Education for International Understanding in Teacher Education Programme in India

A. N. Maheshwari

The Planet Earth has a unique place in the solar system as life as is known to man has evolved in its myriad diversity only on this planet. The evolution of life on Earth has been a slow process and it is estimated that the time scale of the evolution process is comparable to the age of the Earth itself. Of all forms of life that have evolved on this planet evolution of the intelligent life in the form of human beings endowed with thinking ability has been the greatest miracle. The other miracle has been that human beings organised themselves as societies with diverse languages and cultural identities. It happened because of environmental causes and geographical conditions in which isolated groups because of the large size of the planet lived independently of each other. These groups used their thinking for knowing the external world and developed science and technology, and through their search of the internal world and spiritual pursuits came out with different religions. The long and tortuous history of human race is full of triumph of spirit over adversity due to natural and man-made causes.

The state-of-the-art science and technology have shrunk the planet Earth in both space and time. The geographical inaccessibility has disappeared and the world has become a global village. But the inhabitants of this village because of historical reasons even today are separate universes and more often than not behave as strangers to each other. It is, therefore, not surprising that the twentieth century that has the distinction of being the period in the human history in which man reached the moon and explored the planets by sending satellites has seen two world wars and even used nuclear bomb for destroying human habitations. A stockpile of nuclear arsenal sufficient to destroy all life on this planet several times over in a few hours has been created and can be triggered by press of a button by members of a privileged club. The outcome of a billion year of the process of evolution cannot be allowed to be destroyed by wanton acts of the singular species that nature endowed with the attribute of thinking intelligence. If this planet is to be preserved from mindless destruction and ruthless exploitation of its ecology and is to be preserved for the welfare of generations yet unborn the six billion people will have to learn to "learn to live together". Education for International Understanding (EIU) is an expression of the will of the human society for living in harmony in this global village.

UNESCO and Promotion of International Understanding

The promotion of international understanding and peace through school education has from the outset been one of the UNESCO's basic aims and UNESCO's General Conference at each of its sessions has adopted resolutions to this end. The broad concerns that have determined the education for international understanding so far have generally remained unchanged and because of the co-operative effort of the member countries of the UNESCO significant progress has been achieved in implementing education for international understanding by creating network of institutions. The Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, "Learning the Treasure Within", has placed the concern for education for international understanding in the context of the Information Age, the world is entering now. Learning to Live Together has been made one of the four pillars of life long education. Learning to live together is to be achieved by developing an understanding of other people and an appreciation of interdependence in a spirit of respect for the values of pluralism, mutual understanding and peace.

Dr. Karan Singh one of the members of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century has suggested a holistic education philosophy for the twenty-first century, which can be universally used for developing curriculum for education for international understanding. These principles which can be used for education for a global society are:

Historically, India has believed in the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means that the Planet Earth is a single, living, pulsating entity and all forms of life are an interlocking extended family. This philosophy coupled with concern for living a peaceful existence has informed the thinking of the Indian society.

Education for International Understanding in the Curriculum

The educational concerns of any country are rooted in its philosophical thinking and get manifested in the curriculum, textbooks and the teaching-learning process. As the responsibility for transaction of the curriculum to the learners is that of the teacher, there is an intimate relationship between the curriculum of teacher education and the curriculum of learners whom teachers teach. Therefore, teacher education programmes in India both at the pre-service and in-service levels have been responsive to the cause of promotion of international understanding. The international understanding is achieved indirectly through teaching learning of school subjects such as history, geography, economics and political science. It is through the methodology of teaching these subjects prospective teachers get to understand themselves and to understand others through better understanding of the world. There is obviously no way of understanding the world without understanding the relationship between human beings and their environment.

Use of Information Technology for EIU

The recent developments in information and communication technology have opened up the possibility for children in different countries in the world to grow up together and to learn together. The Internet and the World Wide Web have made it possible for students to communicate with each other and access information from the global virtual library. Students can now take up projects with other students cutting across geographical and political frontiers. It is expected that the ability to establish real time contacts by students with each other will result in development of a better international understanding than what could be achieved by the traditional approach of learning of world history and geography.

For teachers to play their new role as accompanists to student's learning than that of soloist performers, the teacher education programme will have to be suitably changed. If children can be made to learn by carrying out joint projects say by using e-mail or other learning technologies, learning to live together and understanding of other people and appreciation of interdependence will result. Teachers have to be helped in carrying out their changed role. This will require informing suitable changes in the curriculum for teacher education.

A Model Course for EIU

A course on education for international understanding could also be introduced in the teacher education curriculum. As an illustration of one of the many approaches that can be experimented for pre-service/in-service education of teachers, the following topics are suggested for designing the course:

Teaching about the United Nations; teaching about human rights; teaching about other countries; teaching of school subjects such as history, geography and social studies for developing international understanding; organisation of United Nations Day, Human Rights Day, World Health Day etc.; helping students with collaborative projects with international students using e- mail and the use of the World Wide Web.

Collaboration with the NCTE for Promoting EIU

In 1995 by an act of Parliament the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) has been set up in India. The NCTE is the apex body in the country with the mandate to co-ordinate teacher education programmes. The NCTE has linkages with all institutions associated with teacher education spanning from University Departments of Education to District Institutes of Teacher Education. It has recently prepared a national curriculum framework for teacher education. At the stage of preparing courses around the curriculum framework the component of EIU can be introduced.

The recommendations of the Ichon workshop will be referred to the NCTE for its consideration. It is hoped that India would benefit from the programmes of the Regional Centre of Education for International Understanding in Asia and the Pacific and by networking with teacher education institutions in the neighbouring countries would be able to promote EIU in the region.

Articles of A. N. Maheshwari

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