Historical events are interpreted and taught differently, and many times in radically opposed ways, in different countries. When countries have been at war with each other, their national education systems, their textbooks and their collective memory often glorify the victors, hide the atrocities and deny the claims of the victims.
Education is also a force for peace, as evidenced by a group of teachers from Japan, China and Korea who came together for the 9th conference for the exchange of classroom practice for peace education in Seoul on August 17-18.
The focus of this year’s conference was the exhibition of history textbooks and an overview of history education in each country, with presentations and discussions on teaching practice for peace in East Asia.
The participating teacher organizations were the Japan Teachers Union (JTU), the National Committee of the Educational, Scientific, Cultural, Health and Sports Workers’ Union in China, the Korean Federation of Teachers Association (KFTA), and the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU).
Yasuda Yoko, a JTU teacher, shared her classroom teaching experience with the participants. She visited a factory of poison gas used during World War II with her students. She said that the students performed a specific role as the assailant or victim in a play after the visit. Son Seokyoung, a teacher from Korea, talked about what the real patriotism is, presenting the two models in World War II.
Peace, human rights, and sustainability
Yang Zhaopeng, a ACFTU teacher, gave a presentation of teaching practice using articles from the newspaper “Daegongbo,” and An Yuan, the ACFTU principal of Utong Junior High School, delivered a presentation on “Cultivating awareness of history and peace through history education”.
Yamaki Masahiro, Deputy General Secretary of JTU, said, “It is very significant that this conference is being held in Seoul in this moment of a big move towards the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.” He said that the goal of the conference was the exchange of classroom teaching practice for peace, and emphasized the importance of education for peace, human rights, and sustainability.
Chen Hui, vice-president of the educational national committee of ACFTU, emphasized the importance of this conference, saying that “we, as educators, have a duty and responsibility to plant peaceful seeds in the youth’s minds. The seeds will grow into a deep-rooted peace tree in the future.”
Meaningful sense of history and peace
The four teacher organizations from three countries have jointly hosted the conference in each country since 2006. On the 17th of August the participating teachers visited some historical sites such as the Seodaemun Prison built and used during the Japanese colonial period, a girl’s statue symbolizing the victims of the sex slavery during World War II, and a Korean history museum.
They discussed the meaning of the visit to historical sites in terms of peace education. Hyunsu Hwang, the international director of the KTU who organized the event on the Korean side, said, “since January, long preparation and discussion among union officials of the three countries have provided a good and fruitful opportunity to share a meaningful sense of history and peace. It is important to keep this opportunity moving forward.”