Global Education for a Culture of Peace

January-April 2001 edition of Breakthrough News
By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.

The great issues of our time - war, poverty, intolerance, environmental degradation - remain in spite of surging wealth and technological advancement. These issues are all linked, yet they are often treated separately by individuals and groups working on their own either within or without the political system. To effectively engage these issues there needs to be an infusion of values-based principles into public policy that would establish and reinforce a common ground for all humanity: One that would emphasize the core values of respect for life, freedom, justice and equity.

Sadly, this common ethic remains elusive in public policy. Consider:

These facts are not indicative of some tragic twist of fate, but are testament to a deliberate turning of heads.

More than 40 years ago, the nations of the world, speaking through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserted that "everyone has a right to education." The inclusion of the right to education in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was the beginning of a broad effort to promote social, economic and cultural rights in tandem with civil and political rights. The indivisibility of these rights is enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which became binding international law on September 2nd 1990. In this same year, the year of the Children's Summit at the United Nations, world leaders promised to lift children out of abject poverty.

Since then, the Official Development Assistance from the industrialized world to developing nations has been cut by about 30 percent -- $15 billion -- in real terms, and now stands at its lowest level since its inception in 1970. This at a period of human history when the needs of humanity, particularly children, have been elevated to a legal entitlement, a status no one should ignore.

The wealthy have cut aid to the poor at a time when the lack of development is now recognized as the most acute security threat facing the least developed States.

Nevertheless, while the aid that is supposed to elevate the human security needs of the world's most vulnerable people declines, world military expenditures total approximately $781 billion. UNICEF estimates that an increased investment of $7 billion more per year for education over the next decade would deliver universally accessible education. Delivering on the promise -- the human right -- of educating all children would cost the world community less than one one-hundredth per year of what it currently spends on arms. It is not the resources that are lacking, but the political will. Let us remember such contrasts when we think of educating for a culture of peace. Policy-makers must rid themselves of the idea that peace and security can be bought only with weaponry. A culture of peace challenges the reliance on weapons and the glorification of violence.

We need to foster and promote the transition from a culture of war, violence, and discrimination to a culture of non-violence, dialogue, and tolerance. It will have to be based on collective efforts from a variety of actors and partners inside and outside of government. It will depend upon the ability to raise people's awareness of the fundamental human security needs and rights affecting the daily lives of millions.

A transformation of consciousness must occur.

It is increasingly obvious that the current generation and those to come will need more knowledge and understanding of the world than their elders now, and certainly, did possess. Because of massive transformations in technology, communication and transportation humanity can now see itself, its unity and disunity, as no generation before could do. Humanity must also see not only its coexistence but also its commonality and the need for cooperation with one another.

Beyond all else, one great fact must stand out; the whole of the Earth is greater than the parts. Global security is of a higher order than national security -- security at the expense of others'. Violence, injustice, war, oppression and poverty are seen not as the inevitable consequences of greed and aggression, but as symptoms of a world disorder caused by putting the parts before the whole. A global order of peace and justice in the new millennium can only be achieved by educating for a global citizenship. This is a citizenship that is not disloyal to community or country, rather, it lifts up the consciousness of one's surroundings to a new recognition, never possible in the pre-technological age, of the interdependence of nations and systems making up the whole.

This transformation toward a culture of peace was powerfully expressed at the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace where 7,000 people of 100 nationalities gathered for a four-day "jamboree" of seminars, exhibits, concerts, and a general outpouring of human yearning for peace. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan articulated this yearning when he claimed: "The ultimate crime is not to give away some real or imaginary national interest. The ultimate crime is to miss the chance for peace, and so condemn your people to the unutterable misery of war."

To build a culture of peace, The Hague Appeal has highlighted a series of inter-locking themes. They include:

This is the thinking that "global education" must represent. The term "global education" expresses the holistic nature of the comprehension required to address the world's problems, and the multidimensional nature of peace. There must be millions of contacts, mutual exchanges and understanding between individuals the world over. This would develop an awareness of other peoples and foster a sense of common interests and values.

We must maintain this broad vision of education. We must see education, not only as a human need - but a human right, a necessary force for social change. Global education is the single most important resource for conquering poverty; empowering all people, especially women, safe-guarding children from labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting our fragile natural environment, and, ultimately, as a path towards international peace and security.

As we start the new century, the potential for a culture of peace has never been higher. Though we are still bogged down in the remnants of a culture of war, we must summon the strength, the courage, and the endurance to share in the development of this planet. The political resolve of governments and civil society shall be the determining factor.