The International Peace Conference on Justice and Peace, 28-29 Jan, 2020, marks the end of the four months of the Indian leg of the yearlong Jai Jagat global peace march. The two day conference is organized around the theme of integrating nonviolence in governance, economy, and education as ways to bring about a peaceful and just society. The event is being hosted by the Mahatma Gandhi International University and saw 250 people register for the event on the first day.
The round table conference began with a discussion on education for peace. Distinguished guests, Reva Joshee, educationist and professor at Toronto University, Canada; Govindacharya, thinker and leader, Ajit Saxena, administrator; Rominder Dosanjh, community organizer from Canada; Bharat Mahodaya, director, Gandhi Vichar Parishad educators; and, Father Skariya, social leader from Kerala, presented their viewpoint around the value system that informs peace education and the radical changes required to encourage it.
Before discussing education for peace, an attempt to define and understand peace was made. Peace is not the end of conflicts. Indeed, it is misleading to define it only within the context of violence. There are three aspects of peace; peace with oneself; peace and love for the people around you; peace and love for the beings around us and the earth. In everyday language, Peace may usually connote an absence of overt violence but in a deeper sense peace comes together with justice. For this kind of peace, as long as there are inequalities, discrimination, poverty or climate crisis, there is no peace. The well being of all, the Gandhian "Sarvodaya", must be at the core of the education for peace.
Education must bring about transformation of the individual as well as the society. Education for peace is a continuous practice in which the whole society must engage actively and continuously. With this basic understanding of peace and education for peace that emerged from the shared viewpoints of the panellists, we take a look at the details of the conference. The first round of the conference explored the necessary values that must inform peace education. Diverse viewpoints converged on two basic ideas; in peace education, peace and justice must go hand in hand, and that the Gandhian values of truth, nonviolence, simplicity, humility, sharing and caring, cooperation and compassion, and Gandhi's 'last person’ mantra provide the most viable framework for peace education.
At the same time, as Reva Joshee explained, peace education can't be a defined curriculum but should actually be a continuously evolving practice. “There is no one way, but many ways”, she said, pointing out that no one method can be preferred but different approaches to education for peace are required. She introduced the concept of slow peace’, a term taken from Rob Nixon, which highlights the violence of everyday life that is not so obvious or noticeable because of the way it has been internalized by as opposed to the visible overt violence of spectacles. For her humility, sharing and caring were three very important values. But Values must be connected to practice, to action. Education for peace is about constructive actions, to use the Gandhian term. Actions that resist or protest and at the same time, positively create the world we envisage.
Including constructive action program turns peace education into a holistic learning in which not only the individuals are changed but also the way they relate to each other, their communities and the whole society to which they belong. Education for peace is then a continuous process of learning in which we must all be involved and must engage with in our daily lives.
The spiritual dimension to peace education was presented by Ajit in the concepts of oneness and ‘technology of spirituality’ with the objective of alignment with self. Truth is more important for him and this requires each one to do small little experiments with truth in order to ‘upgrade the operating system of human beings’.
Father Scaria pointed out that while oneness was good, diversity was particularly important in Indian condition and for the globe if we are to learn to respect difference. For Raminder, equality, justice and open mind are essential values for peace education. She, however, suggested that education at home is as important as in school for divisions such as gender discrimination begin at home. This means that parents, teachers and society as a whole are equal stakeholders in the education for peace.
Love and peace and equality are most important values for Bharat. Truth is more important and has many dimensions while inequality is the worst evil. When there is inequality, it's bound to lead to violence. Bharat advocated individual development as the measure of peace education. Govindacarya gave importance to perception which shaped our world view and spoke of self respect as a necessary component of peace education. “Education must be the way we think about our life”, he concluded.
The second round of talks revolved around the radical changes required to change education to bring about the culture of peace. From the discussions several important points emerged. Foremost, the model of education today serves the need of the market. Job creation and employment are not the main concerns or objective of education: It is to build character. Secondly, the set of values needed are important in themselves but more so is the requirement for practice. Thus, education is a continuous lifelong process.
Thirdly, education can't be thought of as restricted to only the formal system but includes all forms of education; adult education, community education, education at home and parental education, and media and other forms of information dissemination that facilitate learning. Teachers are the most important agents for facilitating education for peace. Proper training programs and sensitization to nonviolence for teachers was advocated.
The moderator concluded that we need to change the entire educational framework and structure of education. We need to take education out from the confines of classrooms and inculcate a value system that will make human beings will live for a peaceful, equal and just society. An education that puts more emphasis on changing the mindset. Reading material has to change, classrooms must change, and assessment method and the entire school culture has to be changed. He emphasized the extremely important role of teachers for bringing about these changes and also reiterated Reva's call to think of education was a continuous prices where no one way of right for all.
To the question on where should one begin the change, it was unanimously agreed that school children, particularly, young school children are more receptive to lessons and prescribe of peace and often show an inclination to constructive action. like the 'project for online kindness' and another on 'homelessness’ that were initiated by 3rd to 5th graders in schools in Canada, are examples of this practice shared by Reva Joshee.
Summing up the discussion on education for peace, after taking the questions from the audience, Me. Behar pointed out that to bring about the required changes in education, it is the responsibility of each one of us. We need to actively engage in the process of producing and facilitating the practice of constructive action to bring about education for peace and culture of peace in the society.
He suggested devising new strategies to pressure society and the government to help bring about a culture of education based on peace and justice. To conclude, it is clear from the conference that peace education is a continuous practice and needs to be contextualized with justice and is a responsibility of all of us.
The conference began in the presence of eminent guests, Shri Prahlad Singh Patel Ji, Culture minister, the VC and PVC, Prof Rajnish Shukla and Prof Chandrakant Ragit, Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Wardha, Sushri Radha Bhatt, Shri Bal Vijay Ji, and the architects of Jai Jagat yearlong global peace march, Shri Rajgopal & Jill Carr-Harris. The two day international peace conference also marks the end of the four months of the Indian leg of the yearlong Jai Jagat global peace walk.