25 March 2020

Disarmament Education: Peace Education as a New Literacy

Since its founding, the United Nations has given the highest priority to reducing and eventually eliminating weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as controlling small arms and light weapons. With the rapid development of information and communications technology, the emergence of new concepts of security and threat, and the largest generation of young people in history, the need for education in disarmament and non-proliferation has never been greater.

In our latest series, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) talks to experts and youth about disarmament and peace education resources created by the United Nations and educators for students, and how such tools motivate and inspire young people to take concrete action in support of disarmament. In this interview Professor Yoshiro Tanaka, Executive Trustee, Provost and Executive Vice President for Graduate Education and Research at J. F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, Japan, shares with UNAI an educator’s point of view on peace education.

UNAI: What is peace education?

Prof. Tanaka: The essence of peace education is to teach people of the world how to work together and collaborate to solve challenges. It should not be restricted by political, economic or cultural boundaries. Today’s young people make friends and work with each other very easily. This is what peace education should be based on – a culture of peace instead of political conditions.

We have fought and suffered from wars in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now it is the 21st century, and we must think of the future we want. There has been a lot of job-oriented education that is driven by professional activities that focus on how to make money. However, to me peace education is about what kind of human beings we want to become, the concept of well-being, and the thinking process that leads to decision-making in the right directions. When it comes to peace education, we must move beyond the definitions in social science textbooks. Peace is a mental state that should be conceptualized in our minds.

UNAI: What is the role of higher education in peace education?

Prof. Tanaka: In Japan, 80 percent of the high school graduates continue to pursue higher education; only 10 percent enter the work force immediately after high school. In many countries, higher education is a public policy issue and has become something compulsory for everybody. That is why the role of university is quite important.

What does it mean to be an educated person? In my opinion, an educated person must know the concept of peace. Peace, as well as the other Sustainable Development Goals, has become a new literacy in addition to writing, reading and speaking. We face so many complex and sophisticated tasks that cannot be resolved by skills and knowledge alone. Peace education, which fosters this kind of new literacy, is an important part of the solution. The United Nations should work closely with higher education institutions to promote peace as a universal concept that should be internalized into the ways we think, compete and collaborate with one another.

UNAI: What activities has J. F. Oberlin University conducted in support of peace education?

Prof. Tanaka: Twice a year, the students of J. F. Oberlin University meet with students of other universities in Japan and the Republic of Korea to discuss the world they live in, the Sustainable Development Goals, how to resolve global issues such as climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons, and so forth. The young people understand what is going on, and they cannot wait to do something for their lives and their future.

The main achievement of the program is to have the students sit down at the same table and work together as a team. They don’t always have a consensus, but the process of resolving their differences is important, through which they learn new ideas from each other and develop better communication skills.

UNAI: Why did the university decide to write the book Pathway to Peace?

Prof. Tanaka: Publishing the book Pathway to Peace – for Building a Culture of Peace was a symbolic activity that aimed to create an educational tool that communicates to young people. This book is available in print, CD and DVD formats and is available in all the school libraries. Pathway to peace is also a pathway to the future. I hope the book can inspire students to think and talk about peace and provide training materials for teachers.

Japan and many other Asian countries have an achievement-based school system that asks students to maximize their abilities to achieve certain goals. This type of education system always asks for answers, and the answers decide if the students pass or fail. If you look at today’s world, there are so many questions, and some of them don’t have answers. Governments and policymakers can’t always give us the answers. Therefore, I propose a goal-free, goal-flexible, “no answer” curriculum for peace education. It should be performance-based and future-oriented. Students must be allowed to research, explore and discover independently, defining their own questions and answers.

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