Getting up close and personal with global issues


While studying and researching in England several years ago, Eno Nakamura was surprised to find that Japanese and English children had strikingly different views of the future. That contrast convinced her of a critical need for Japanese schools to put more emphasis on “the future,” and to get their students to think more about their own futures in relation to global issues.

Since then, this conviction has guided Nakamura’s work as an educator, from facilitating conferences in Japan to leading workshops at last summer’s Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

After graduating from Yokohama City University with a degree in international relations, Nakamura worked at the city’s YMCA, where she coordinated “Global Education” seminars. Then, to pursue her growing interest in environmental and global education, she decided to study abroad and enrolled in a master’s degree course in education at York University in northeast England, focusing on future-oriented education. There, while working on her thesis, she began researching the views of young people in England and Japan.

“I interviewed students in England and sent questionnaires to students in Japan asking what vision they had of the future, including global and environmental issues,” Nakamura, 32, explained recently.

“Interestingly, while most of the students in Japan were focused on their own future, students in England had a more global perspective, and they were more concerned about the global environment. I asked [both groups] the same questions, but the Japanese students didn’t have a concrete idea of global issues.

“More English students were in favor of gender equality and changes in lifestyle, such as people working and studying at home, and adult education, and more felt that these were likely to happen,” she said.

“In contrast, there was a big gap between Japanese students’ view of the preferable and the probable future. For example, many students preferred to return to a more rural and relaxed life, but they didn’t think it was likely to happen.

“Of course, Japanese young people have knowledge and information about the environment, but they do not see how the world is related to each of them directly, nor do they think they have a chance to change it,” Nakamura explained.

Eager to address this passivity, Nakamura completed her studies and took a job as a program coordinator at the Development Education Council of Japan. The DECJ is a coordinating body for nongovernmental organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting development education in Japan.

In addition to facilitating networking and information exchange among its members, the DECJ also works with government agencies and international organizations concerned about this area of education.

Asked to define “development education,” Nakamura referred to materials from the Development Education Association in London: “Development education aims to raise awareness and understanding of how the global affects the local and how individuals, communities and societies can and do affect the global. It aims to bring global perspectives into all aspects of learning, from the school classroom to universities to local community activities and the media.”

As an example, Nakamura cited the concept of “fair trade” — meaning trade that reflects the fact that what we buy, and whom we buy it from, has global repercussions.

Fair-trade coffee, for instance, is bought from producers at a higher price, allowing farmers to switch to more sustainable farming methods and helping them take better care of their families by, for example, keeping their children in school to the benefit of present and future generations.

So what is “global education,” I ask Nakamura. “I think the essence of global education is to realize the relatedness and interdependence of our own lives to the global,” she replied. “It means looking at issues that are very local, very global, and very personal, from many perspectives.”

She stressed that global education is not specific in its content, but rather “it is an approach to teaching content.” Essentially, then, it encourages students to walk their talk, she explained.

“After students learn, they may have a lot of information and knowledge,” she continued, “but if they don’t change their attitudes and behavior based on that knowledge, then the learning is meaningless.

“So children should be encouraged to make decisions for themselves, then take responsibility and act for a better world. We focus on the process, not just the results.”

Nakamura also explained a unique aspect of development education. Differing from global education, this is that it is rooted in exploring the connections between people living in the North (the developed countries) and those living in the South (the developing nations). “It is important for young people to understand that poverty in the South is not simply because people don’t work enough or because of overpopulation,” she said. “But rather that poverty is closely related to our lives in the North, our history and our consumption, and the problems of the South should be solved with cooperation between the North and the South.” Like many nonprofit organizations in Japan, the DECJ is overworked and underfunded; still, Nakamura and her colleagues are getting the word out.

Each year they hold numerous seminars and conferences around the country, and the DECJ now has close to 1,000 members, half of them teachers. Now, too, thousands of students nationwide have opportunities to use DECJ texts on the environment, human rights, gender issues and other topics.

Meanwhile, at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, Nakamura was pleased to see environment educators and development educators working together on ways to promote awareness of and support for sustainable development.

She was most moved, however, by the words of an African woman in a seminar that was organized by African NGOs. That woman told her: “Ten years ago in Africa it was a question of ‘have or have not.’ Now it is a question of ‘live or live not.’ ” Despite all the summit’s lofty objectives, Nakamura realized then, the primary goal of millions of humans continues to be simple survival.

Nonetheless, Nakamura and her colleagues are convinced that global betterment will only come about with change — and change through education. Before we can solve the problems facing the South, particularly poverty, they believe, we must understand that many of the causes are linked to lifestyles and institutions that the North jealously guards.

I want to ask Nakamura, ‘Why not channel some of Japan’s overseas development aid away from dams and highways in the South, and toward education for sustainability in classrooms of the North?’ But pride gets the better of me, and I don’t.

I fear she may think that her former professor is completely clueless about the policy priorities of Japan’s Foreign Ministry.