EIU in the world2015.03.17 15:43
APCIEU presents the interview with Dr. Toh Swee-Hin, an expert of ‘Peace Education’ in order to learn more about peace education related to the agenda ‘strengthening global citizenship education’ of WEF(World Education Forum) scheduled this May.

It's something that I've been curious about since I saw your profile; you graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and education, and taught in high school in Malaysia, which is a little different from what you are doing now. Can you tell us how you came to become interested in peace and intercultural education? What led to your decision to dedicate your life to education development and EIU?

My movement into science initially was because I did well in school in science and math so I just continued studying that after receiving a scholarship to pursue my undergraduate studies in Australia. The Vietnam War was going on at that time and there was an anti-war movement in Australia in which  many university students participated. I attended various “teach-ins” and became convinced that the Vietnam War was waged on wrong policies and led to the needless deaths of so many people in Vietnam as well as the over 50,000 US soldiers. Hence, this was my early involvement in disarmament education and social action  outside chemistry, outside of the laboratory.

Later when I started teaching, I became interested in the environmental movement when it was still fairly new in the 1970s. I then involved my chemistry and biology students in environmental projects and a 6th form (matriculation) class made it into the finals of the school science exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur based on a project documenting pollution in the local Melaka River.  As you can tell, although I was studying science and I became a science teacher, I was quite involved in science and society. So when I decided to do my graduate studies, I made a shift from science to social science. As part of growing up you become concerned about the world and its issues, but science itself doesn't provide all the ideas that I needed to understand the world.
Was it then a difficult choice to move from something that you were familiar with to something that is different?
It is obviously a challenge to move from studying science, all you did was science, biology, math. When I moved into graduate studies I became interested in sociology, education, development, and in the beginning I had to study all over again because I didn't do a Bachelor of Arts or Social Sciences.  You have to read a lot more, understand more but I think with commitment you will be able to overcome it. If you're studying together with other students in social sciences you engage in discussion and participate actively in class.
For me studying is never just about books, it's important to be involved in the world. When I was pursuing my graduate studies in Canada, there was a social movement on my campus that developed around the international campaign against apartheid, and I had no hesitation in joining that movement. I remember the winter days when we stood in -20 to -30 degrees outside supermakets and wine shops to non-violently encourage shoppers not to purchase South African graspes, wines and other products.  As a result I also learnt about the importance of expressing solidarity with peoples who are struggling for freedom and human rights injustice and we contributed a little bit to the struggle there. For me who was studying social science I had to think of ways to apply that in daily life.


You were born in Malaysia and later studied in Australia and Canada, before traveling the world for your projects and now you're teaching in Costa Rica. I’m sure that your experiences in Australia and Canada at the timing of the Vietnam war and anti-apartheid movement shaped your interest greatly. Do you think that it is important for someone to travel abroad to have a better understanding of how to promote cultural tolerance and understanding? 

I don't think it is compulsory. I think experiences outside one’s country and culture can help, but I also think it's your attitude when you go outside. Commercial tourism is a big business nowadays and people go all over the world to Disneyland and all sorts of tourist spots. But that kind of tourism is not very engaging and it does not really promote real intercultural understanding.
However there is now alternative tourism where you go live with people in villages and work with them on projects or other activities, that's where I think you really learn about other people, about peace, human rights, development, intercultural understanding and interfaith dialogue. 
Having those experiences are helpful but I don't want to say that it is compulsory. There are many people in the world who do not have the opportunity to go abroad but they are already trying to build peace in their own communities. So on the one hand it can help, but it only helps if you have a certain attitude and approach to that experience. It's the opportunities you create when you're out of your home culture.
In your many years of experience, do you see positive trend of awareness and efforts towards EIU and peace education? When one mentions education I think most people will think of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education, and if one mentions peace they won't immediately connect it with education. So I was wondering what you thought about the level of awareness. 
When people are doing peace education they may not call it peace education to begin with. What matters is that they are educating children and young adults to become citizens who are more globally aware but also have certain values and attitudes in daily lives such as non-violence, compassion, social  justice, intercultural respect and how you treat people who are different from you. There are also many different dimensions of peace education, including  gender equality (although it's still difficult in some cultures) and  all forms of human rights. Nowadays we are also very concerned about the state of the environment, environmental destruction and  climate change - these are also key dimensions of building a peaceful world.
If you think of schools, nowadays we try to promote no bullying and no violence in schools through creative conflict resolution. But the media and video games sometimes promote a lot of violent attitudes, so educators are faced with the challenge of building a culture of nonviolence among all learners from the youngest age?  In sum, peace education is multi-dimensional and holistic. 
I’m not worried if people are not saying that they are doing peace education, but rather what they are doing as an educator: whether as a teacher or parent, whether they are encouraging people to do things to build a peaceful world, a world based on respect and non-discrimination, a world where men and women are equal,  where the rights of peoples of diverse sexualities are not violated. We  also need to show equitable concern for people with disabilities and how their needs are facilitated. It's a very long answer but I'm hopeful that even if you don't see a peace education subject in the school, it is not something to be worried about.
I'm more concerned about how people learn different subjects in the schools and how they can become better human beings. If you only study to be successful and only concentrate on wealth and such you can end up becoming very greedy, unscrupulous and even corrupt. Values education is sometimes neglected nowadays with emphasis on technology, productivity and growth nowadays. Growth for growth’s sake and over-consumerism is going to lead the world to disaster. If we do not use resources sustainably based on the principles of one planet living, then human actions will eventually  destroy the planet and the survival of future generations will be great jeopardy. 
I really do agree with that. From my own schooling experience in Singapore, there is a subject called “Moral education.” But it tends to be taken up as time to teach other subjects.
Sometimes these “moral education” subjects are not taken very seriously. When you teach values, morality and ethics, you have to think about what it means in daily life and how you practice it. If you just teach it and give an exam, students can  even get good marks for that exam but if you don't challenge students to engage in critical self-transformation manifested in how they relate to other peoples and the planet, then it can become mechanistic. Many countries have tried to promote moral or values education, but regrettably it has not necessarily catalysed students and also teachers to look at themselves seriously, Peace education is not just what you teach but how you teach; as a teacher you have to say I'm a human being, you have to tell the students that I'm also struggling to be better.

Over the years what are some challenges commonly faced in implementing your projects? For instance Mindanao in the Philippines is known for its long history of conflicts, so was it particularly difficult to deliver your ideas to them? How did you overcome these challenges? What gives you motivation to overcome these challenges and dedicate yourself to this cause for so many years?

Well even if it is not in Mindanao, even in Canada or Australia or nowadays in Costa Rica, the prevailing sociocultural economic and political system is still very much in the dominant paradigm of  growth, consume and compete, and that's where most of the world is still in. This also leads to armed conflicts, wars and destruction. But you should not feel depressed or be in despair as  it takes time to shift from the dominant to alternative paradigm. It may be slow but if you're too impatient you will likely lose a sense of calmness or even become angry.
In peace education we also stress very much on cultivating inner peace, with emphasis on being calm and able to meditate. I think it's very important to show that even in the middle of conflict you don't lose your sense of balance and you don't get so stressed that nothing is happening. Sometimes you have to admit that if you take one step you may go back half a step, because in the dominant system there are individuals, groups, organizations that have interests and they pursue those interests with a lot of power. But from a Gandhian perspective or active non-violence, in the end you may take a longer time but it is more sustainable.
In order to have real change in the world, people have to change from within. If you change the system without changing the individual, I don't think it will work. You can have all the laws in the world but if people don't have the transformation they are not going to follow the laws. But of course on the other hand if you transform internally you should also work for the social change. For me cultivating inner peace is a very important part of peace education and we include this in the curriculum, to remind people to focus on our spirituality. In peace education we don't believe in experts, we learn a lot from our students and they bring a lot of experiences a lot of hope too and encouragement to renew ourselves.
Ms. Yung Hian NG, a Singaporian and a member of 3rd APCEIU supporters had a chance to conduct a brief interview through Skype with Dr Toh Swee-Hin.

Toh Swee-Hin is Distinguished Professor at the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. He has contributed greatly in the field of education for a culture of peace, working on various projects in Uganda, South Africa, Jamaica, Japan, United States and the Philippines. Dr Toh has also contributed to several international networks and is especially committed to APCEIU as one of the members on the Governing Board and was involved as facilitator in various APCEIU workshops. He was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2000 in recognition of his efforts towards peace education and peace building.
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