does the future of education mean to you?
Sowing Peace: One Mind at a time From Economy-worthy to Empathy-driven: Peace is the Bridge
What comes to your mind when I say “education”? Reading? Writing? Or is it Arithmetic? For the longest time, the world has suffered – yes, suffered – with the understanding of what education means. There is so much attention attached to the literacy component in education, to the extent that people think of education itself as all about making more and more people literate. While that does serve a greater purpose and centres around building economy-worthy people who have the ability to add to the world’s monetary capacity, it stops short of adding to the empathy that this world could gain a lot from having. By emphasising on the idea of economically empowering people to take on better jobs and augment the productivity of the economy, we have not invested much in education for the greater interests of peace. A social climate of peace can thrive only if there is a communal approach to it through education, but not just literacy-driven education – rather, peace education.
Everyone in today’s generation is fighting a war on borrowed hatred. Think about it. Samuel Huntington was incredibly correct that culture, ethnicity and such individual identity markers would come to sustain differences of opinion. War is deemed good for business and the coffers of a select few enablers, and that vested interest keeps an agenda of promoting hatred as the norm going. Terrorist outfits are feeding off the combined effect of marginalisation and borrowed hatred. The world is burning with hatred that is only kept alive through education that is desperately in need of sensitisation. Whole chapters in history are written by the victor’s hand. Still more are written through a male lens, ignoring myriads of women who have made significant and meaningful contributions through untiring efforts.
We strive to create peaceful people, through peaceful tools, peaceful language and peaceful ways to solve conflict. Conflict is inevitable, but, if we create a proclivity towards peace in people around us, we naturally choose peace, we naturally turn to peace, we naturally prioritise peace, and we don’t have place to escalate conflict at any level. Be it a bully in a classroom or two nations seeking ownership over territory. In that understanding, there is a very simple solution to finding peace in peace education.
Generations of students before me, along with me, and now, after me, have grown up without learning the most important values of life: of empathy, of choosing peace and compassion over hatred and violence, of choosing equality, tolerance and respect for one’s identity as they are instead of pushing constant agendas of ideals and non-conformism attracting mistreatment. What if we taught non-violent communication while teaching rules of grammar, syntax and semantics? What if we taught history with the right telling, and with the agenda to prevent repetition of history’s egregious failings? What if we taught geography against the landscape of actual equality – where we learned lessons from the earth’s diversity and imbibed it as positive lessons for peace? What if we taught practical ways to use numbers in a way that had practical solutions to deter from conflict and choose peace instead?
Youth engagement in Europe around the issues of education for peace, sustainable development and global citizenship
Sixty years ago, the European Union was formed, mainly with the tenet of maintaining peace on the continent. In 2017, the world has changed, and whilst peace remains of utmost importance, two other essential issues must be prioritised: sustainability and the challenges of globalisation.
As the world is becoming more interconnected, the challenges we face as a global community grow in complexity. Local actions in our respective regions have international ramifications, thus peace and security on one continent cannot be seen independently from that in other parts of the world. Social, economic and ecological sustainability – on a global scale – are crucial not only to ensure the prosperity of our own and future generations, but also to fight and prevent causes of displacement and conflict, caused by climate change and social injustice. Against common stereotypes, I think it would be ignorant to believe that the youth are unaware of the issues or indeed apathetic to their importance.
A testament to the youth’s engagement with such matters can be seen through the ‘Generation What Survey’, which has been conducted since 2013 by a partnership of two companies in France and the European Broadcasting Union. It stands as an international portrait of how young people feel: more like citizens of the world, rather than citizens of Europe. Undeniably, our educational systems have failed to adapt such a sentiment to its fundamentals and have therefore not nurtured a concept embraced by many young Europeans. I believe if fully implemented through proper education for global citizenship, it will prove invaluable in creating future policy makers, leaders and citizens who not only uphold the rule of law but act to fight global injustice and modify globalisation towards a system of benefit to all, and not just a few.
Yet we, unfortunately, either underestimate the potential of our youth or neglect to give them a platform to engage with many of the issues facing our world. Whilst being Director of the youth organisation ‘AYUDH Europe’, I have been fortunate enough to have become inspired by young people from diverse backgrounds. I have seen first-hand, the intrinsic sense of determination, ambition and dedication many young people share. Their uncanny insight into this world, is second to none to their curiosity and ability to look optimistically towards their future.
At AYUDH’s recent youth summit ‘Educate. Cultivate. Participate’, we adopted UNESCO MGIEP’s format of iTAGe (independently organised ‘Talking Across Generations on Education’ event), as the concluding element of a weeklong summit with discussions around education, citizenship and sustainability. This highlighted just how eager young people are to transform both our educational and political sector to achieve our idealistic vision. It stands as a call for more youth engagement in education policies. Indeed, many of the senior panellists expected to deliver an exposé on the ingenuity of our education systems. However, they left surprised at the level of insight, maturity and sophistication that our nine youth panellists showed and came to appreciate that we must act in coalition with the youth to alter these systems to foster: empathy, emotional intelligence and a culture of the heart in young people. As Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), a great humanitarian and the inspiration behind AYUDH, says: “There are two kinds of education: education for living and education for life.” While education for living is essential for success in the academic and economic sense, education for life equips young people with the knowledge, skills and values needed to lead an ethical, empowering and socially beneficial life.
I believe that once we have fostered an educational system that creates students with the previous qualities and true compassion, an unencumbered sense of motivation to move towards a peaceful and sustainable world will be guaranteed. Transforming our youth to have this mindset is no easy feat but remains paramount when one tries to achieve the sustainable development goals.
I do not stand solely on this matter. The global community through both SDG 4.7 and 12.8 have come a common census that we need to reform our educational systems. This means: revolutionising how we see both the formal and informal domains, reforming our curriculums and training our teachers to help form students who meet the needs of the future. Let us not be passive and expect others to implement the SDGS, let us make them happen. Let us not wait for the world to change and the world to wait on us.
So, as a citizen of Europe, I call upon our policymakers, educators and learners alike to transform our educational institutions from mere places of theoretical learning into hubs of action and platforms for dialogue, innovation and participation. I call upon young Europeans to be trustworthy, constructive and mature advocates and partners, initiating conversations and driving change. In a time when a majority of young Europeans recognise growing nationalism as a negative evolution (Generation What survey), we need to ensure that education nurtures a mindset that reinforces the values and idea of Europe as a continent of peace, sustainability and global solidarity.
Re-orienting education and empowering the young
Do you buy the argument that children and youth are inherently peaceful, and that it is only the adult world that rewires them to be violent? I used to believe in this line of thought, and imagined that education for peace should focus on transforming the biased attitudes of adults instead of working with school and college students. I can now see how simplistic that approach was, especially with the regular stream of news reports about young people engaging in acts of murder and rape.
The National Focus Group Position Paper on Education For Peace, published by India’s National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 2006 mentions that 18 per cent of the children interviewed for that paper were “found to take pleasure in various acts of violence…they enjoyed stoning little pups and kittens, breaking flower buds off plants, holding butterflies between their fingers. Older children engaged in eve-teasing and ragging to the extent that it sometimes became fatal.”
This description is a clear departure from images of children as innocent, uncorrupted and angelic. What is it that prompts young people to resort to this kind of everyday violence? The NCERT paper mentioned earlier states, “Faith in violence as a quick-fix problem-solver is an emerging epidemic.” I think that is an appropriate articulation of the challenge that faces our society. With the power to communicate easily via social media, knee-jerk responses are even more commonplace.
People are easily offended by the content of films, the food on someone else’s plate, the books that are being written, and much else. Instead of expressing themselves in a civil manner, they seek refuge in hate speech. Words are sometimes more powerful than weapons, and are known to instigate violence against individuals and communities. This is why education for peace has becoming increasingly important.
One cannot afford to emphasise only the knowledge of traditional school subjects or the soft skills currently in vogue. There is a need to reorient education in a way that it empowers young people to learn what it means to be in someone else’s shoes, to connect with peers across the divisions created by caste, gender identities, sexual preference, class, ethnicity, language, and the other markers that individuals use to define or describe themselves. At the individual level, this is possible only when we begin to look within, and work with our own prejudices.
What can be done at the systemic level, in a pragmatic way, beyond the niceties of lip service? Since the Indian education system revolves mainly around the textbook, which almost has a scripture-like status in the classroom, that might be the perfect place to begin. I had the opportunity to work on Textbooks for Sustainable Development: A Guide To Embedding published by the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in 2017. It is a guidebook for writers and publishers of school textbooks, and the focus is on four subjects: Language, Mathematics, Science, and Geography.
As mentioned in the guidebook, “Embedding is not about inserting new thematic content into an already overcrowded curriculum, which would make it impractical – both time and content wise – for the teacher and textbook author. Nor is it about removing or minimizing the importance of academic content. Instead, it is about reorienting subjects into serving a more socially and globally relevant purpose: that of contributing to a sustainable, just and peaceful world, with young people motivated, prepared and empowered to address persistent and emerging local and global challenges.”