by Max Ediger
Max is a long-time activist in Asia working with several communities who are struggling for justice and peace. He helped developed the Centre for Justpeace in Asia based in the Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA) in Hong Kong. This paper was presented in the Student Empowerment for Transformation (SET) held on 1-7 December 2004 in Jakarta, Indonesia. For more information on the Center for Justpeace, please contact http://daga.dhs.org/justpeace
As the theme of this session suggests, we will be focusing on alternative education as a means of addressing conflicts that plague our societies. To effectively discuss this theme we need to take a brief look at how we understand and define what education is. First, perhaps, we can agree on what education is not. Education is not simply about going to classrooms, listening to lectures, taking notes, reading some books and being tested. These are activities that may assist in the process of receiving education, but they do not truly constitute education.
Education is a process that involves, among other things, the following:
How effectively we utilises these processes is influenced by several things.
In reality, education is a life-long process of gathering information and experiences, reflecting deeply on what we have learned and seen, and then seeking the most productive way of using that knowledge and experience to benefit ourselves and the world in which we live. This process is important as we seek a deeper understanding of the conflicts swirling around us and develop strategies that can bring about the kind of structural transformation that can result in a true and lasting peace.
Many conflicts exist in Asia today. They range from border wars between neighboring nations to internal civil conflicts. Large or small, they bring great suffering on the people, especially the marginalized. Some of these conflicts include:
These are just some of the conflicts we live with that cry out for our attention. Without striving to identify the root causes of these conflicts as well as the outside forces that have a strong influence on them, we cannot hope to effectively address them and move toward a time of harmony and cooperation.
Let us look briefly at some of the global factors that have a significant influence on the
Since the end of the Cold War, US military planners have increasingly been talking about establishing a semi-permanent or permanent US military presence along an “arc of instability” that runs from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asia and across to North Korea. This arc of instability corresponds very closely to regions of great oil, gas and mineral wealth. Further momentum was given to this policy following the attacks of 9/11 and the resulting “War on Terror.”
Presently the United States has a military presence in about 135 out of the world’s 192 independent countries. In some cases this is a small presence with military personnel active in US embassies or maintaining small intelligence units. In almost 60 countries, there are military bases, some of which are huge in size. To ensure that these bases can continue to operate without interference, the US often offers protection to repressive regimes despite opposition from local democratic movements. This will obviously result in growing resistance from these democratic movements to both their own repressive regime as well as the US presence which hinders their movement toward democracy and freedom.
To counter this growing resistance, the US places much emphasis on expanding its military power and in helping sympathetic regimes also build up their own militaries. Presently the world is spending over US$2.1 billion every day on defense. More than 50% of that is spend solely by the US. This is money taken away from budgets needed to solve global problems of hunger, poor health, poor education, lack of clean water and sanitation, poor housing, etc. Security issues could perhaps be better dealt with by funneling a large percent of this money into helping people lead healthier lives.
According to statistics provided by the United Nations, the amount of money used by the world for defense in six days would be enough to provide for global sanitation and food needs for one year. Global education needs could be met by only spending the amount of money the world spends on defense in three days. In other words, there is sufficient resources to solve global problems, but a large portion of these resources are being diverted to militarising our globe. Ironically, the more money put into defense, the more insecure the world becomes, and the great the conflicts we must all live with.
Globalisation is simply the ability for goods, services, information etc. to flow around the world more freely and cheaply. It can have both good and bad results, depending on who controls it. Presently the World Trade Organization (WTO) is setting the rules for global trade and that means that those countries with the most political and economic power can set rules which help them benefit the most. Taking down trade barriers does not mean that there is a level playing field for all participants. In truth, since the establishment of the WTO, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased. A UN Human Development Report states that the richest 20% of the world’s population consume at least 86% of all goods and services while the poorest 20% consume just 1.3%. This gap has been growing despite the WTO.
Again, the problem is not about a lack of resources, but rather there is a serious problem of distribution. While a budget of US$6 billion is needed to insure that every child in the world could have access to a good education, the people of Europe spend US$11 billion on ice cream. Basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world would cost only US$13 billion while people in the United States and Europe spend US$17 billion on pet foods.
This unequal distribution and use of the world’s finite resources plays a significant role in regional and global conflicts. Until and unless this issue is address courageously and creatively, conflicts will continue to erupt throughout the region.
Fundamentalism is generally defined as conservative religious authoritarianism in all faiths. It is marked by a literal interpretation of scriptures and favors a strict adherence to traditional doctrines and practices.
Fundamentalism results in a very polarized view of the world—either you are with me or you are against me. Religious fundamentalism becomes a seriously divisive issue as those who are most out-spoken claim to have the final work on what is right in God’s sight and what is wrong. They claim to have the right to judge others and to demand that their view be accepted and followed. Anyone of a different faith is wrong, and anyone of the same faith who holds a different view is considered suspect.
Christian fundamentalism is on the rise, especially in the United States. Christian fundamentalists are narrowly defining what represents true Christian moral values and how those values must be lived out. While this is perhaps a local American issue, it has serious implications for those of us in other parts of the world. As the world’s only super power, and as a “Christian” nation, the United States is the face of Christianity to much of the world. They will influence the way others view both the Christian faith and Christian communities. Misunderstandings are bound to develop and this could well result in growing religious tensions and conflicts in Asia.
To develop an alternative education system that will equip youth with the skills and knowledge needed to confront the growing violence in our region, it may be necessary to do some work outside the normal education institutions. That does not mean that these institutions should be avoided, or that they are not effective and useful. It does, however, suggest that presently these institutions tend to work more to protect and preserve the status quo rather than push for social, economic, political and ideological transformation within our societies.
We can develop alternatives to the present education systems while still studying within those systems. This can be done by organising study groups which meet outside the classrooms and which provide more information to help understand the root causes of conflicts and the global factors that influence those conflicts. Such an alternative education process should have: