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Learning to Live Together: A Call for Action by UNESCO Official

UNESCO Bangkok’s newly released report Learning to Live Together: Education Policies and Realities in the Asia-Pacific, highlights the potential of education for building more peaceful, just and equitable societies.

UNESCO Bangkok Director Gwang-Jo Kim with Alland Dharmawan, the 1st winner of "Learning to Live Together" Youth Image Competition, looking through his portfolio of pictures.

UNESCO Bangkok’s newly released report Learning to Live Together: Education Policies and Realities in the Asia-Pacific, highlights the potential of education for building more peaceful, just and equitable societies. With findings presented from ten countries – Afghanistan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand – it focuses on how countries have sought to reflect this concept in their education systems.

Dr. Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, shares his views on the importance of ‘Learning to Live Together’ in today’s world and what Governments can do to make promoting peace through education a reality in schools and beyond.

Q.    Given the dynamics of today’s ever-changing world, why is Learning to Live Together (LTLT) such an important aspect of education?

A.     I can think of several reasons. Two or three generations ago, the world was very different from the one that we live in today. In all aspects of life, people are now living in a very complex, inter-connected and globalized world. The world of work is also changing, requiring new skills, knowledge and mindsets as people of different nationalities and backgrounds are increasingly working together. We are also living in a world where rapid development is taking place, which has generated a growing gap and disparities between different groups within and among countries, leading to heightened tensions. This is a strong reason for us to promote the notion of LTLT and to operationalize it – and this starts with education. In today’s world, no individual, community, group, society or country can be self-sufficient. For all these reasons, we must signal the importance of LTLT.

Q.    Despite the best intentions of countries in articulating LTLT in their education policies, often it is difficult to see how it becomes a reality in practice. What do you think are the main issues in implementing LTLT through effective teaching and learning strategies in the classroom?

A.     In terms of operationalizing LTLT, we need to think about how we can give people the incentive to obtain and develop these kinds of skills; empathy and tolerance for example. In most countries, the focus on cognitive skills that are measurable, or so-called ‘hard’ skills, is driven by a sense of competiveness and productivity. This is quite understandable, as international assessments also reflect and measure these kinds of skills. Non-cognitive, transversal skills that are useful for promoting LTLT are much harder to measure than cognitive learning such as literacy and numeracy. Assessments need to go beyond these traditional domains as there is currently little space for assessing other kinds of skills. Assessment is what provides incentives to teachers and students. We need to think of how we can incentivize people to focus on LTLT by changing the ways in which students are being assessed.

Q.    Indeed, part of the debate in this area has also been about how competencies such as empathy, tolerance, communication and concern for the environment can be measured and assessed. How do you see this evolving in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond?

A. I’m positive that we can do it. When it comes to measuring skills, it shouldn’t just be about right and   wrong answers in a test. We should not confine ourselves to that. We need to look beyond numbers. What about relying more on performance evaluation at the classroom level? This should be possible at the micro level, and would be more useful, or more ‘multi-dimensional’ as it would allow us to accumulate results over the years to see how learners are developing the skills and competencies needed for LTLT. Or as another example, project-based learning is an increasingly popular teaching method used today. This method may illustrate new ways of monitoring and assessing progress in developing LTLT skills, such as using the latest technology or other tools such as portfolio assessment. We need to rely on both quantitative and qualitative approaches in mainstreaming the assessment of LTLT. It may take time but it is feasible and possible.

Q.    The core of UNESCO’s mandate is peace, and in some ways, this report could be seen as a call to action. What do you think Governments can do to better promote LTLT in building peace through their education systems?

We all need to work together. It’s not just about Governments but also about international entities like UNESCO. At country level, Governments first need to realize the importance of LTLT. In today’s world of heightened tensions there needs to be a sense of urgency. It is also a sustainability issue – about the notion of sustainability being embedded in operationalizing LTLT across time and space, about reaching out to future generations and helping them to better understand the past within and across countries. Secondly, this needs to be reflected at every level of education systems – education policy and planning, assessment, teaching, textbooks. Then we need to work with Governments to come up with very concrete, doable, action-oriented programmes. In so doing, we can fulfil our role as an advocate in this area, brokering between countries and trying out new ideas.

For more information, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)] at the Education Policy and Reform Unit.

Interviewed by Aliénor Salmon [a.salmon(at)]

Related Links:

•  Learning to Live Together: A Realistic Dream for Education
•  Learning to Live Together: Policies and Realities in the Asia-Pacific
•  LTLT E-Exhibition 
•  Facing dark reality on the International Day of Peace