Education the best means in our arsenal for achieving world peace

Bangkok Post - Sunday, December 05, 2004

The galaxy of knowledge is visible on all continents. In this region, the Association of Southeast Asian Institute of Higher Learning (Asaihl) has been helping more than 150 member institutions in 14 countries achieve international distinction in teaching, research and public service for the past 48 years. 

The most recent Asaihl international conference was held in Manila in late November, under the theme “The Role of Universities in the quest for Peace.” The subject matter was very timely, given the proliferation of conflicts around this region and the world.

The main objectives of the conference were to encourage inter-institutional cooperation for peace, integrate peace concepts into the university curricula to address present-day threats against peace, and to promote the culture of peace through an action plan of cooperation among Asaihl institutions.

Educators treat peace as a supreme universal value. The founding fathers of Unesco had the merit of reflecting it in the constitution  of the organization, which emphasizes that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.

The same document also points out that “a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”

That is, indeed, a vital requirement. All Unesco General Conferences and other meetings sponsored by it offer an impressive number of examples showing the total commitment of this specialized agency to promoting peace and solidarity through the instrumentalities of higher education.

During the Asaihl Conference in Manila, references were made to the topicality of the Manilla declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes (adopted by the UN in 1982) which states inter alia that all states shall act in good faith and in conformity with the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter with a view to avoiding disputes among themselves likely to affect friendly relations among states, thus contributing to the maintenance of international peace and security.

All countries shall live together in peace with one another as good neighbours and strive for the adoption of meaningful measures for strengthening international peace and security. Every state shall settle its international disputes exclusively by peace ful means in such a manner that peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

This is an imperative duty as reality shows that the cult of violence is spreading globally, while the opportunity to build a culture of peace is receding. In this context, it was pointed out that university are the last bastion for the maintenance and preservation of universal human values. Many participants asserted that universities can bring hope to a hopeless world. Education is expected to develop within a culture of peace and learning that is holistic, academic, cultural, spiritual, vocational, traditional and to be founded on values that are both national and universal.

Youth and educators can bring important contributions to implementing Unesco’s strong appeals for developing humanistic activities aimed at promoting the education of young people for peace, mutual respect, solidarity, tolerance and understanding. The Dakar

Youth Empowerment Strategy, a declaration adopted by the World Youth Forum of the UN System in 2001 requested access to quality education, fostering responsible citizenship and access to human rights education based on universal values.

Peace is not just an absence of war, but also a state of mind, individual or collective, a social, cultural, political and economic harmony. Peace is also described as a way of being, a way of living. Hence, in order to build a true culture of peace there is a strong need to develop justice, respect of human rights, including the right to peace and development, to combat violence and poverty. Intercultural and interreligious dialogue should be favoured.

Proposals were made during the Asaihl Manila Conference for joint Muslim-Christian educational collaboration, for research in multiculturalism and on the validity of the harmony and balance among the spiritual, social and natural environments of man. Academics may help develop legal for a on the effects of justice as an instrument of peace and prepare professional negotiators.

A well-educated and vibrant civil society can serve as a major vehicle for promoting the cause of peace. Academics may be instrumental in helping civil society focus on authentic peace-building, as they reject the use of violence and terrorism. By practicing dialogue, they may advance constructive arguments leading to pragmatic peaceful options which may facilitate the main task of negotiators in arriving at win-win situations.

Building bridges for peace demands a great variety of activities for strengthening dialogue and trust and finding the best modalities for conflict resolution.

Relevant positive work must be accomplished at the grass-roots level, including community projects for peace, to infuse more efficiency to peace oriented activities as a cumulative process. In this field, there is a clear necessity of innovative approaches and creativity to make the contributions of academics to peace more effective. Joint ventures efforts between governments and universities on peace initiatives may be productive. Universalities may serve as a forum to brainstorm and exchange ideas to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts through peace-building.

In the Statement of the Fifth Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates adopted on Nov 12, 2004, in Rome, it is recalled: “We believe that to solve the problems that challenge the world today politicians need to interact with an empowered civil society and strong mass movements. This is the way towards globalization with a human face and a new international order that rejects brute force, respects ethnic, cultural and political diversity and affirms justice, compassion and human solidarity.”

The starting point for future work may be offered by the UN and Unesco’s documents which specify that institutes of higher education and their personnel and students should exercise their intellectual capacity and moral prestige to defend and actively disseminate universally accepted values.

Peace education must receive higher visibility in curricula as a result of the energetic efforts of all peace-loving forces, including, certainly, educators. A legitimate role of universities is to be the vocal conscience of society. Academic solidarity can bring its valuable contribution to making genuine peace the supreme value of humanity during the irreversible process of globalisation. Academics should offer visions of positive alternatives and realistic solutions as well as sound inspiration for strategies to deal with global issues and to combat planetary vulnerability. Education for peace is a responsible, humanistic process which aims to give peace a chance.

Dr Ioan Voicu