Draft copy of the paper presented at the event
Hello everyone. It is my honor to give the third annual lecture at the Soka Education Research Center on Global Citizenship (SERC-GC). My thanks to Dr. Paul Sherman, Ms. Olivia Boukydis, Ms. Vidita Singh and the University of Guelph-Humber for bringing us together through this virtual event. I am always grateful to those who support such events, often working behind-the-scenes, and of course, to the participants for making the time.
My talk is centered on the discourse and practice of Soka or value-creating education, which is an approach to curriculum that emerged in Japan in the early 20th century, as well as education for global citizenship and sustainable development, which are initiatives led by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Soka or Value-Creating Education
The Japanese thinkers, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda, and Daisaku Ikeda are the Soka founders or thinkers who developed Soka or value-creating education. Based on more than 30 years of classroom teaching, Makiguchi published his work, Soka Kyoikugaku Taikei, or The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, in 1930. Today marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of this work, and I am so happy that we are able to gather together to talk about his educational ideas and relevance. Today is also the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai lay Buddhist educators group established by Makiguchi and his fellow schoolteacher, Toda. Toda coined the term soka to describe Makiguchi’s educational pedagogy. Soka or value creation is formed from the two words, so from sozo or creation and ka from kachi or value.
Ikeda describes value creation as “the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstances” (Ikeda 2008: 443). Happiness is the overarching goal of education and human life. It is the experience of growth and the fulfillment of one’s abilities or innate potential that can be developed through the process of leading a contributive life. As Makiguchi states, “Creating value is, in fact, our very humanity. When we praise persons for their ‘strength of character,’ we are really acknowledging their superior ability to create value” (Makiguchi 1972: 25; see Furukawa 2001).
Value-creating education is a learner-centered approach focused on the health, well-being, and happiness of each student. The concept of happiness that informs this approach is regarded as the ability to lead a contributive life for the welfare of self and others.
Makiguchi was incarcerated during a period of ultra-nationalism and World War II for his statements denouncing the emperor and the Japanese war. On November 18th, 1944 Makiguchi died in prison due to old age and malnutrition. Toda, who had accompanied Makiguchi to prison was later released, and he reestablished the educators group (which included people from all walks of life). His main concern was to rid the world of suffering through sharing a philosophy of life that could enable people to generate wisdom, courage, and hope to better their own lives. Ikeda, who met Toda at a Soka Gakkai meeting, succeeded Toda to create Soka as a people’s global movement through the establishment of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and other Soka institutions in 192 countries and territories.
There is much more that can be said about these thinkers as reflected on this slide. Today, on the death anniversary of Makiguchi, I would like to share some example of his actions as a humanistic educator, his care for children, particularly the most vulnerable ones, and being sensitive to the dignity of each individual child. Many of you may know this, that at Mikasa elementary school Makiguchi used his personal resources to prepare lunch for the children whose parents could not afford to provide them one (this was more than ten years before lunch was supplied in schools throughout Japan). He would do this even though he had eight members of his own family to feed. Did you know why sometimes he would keep these lunches in the janitor’s room? Thereby, those children that really needed the food, could get it without being seen and feel embarrassed. Due to the continued efforts of Makiguchi and Toda, the cases of juvenile delinquents and children with skin diseases reduced considerably in the school (Sharma 1999: 14–15).
Several years of teaching by Makiguchi and Toda, and their resistance to the indoctrination of students in a period of ultra-nationalism, led to the development and publication of Makiguchi’s pedagogy. Their examples have significance for many teachers millions of teachers who suffer a range of privations working in authoritarian states, as well as for educators who are confronted with global challenges, such as narrow nationalism, in democratic states.
Toda’s later call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and his vision to help build a peaceful and sustainable society, have been carried forward primarily by Ikeda and youth of the Buddhist organization. Ikeda notes in his numerous writings that much of his learning was due to Toda, who mentored him through “a curriculum of history, literature, philosophy, economics, science and organization theory” (Ikeda 2008: 448–449).
Among his many accomplishments, Ikeda has been a prolific writer and an institution builder. Furthermore, as an individual citizen, Ikeda has taken action to initiate dialogue with peoples and countries (including China, the Soviet Union, and Cuba, at a time when there was considerable hostility toward them). Ikeda mentions that this was “despite criticism” based on his “stance as a Buddhist” and his “citizen’s diplomacy” (Ikeda 1999: 129–130).
Here are a few points that I think are particularly relevant for the ongoing and future efforts related to Soka studies in education. The first is the importance of contextual and comparative studies. Let me explain by sharing from my personal journey in this field.
I grew up in India in the city of Kolkata (Calcutta). As an undergraduate student at the University of Delhi I became interested in the educational ideas of the Soka thinkers. As a student I was disillusioned by the education system I experienced in India, in spite of the fact that my school and university were highly reputed institutions. I felt that the education imparted was often divorced from students’ lived experiences of their daily lives. And so, I decided to study at Soka University in Japan which was founded by Ikeda. In my first year there, I studied Japanese proficiency and then acquired my masters or graduate degree in education. Although I wanted to focus solely on Makiguchi’s educational pedagogy and the ideas of Ikeda, my shidō kyōju or master’s supervisor, Prof. Kumagai, was interested in a comparative study that extended beyond his expertise on Makiguchi and Japan to a study that included Indian education. And so, my dissertation focused on a comparative study of Makiguchi and the Indian political leader, Mahatma Gandhi. I then did my doctoral work at the University of London, studying the relevance of these thinkers for 21st century education in more detail.
Reflecting back, I realize that it was unusual for a young woman from India to study Japanese and do a master’s degree in education in Japan in the 1990s. Also, it has been less common for Ph.D. candidates to research the educational ideas and relevance of Asian thinkers in academic institutions such as the University of London. However, these decisions were guided by the intent to bring such less widely known thinkers and perspectives that have shown to significantly influence the lives of people and communities into the debates and practice of mainstream education.
My point on the need for contextual studies is that these can be helpful to allow us to understand not only what the Soka thinkers said, but the context in which they developed their ideas. What were their creative modes of thinking, and how can we learn from their creativity and courage that is relevant for our time? In my 2008 work I discuss their strategies, behaviors, and beliefs as citizens and its relevance for citizenship education.
Further, comparative studies allow for a dialogue to take place between the ideas of the Soka thinkers and other thinkers across different geographical regions. This can help to shed light on certain aspects of the Soka thinkers’ proposals. In a book published recently, I borrow from the tripartite dialogue between Ikeda and the Dewey scholars, Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman (Garrison et al. 2014). Through their comparative work on the ideas of Dewey and Makiguchi they make connections between terms, such as, “value creation,” “growth,” and the development of “character.”
Similarly, in comparative studies on Gandhi and the Soka founders as Asian thinkers, the concept of “value creation” is discussed through the lens of non-dualistic philosophies that perceive the inextricable link between the self and others (Sharma 2018). It reflects on the integrated view of life as reflected within the Soka thinkers Buddhist philosophy.
Through comparative studies we can better understand the notion of value creation and how it applies to our own particular context. One can therefore argue that the starting point to know more about Soka or value-creating education should be determined by the particularities of where we are situated as readers, teachers, and scholars. This includes looking for materials that correspond to what might be relevant to the values, needs, and culture of the students we teach; the educational institution in which we are situated; and the culture and context of the country in which our institution is placed.
In a forthcoming article, I examine alternative curricula in India using a “value creation” lens (Sharma forthcoming). The curricula I reference in this work have been developed based on a more integrated view of the self and others. The discussions in my article are based on the premise that while Western theoretical frameworks are commonly used in education practices worldwide, there are also important contributions to be made in using non-Western education perspectives. For example, to shed light on the emergence of ideas within given regional diasporas. In this article I examine how certain notions of interdependence have developed in Asia and informed curricula in schools in this region.
Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship
Value creation can also guide examining the current emphasis within research and praxis related to education for sustainable development and global citizenship. Let me share something from my own teaching: I often end with this Buddhist parable to explain an important lesson from a study of Soka perspectives. The story is called “The jewel hidden in the robe.”
Once upon a time there lived a man whose friend was a rich public servant. One day the man visited his friend, who entertained him with food and wine. The man fell asleep. The rich friend, however, needed to set out on an urgent business trip. The friend had wanted to give the man a priceless jewel, which had a mystic power to fulfill any desire. But the man was fast asleep. So, the friend sewed the gem into the hem of the sleeping man’s robe. The man awoke to find his friend gone, unaware of the jewel his friend had given him. Before long, the man happened to sink into poverty, wandered through many countries, experiencing many hardships. After a long time, now reduced to a state of sheer penury, he met his old rich friend. The friend, surprised at his condition, told him about the gift he had given, and the man learned for the first time that he had possessed the priceless jewel all along.
This allegory reminds us of the vast inner potential that exists within ourselves and others. For education, it means paying attention to not just the knowledge content in classroom teaching, but also giving adequate attention to the institution’s untaught curriculum or school ethos that can bring out the pupils’ innate abilities and strengths so that learners can create value with their own efforts.
The Delors Report titled Learning: The treasure within, published by UNESCO in 1996, proposed an integrated vision for education. The four pillars of learning described in this report are: Learning to know, to do, to be, and to live together. This report continues to inspire thinking on education worldwide and has been critically revisited several times for fresh insights into ways of challenging education for cognitive, behavioral, and socio-emotional dimensions of learning. I would like to focus on two aspects of the “The treasure within” as represented in the Delors Report.
The first aspect is that the “treasure” lies within human beings, the abilities and aptitudes that can enhance social and self-actualization. The second is the value of learning itself as the treasure, which been championed as the right of each child by activists such as the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai. Considering the second aspect (of viewing education as a “treasure”), the broader emphasis is on developing societies that value and support the needs of education.
In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on Project based Learning (PBL), theatre and arts-based approaches, and the development of video games within the recent practice of global citizenship education. While such experiential learning methods are important to develop learners’ potential, sometimes the goal might just remain at making lessons enjoyable through the use of experiential learning. Instead the focus must also be on developing learners’ critical skills. As well as a values-based focus in education that looks for a broader engagement with the existing experiences, values, needs, and interests that the learners bring into the classroom from their home and community.
In engaging with youth through teaching, within families and communities, the meaningful questions that become pertinent are: what motivates this youth, enthuses her, interests him, and captivates their imagination? I believe that in engaging with these questions education for global citizenship can continue to place the focus on the happiness of learners, the citizens of this world.
Dr. Paul Sherman, in his PhD thesis (2017: 48) borrowing from Bourke et al. (2012), suggests that we should integrate education about global citizenship with education for global citizenship (Sherman 2017: ii). The questions central to education for global citizenship are: What are the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that students need to compete and succeed, but most importantly to live sustainably in the 21st century? These questions must be part of educating students for present local and global issues confronting us.
Some urgent concerns for education in the 21st century include climate change, outbreak of global pandemics, societal upheavals due to technology, migrations due to strife or climate conditions, and the politics of narrow nationalism. As a response to some of these issues, in September 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted at the 70th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, with active participation by UNESCO. Of these goals, SDG 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (UN 2015). Target 4.7 of SDG 4 addresses Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and the related approaches such as Global Citizenship Education (GCED or GCE) to foster global citizens who would meet the world’s current challenges.
The UNESCO initiatives of education for sustainable development and global citizenship have developed in parallel to Soka studies. Some scholars have examined the relevance of Ikeda’s work to the discourse on global citizenship education. For example, they have analyzed Ikeda’s support (as a citizen) for the UN and have considered his aims to foster global citizens (his being the founder of Soka education institutions).
Value-Creating Global Citizenship Education
I bring together discussions related to both fields in my work on value-creating global citizenship education.
The premise of my work is that a shift in paradigm and perspectives will have a significant bearing on educational practices. One proposal is to shift the emphasis from a neo-liberal paradigm to a value-creating paradigm. Several scholars who have launched a critique of the neo-liberal paradigm that include Andreotti (2006), Bourn (2020), Gaudelli (2009), Tarozzi and Torres (2016). Using a value-creating approach for the three domains of learning as outlined for the practice of education by UNESCO (2015, 2017) could enhance education for global citizenship in the following way. While we emphasize critical thinking within the cognitive domain a greater emphasis can be also be placed on dialogue and dialogic modes of learning using a value-creating approach; within the socio-emotional domain, along with empathy and consideration of others, friendship and compassion can also be promoted. The Soka Schools in Japan, for example, aim at fostering global citizens with an emphasis on cultivating friendship and compassion; and from charity and advocacy within the behavioral dimension as often found in the practice of education for sustainable development and global citizenship, to an education that prepares students for a contributive life.
Value-creating global citizenship education is a pedagogical approach that develops learning for sustainable development based on an integrated view of life; engages with the values, interests, and beliefs of learners; and is founded on a trust in the learners’ capacity to create value and meaning for self and others (Sharma 2020: 136).
Value-creating global citizenship education has six themes for its practice that aim to promote:
- A sense of interdependence, common humanity, and a global outlook.
- An awareness of climate change as planetary citizens.
- A commitment to reflective, dialogic, and transformative learning.
- A commitment to sustainable development through intercultural perspectives.
- A belief in the value-creating capacity for social and self-actualization.
- An understanding of peace and non-violence as being central to the human rights agenda.
I won’t go into the details of each theme because of the limitations of time today, but each theme challenges some of the epistemic assumptions with the current practice of education for sustainable development and global citizenship and offers suggestions for practice.
For example, my study draws on work by scholars that offer an early critical review of the SDGs. These studies argue that although the SDGs are an attempt to build a more peaceful and sustainable world, they are not framed as being part of the international human rights law. This includes that in educating for global citizenship, we should ensure that no person or community is left behind.
Wisdom, courage, and compassion are the three constituent elements of a global citizen, as developed in this book from a study of Ikeda’s work as well as a study of less widely known thinkers and communities. These elements are offered as guidelines for action for educators, curriculum developers, and policy makers to guarantee three basic rights to all learners: Learning from diverse knowledge and wisdom requires an access to non-centric curriculum that allows for such learning to take place; Possibility of fulfilling one’s unique potential, which is an inside-out and bottom-up approach that is transformative, compassionate, and adapts to particularities; and Access to safe learning environments that foster the courage to conquer prejudice and violence.
The discussions in this book also argue the need to develop not only education for social justice, but also for an earth-centered perspective. For example, a value-creating approach advocates sustainable development based on the perspective of the interdependence of all life from a non-anthropocentric and an Earth-centered perspective, such as also advocated by the UN forum Harmony with Nature, and as outlined in the principles of the Earth Charter.
Of course, we must address the COVID-19 pandemic as well. In many cases the pandemic has not created new inequalities, and instead, it has highlighted inequalities that existed all along. In two of the six themes proposed, the issues of climate change and the COVID-19 crises are discussed, and I argue that their study must be at the center of any education for planetary citizenship. One suggestion made is the urgency for developing planetary citizenship as a cross-curricular theme and as a whole-school approach. Under this banner the study of human relationship to Nature and its exploitation; risks like climate change crises and threat from global pandemics; and lessons from green economy and green schools must be taken as focal points of study.
The book concludes with a conceptual toolbox that lists ten key concepts for the practice of a value-creating approach for education for sustainable development and global citizenship. The annotated bibliography has references for praxis that are selected based on the arguments and perspectives developed for using a value-creating approach. Rather than to offer suggestions for a didactic practice or as a separate curriculum, the materials selected aim to deepen a critical and reflective engagement with global issues. The approaches use theme-based practices that allow for the integration of diverse perspectives.
- Value-creating global citizenship education is suggested as a pedagogical approach.
- The key focus is on building relationships between the individual learner and her/his natural and social environment.
- The aim is to expand the current focus (in education for global citizenship) from individual empowerment to bold, collective efforts.
- Overall, the suggestion is that a value-creating paradigm will help foster individuals who can collectively take action for social and earth justice.
I end with some thoughts and suggestions for future research and work.
- Learning to know. Integrate conversations on earth-centered perspectives in our teaching and daily lives, for example, as promoted through Harmony with Nature.
- Learning to be. Can be enhanced through notions of interdependence from alternative perspectives and paradigms of viewing self, others, Nature and the universe as represented within the Earth Charter.
- Learning to do. Can question what action can we take in our daily lives, families and communities based on studies for planetary citizenship? What inspiration can we draw from our family, faith tradition, and other areas of our lives? Are we engaging with studies of people who have initiated bold collective actions to create sustainable communities, for example, Gandhi, Wangari Maathai, Greta Thunberg and others?
- Learning to live together. How can we foster learning to live together through an education that is committed to leaving no one behind?
In concluding, I wish the SERC-GC the absolute best as it continues to develop initiatives related to Soka education and global citizenship. I hope to continue being involved in this important endeavor.
Thanks so much for your attention! This is the QR code to my blog address mentioned on the slide where I’ll upload this paper. A few copies of my book are available to present, so if you would like a copy with a discount for your library, please send me an email. I’d love to carry forward the conversations from today.
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