Building global communities through education

Leena Satuluri

I met Ann McAllen at St. Xavier’s Institute of Education (SXIE), Mumbai. The American Consulate had sponsored a series of workshops at the college and Ann had developed a three-week series of methodology workshops for SXIE.

Her workshops have greatly influenced me as a teacher and I have used all her methods in my classrooms.

Ann McAllen has conducted teacher-training workshops in refugee camps and migrant schools on the Thai-Burma border,she has worked with teachers in Thailand, Burma, Uzbekistan, Mexico, Kyrgyzstan, India, Togo, Mali and Jordan. Currently, she is an educational consultant and an outreach coordinator at Whatcom County Library System.

1. You have visited various countries training teachers in innovative practices in teaching English. What has been the most rewarding experience while teaching educators from across the world?
I have been working with teachers and students in many different parts of the world. During that time I have formed lasting friendships that have transcended borders and other differences. I think there is a universal bond that exists between educators. There seems to be an understanding of the commonalities of working in a classroom that creates solidarity – a global teaching community. It has been one of the most rewarding parts of working abroad for me.

2. How can students as well as teachers be trained to accept pluralism and collaborate with their global peers?
I think that by being exposed to different cultures, via actual contact with those cultures or through readings and exposure to other media, there is a possibility to enable students to accept pluralism. Reading is one of the most effective tools, especially, in raising conscious students who care for themselves, their families and the communities they live in. Books can also help children in caring for the environment, for building peace and discarding superstitious beliefs and building scientific temper. There are also many classroom activities that can be done with students and teachers to make them aware of the need for cultural understanding. For example, in a language classroom, I tell teachers to use music. A song could be played and students can be given worksheets with the lyrics of the song. Some blanks could be left. Students then listen to the song and fill in the blanks. This develops their listening skills as well as helps them understand the meaning or purpose of the song. We are the world, Heal the world or Tell me why are some songs that serve the purpose of creating empathy in students.

3. Since you have worked on curriculum and textbook projects, what components will help develop a global mindset and promote intercultural relationships?
I think incorporating cross-cultural learning into a classroom and including it into the curriculum is pivotal to promoting intercultural relationships. Often, teachers are beholden to their curriculum and do not have the discretion to include other important materials, so if this component is included in the curriculum, teachers can fearlessly bridge the divide between regions, religions or nationalities that have been distilled into the minds of students as well as teachers. Through education we hope to promote world peace.

4. You have worked with Bhutanese refugees. What experience would you like to share with us?
The situation of refugees is indeed pathetic. Without the intervention of UNHCR, it wouldn’t be possible to give quality education to the children of refugees. I had been there to provide teacher training to educators. It has indeed created a lasting and rewarding experience for me. I cannot express the amount of satisfaction that I received while training teachers there.

S. B. Rao, the Dean of Delhi Public School, Vijayawada highlights the importance of investment in education when asked about developmental goals. Rao has also been a former Assistant Commissioner in Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (under the Ministry of HRD, Government of India).

If you had to formulate a global development agenda, what would be your top most priority? Why?
I believe the top most priority should be to make quality education accessible even to far-flung corners of the earth. Education is the key to bringing about any change on earth. If one has to cut the barriers of ignorance, political divide, class and creed, it is possible only through education. Though economic resilience is the greatest factor of global development, the underlying fact is that a sensitive human being can contribute positively to the society. Therefore, I assert that education must be prioritized in the global development agenda because any kind of discrimination can be eradicated only through education. The stakeholders of education must see to it that some of the learning in classes is directed towards global goals. Mere talking is not enough. We need to develop proper systems and network to achieve these goals.

What can schools do to foster ‘global thinking’ in students’ minds?
A lot that has been learnt has to be unlearnt. Teachers need to bring in a paradigm shift in their approach to teaching-learning processes. They need to break free from their fixed notions and update themselves with latest educational trends. When this happens, it is easy to introduce cross-cultural curricula. Cultural and educational exchange programmes between peers of different nationalities will definitely foster ‘global thinking’ in students’ minds which will transcend the physical as well as mental barriers between countries. Primarily, they must be taught how to become good human beings.

Kirthi Jayakumar, activist, artist, entrepreneur and author from Chennai, talks about peace education for global development. Kirthi Jayakumar is the founder of Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peace building initiative that works for gender equality through storytelling, advocacy and digital interventions. She is the author of ‘The Doodler of Dimashq’ and ‘The Dove’s lament’. Kirthi has spoken at TEDx Chennai, advocating peace education as a means to end bullying. Among a long list of awards, she received the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women, an NGO in Nigeria, from President Barack Obama.

You are an advocate of peace education, how can such an education contribute towards the mutual development of countries across the globe?
Everyone in today’s generation is fighting a war on borrowed hatred: Israel and Palestine are at war for what began in the 1940s. Kashmir still remains a fractured land for what happened during the partition and just before. The DR Congo is still reeling under a civil war after what happened in Rwanda in 1994. War is deemed good for business and the coffers of a select few enablers and that vested interest keeps an agenda of promoting hatred as the norm going. Terrorist outfits are feeding off the combined effect of marginalization and borrowed hatred. The world is burning with hatred that is only kept alive through incorrect and in-sensitized education. We are fond of making economy-worthy machines, but seldom invest in humanizing them. I found a very simple solution to finding peace in peace education. We strive to create peaceful people through peaceful tools, peaceful language and peaceful ways to solve conflict. Conflict is inevitable, but if we create a proclivity towards peace in the people around us, we naturally choose peace, we naturally turn to peace, we naturally prioritize peace, and we don’t have place to escalate conflict at any level. Be it a bully in a classroom or two nations seeking ownership over territory.

Today’s bully breaks two people: oneself and the bullied. The bullied may become a bully or may turn docile. In the rarest scenario, both may make peace and turn a new leaf – but given the frugality of conversation, assistance and empathy-driven education curricula, this may be too distant a reality.

How can a teacher in a traditional school setting incorporate peace education in his/her teaching?
Teaching children peace made me realize that generations of students before me, along with me, and now after me, have grown up without learning the most important values of life: of empathy, of choosing peace and compassion over hatred and violence, of choosing equality, tolerance and respect for one’s identity as they are instead of pushing constant agendas of ideals and non-conformism attracting mistreatment. Teachers of mainstream subjects have so many routes before them to teach peace. What if we taught non-violent communication while teaching the rules of grammar, syntax and semantics? What if we taught history with the right telling, and with the agenda to prevent repetition of history’s egregious failings? What if we taught geography against the landscape of actual equality – where we learned lessons from the earth’s diversity and imbibed it as positive lessons for peace? What if we taught practical ways to use numbers in a way that had practical solutions to deter from conflict and choose peace instead?

The interviewer teaches English in Delhi Public School, Vijayawada. She is currently focusing on supporting students with reading and writing difficulties. She can be reached at [email protected].

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