We meet in the shadow of the greatest natural disaster ever to befall our country. Seven weeks ago the elemental forces of nature unleashed a tsunami with an awesome suddenness that snuffed out over 30,000 innocent lives, many of them children, and destroyed countless homes and buildings. As we mourn in rare solidarity, we also pick up the pieces of our broken country, ravaged by the sea and by our own self-inflicted internal conflict, to put them back again in a - hopefully - better shape and form than before. In doing so we must cherish and preserve our multicultural tradition and the rich harvest of our past. Professor J.E.Jayasuriya contributed in full measure to the rich heritage we are heirs to and it is appropriate that we reflect on how we can preserve his contribution in the country we are rebuilding.
My years at the University of Peradeniya - despite the inevitably rosy prism through which we all view the 'good old days' of the past - were indeed a Camelot like experience. We were brought together, in a beautifully landscaped cam pus located in the Hantana-cradled valley, as a melange of different ethnic and religious groups and different economic classes into an unreal world of placid beauty for the heady pursuit of pure intellectual inquiry. Years later bad governance by the political leadership of all parties let the savage violence in the country enter into the portals of this ivory tower where the anxieties of graduate unemployment and other economic and social factors provided fertile ground for extremist ideologies.
Through this transition Peradeniya was served by a group of world-class intellectuals and scholars on the teaching faculty and Professor J.E.Jayasuriya was foremost among them. Not having the privilege of being one of his pupils I had little contact with him, but
learned from his admiring students in my hall of residence of his dedication to the cause
of education and his deeply ingrained modesty and humility. Others who have preceded me in delivering this memorial lecture have spoken more knowledgeably than I can on Professor Jayasuriya and his great contribution to education in our country. As the son of a school teacher I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to pay homage, not only to the memory of Professor Jayasuriya and his lifetime achievement, but also to all those who genuinely care for the nurturing of young minds. A highly respected friend in academia once told me that the only professions that make an indelible impact on the future of our country are politics and education. Unlike in politics, the results of the work of educationists are necessarily long term and, then too, their impact is frequently marred or distorted by the clumsy intervention of the politics of expediency!
Nevertheless with the visionary policy on free education largely responsible for our high rate of literacy we can take some pride in the fact that the 2004 Human Development Report of the UNDP places Sri Lanka's Education Index at 0.83 which is higher than the average for developing countries, on par with the East Asian and Pacific average but still below Asian countries like the Maldives (0.91), Philippines (0.89) and Singapore (0.91).
The implementation of the recommendations in the December 2003 National Education Commission report will certainly improve our quality of education.
The United Nations and a Culture of Peace
For myself, not being inclined towards either politics or teaching, I chose the metier of diplomacy where I have tried to focus on peace and disarmament. I have selected as my theme for today 'Education for a Sustainable Culture of Peace' including my own efforts in the United Nations to combine education with the goals of peace and disarmament and the lessons I draw from that. So many International Decades and Years are created through UN General Assembly resolutions that we have perhaps forgotten that we are in the midst of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World from 2001 to 2010.
At least our children, after the Cease-fire Agreement of 2002, are faced with a lower level of conflict and violence than before but we have still to convert that fragile situation into a permanent and durable peace. It is of course a truism that the absence of war is not peace. The quote from Vegetius from the period of the Roman Empire of the 4th century AD "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (If you want peace, prepare for war") has frequently been cited by misguided proponents of militarism as a justification for military preparedness and high levels of military expenditure. In point of fact the rational argument is that if you want peace you must prepare for peace. Si vis pacem para pacem! To do that we need to create structures for peace and we need to replace military mindsets with mindsets for peace. This can best be done through education if a culture of peace is to be sustainable.
The preamble of UNESCO's Constitution has the well-known words ". Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." Less well known is the continuation of the preamble which says " 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 the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind". It is that 'intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind' that we must set as our goal within our own country and in the world. This is why the efforts of the peace process, which I am privileged to help manage, must ultimately receive the support of the people at the grassroots. We have to educate our people to replace a culture of violence created over two decades of conflict with a new culture of peace.
As an international civil servant for ten years, I am deeply convinced that the great assets of the United Nations are its universality and its norm-based character, which provides legitimacy and a moral compass for the rest of the world. Individual member states of this world body have the responsibility to serve and promote their national interest. The United Nations has the responsibility to serve and promote the national interests of 191 member states and to weave these diverse interests into a common and co-operative
global interest. In doing so the UN created the Culture of Peace programme in 1994 to encourage the peaceful co-existence that has eluded us in our own country for so long. That programme was then converted to the Year for the Culture of Peace in 2000 - the Millenium Year. We now have the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.
A culture of peace is defined by the UN as ' a set of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiations among individuals, groups and nations'. At the same time in the Millenium Declaration the values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility were upheld as common values linking the international community. They are the pillars of the culture of peace.
Peace and Disarmament Education
The UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters is a group of eminent experts from different countries who make recommendations from time to time. In the year 2000, their report to the Secretary General recommended that a detailed study be conducted of formal and informal disarmament and non-proliferation education as a means of rectifying the growing sense of complacency that had set in over international peace and security after the end of the cold war. Following this the General Assembly commissioned a study which in 2002 had its recommendations endorsed by the General Assembly laying the foundation for renewing the commitment of the UN to education and training in this field, co-ordinating programmes within the international organizations and expanding partnerships with academic, educational and non-governmental communities. The report noted that, since the cold war, concepts of security and threat perceptions had changed and this demanded new thinking for which education and training was vital. It summarized the objectives of such education as follows:
- To learn how to think rather than what to think about issues;
- To develop critical thinking skills in an informed citizenry;
- To deepen understanding of the multiple factors at the local, national, regional and global levels that either foster or undermine peace;
- To encourage attitudes and actions which promote peace;
- To convey relevant information on and to foster a responsive attitude to current and future security challenges through the development and widespread availability of improved methodologies and research techniques;
- To bridge political, regional and technological divides by bringing together ideas, concepts, people, groups and institutions to promote concerted international efforts towards disarmament, non-proliferation and a peaceful and non-violent world.
All this has an obvious relevance to Sri Lanka today as much as to other countries. The report recognized that different groups require different pedagogic approaches and methods. What a school-age child in a refugee camp needs to know about peace and disarmament is not the same as what is required for a security guard or a teacher or a politician. A combination of traditional and innovative teaching techniques is needed to convey information and enhance analytical thinking in order to facilitate a change in mindsets. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said, "Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defence spending there is."
The University of Peace and the UN University
There are many parts of the UN system dealing with peace education apart form the UNESCO and the Department for Disarmament Affairs which I headed for a little over five years. There is for example the University of Peace situated in Costa Rica – one of the few countries that can boast of not having a standing army. This specialized international centre for higher education research and the dissemination of knowledge relative to peace was established in 1980 but was revitalized recently. A mulicultural, modular academic programme on key issues in the field of education for peace is being developed and course materials are being sent to partner universities throughout the world. I can only hope, again, that Universities in Sri Lanka avail themselves of this resource especially since the academic programme addresses the root causes of prejudice,
hatred and conflict in a targeted, practical manner. We know that peace studies is, in fact, a well established discipline in many universities around the world from about the 1960s but we have still to have a single university in our country focussing on this subject. Already education for sustainable development has made marked progress. It is time we had similar progress on education for a sustainable culture of peace.
As a member of the United Nations University Council, I must also refer to the work of the UNU in its task of ‘advancing knowledge for human security and development. As an international community of scholars forming a bridge between the UN and the international academic community, the UNU serves as a platform for dialogue and creative new ideas. One of the two broad programme areas of the UNU is Peace and Governance and within it are the five thematic areas in which work is being conducted. They are –
peace and security;
good governance (from local to global);
development and poverty reduction;
science, technology and society and environment and sustainability.
Apart from priding itself on being a ' network of networks' the UNU is also actively reaching out to developing countries and to young scholars and I hope Sri Lanka will make use of this opportunity to build a sustainable culture of peace through greater interaction with the UNU.
Building a Culture of Peace in Sri Lanka
What are the prospects for education for a sustainable culture of peace in our own country? I am aware that a National Integration and Peace Education Unit exists in the Ministry of Education conducting a cultural integration programme in schools throughout the island, forming students friendship societies and generally teaching the values of tolerance, non-violence and other components of the culture of peace. This includes 'Pals from two cities' an experience-sharing programme for students from the North and South identifying common features of different cultures implemented between teachers and students from Jaffna, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Obviously greater funding for such programmes is needed. The common tragedy of the tsunami may also be an opportunity for exchanges of students from the South and the North so that they understand and share each other's suffering and engage in mutual help programmes. Clearly more needs to be done and I call upon the educationists here to contribute innovative and practical ideas for implementation in our schools, universities and other centres of learning.
Additional educational materials are needed in print and on line adapted to the cultural milieu of different countries. Our school textbook writers must respond to this challenge. Improved access to distance learning, multimedia and hypermedia programmes are needed. Role-plays and simulation games, films, visual and performance arts, photography, poetry and creative writing all have their role in peace education. Role-playing and simulation have been found to be exceptionally useful tools in ensuring that students place themselves in the shoes of others leading to a better understanding of the point of view of groups other than one's own. We have had many commentators reflect ruefully on the inflammatory nature of educational material in Sri Lanka. While this is of course a feature in other countries prone to sectarian conflict now, and in the past, it is imperative that the bias, motivations and attitudes of those who compile educational materials must be subject to the most careful scrutiny. Textbooks are undoubtedly a critical component of the educational process. Prejudices can be perpetuated or put in perspective through text books, especially in the teaching of history. Books impart values and can cause damage by conveying the wrong values. They play a role in teaching young students to identify themselves with particular groups usually in an adversarial relationship to other groups. I can only hope that these considerations weigh with those who have the responsibility of designing and supervising curricula development and textbooks in our schools. Certainly, the National Education Commission report of December 2003 was very much aware of this and had as one of its national goals the following :
“Nation building and the establishment of a Sri Lankan identity through the promotion of national cohesion, national integrity, national unity, harmony, and peace, and recognizing cultural diversity in Sri Lanka’s plural society within a concept of respect for human dignity.”
The role of the media is crucial in this task of education for a sustainable culture of peace. I must compliment the work of Young Asia Television and in particular the 'No War Zone' programme for the positive efforts being made to create a culture of peace. Too often sections of the media pursue their individual political agendas losing sight of the need for creating and sustaining a culture of peace. In the immediate aftermath of the Ceasefire Agreement and the opening of the A 9 road I understand there was great euphoria in the country. That has now largely evaporated for a number of reasons.. Having been at the Omantai and Muhamalai checkpoints at both ends of the A 9 road – which is now being kept open throughout the day for humanitarian purposes as a voluntary gesture on the part of our military – I am struck by the continuous stream of people travelling in both directions undeterred by the political differences that divide the nation. Human interest stories of the experiences of these families traveling together -sometimes on pilgrimage, sometimes to visit friends - can provide valuable lessons to be learned. Equally our media can highlight and our school curricula can include examples of how other countries faced with a diversity of languages and religions have evolved pluralistic political systems that have helped to manage this diversity. I have come across numerous examples of individual attempts to create a culture of peace. Let me cite one example.
The Peace Game for children
The Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), in a ‘joint venture’ with the Ministry of Education, is in the process of introducing the Peace Game to our children through their respective schools.
A prototype of the Peace Game has already been developed as a comprehensive, interactive resource for peace building through children. It has been conceived as a means to transcend physical, ethnic, religious, political and logistical barriers, creating a neutral platform for interaction and learning. Whether the conflict at hand is domestic, communal or political in nature, the Peace Game offers tools to manage the conflict in a positive manner.
A key element of the Peace Game is the peace board game called ‘Friends.’ The game, while original and conceived with Sri Lanka’s peace process in mind, has elements of ‘Snakes & Ladders’ and ‘Monopoly’ built into it. The game will be produced in Sinhala, Tamil and English.
Using the concept of friendship as its basis, the game introduces ideas of sharing, caring and respect for people, regardless of caste, creed, religion or ethnicity. Important conflict resolution/negotiation skills are also introduced in innovative and fun-filled ways. The primary goal of the game is to decode the notion of peace, in other words, make the abstract concept of peace understandable to children.
The game is intended for children between the ages of 9 and 12 and is meant to be played by groups of 7 or 8 children in the presence of an impartial ‘judge’ (the ‘judge’ could be a parent, teacher, or youth group leader). The game has both a non-subjective gaming element to it (luck or chance component) and a more subjective skill-based element to it.
The Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) together with the help of a funding Agency, plans to produce, print and disseminate 30,000 packs through the network of schools under the Ministry of Education.
The task of reconciliation in Sri Lanka will be a long one, requiring vast human, technical and financial resources as well as political and public will. Peace education can play an important role in the reconciliation process as well as in preventing further conflict situations by transforming attitudes and perceptions, as well as teaching values and skills relating to social interdependence, social justice, tolerance, and conflict resolution, and empowers people to become agents for the constructive transformation of their societies.
Children must be recognized as among the most important beneficiaries of peace education for attitudes relating to war and peace are formed during childhood and relate directly to adult perceptions of these critical issues. Teaching children about the values of peace, conflict management and resolution can therefore have a direct impact on building a sustainable culture of peace in Sri Lanka.
It is time I conclude. W B Yeats has said that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but
the lighting of a fire.” We all need to be torch-bearers of a sustainable culture of peace to illuminate our land banishing the darkness of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination.