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Education for International Understanding (EIU)

Paper presented by Kevin Charles Kettle
Program Development Officer
SEAMEO Regional Center for Archeology and Fine Arts (SPAFA)

Background: Today’s World

This is the declared UNESCO International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence of the World. However, while the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, it remains to be seen whether such words can become a reality. Although today there is greater interconnectedness through transport, communications, trade etc., which has almost certainly brought benefits to some sections of society, others have been further distanced with drastic social consequences, and many people are now struggling for existence.

Another consequence of globalization is that our sense of space, time and culture today has become more compact. Technology, mobility and progress have made our world seem smaller and closer. But do we really understand each other any better?

Transnationalism has given us the illusion of a borderless world. Information and experience through various media give us a sense that we have ready access and virtual consumption of other cultures. We think we are connected and, thus, an “international” community. But are we?

The false assumption of globalization is that we actually know our neighbors. We begin to imagine that the world is ‘flat’ and that mass and homogenized culture is everyone’s inheritance. The truth, of course, is that globalization has opened up our awareness that today’s world is increasingly diverse and hybrid.

In fact, there is no pure culture. All identities are hybrid or have mixed origins. From historical times to present reality, cultural identity is constantly changing. Because of the plural nature of culture, we witness increasing diversity. Differences do not disappear. They multiply. As a civilization grows, each community, state, nation and region faces the critical issue of ‘difference’ and ‘identity’.

In order to understand and formulate one’s identity, we have to negotiate on ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’. We have to negotiate on ‘integration’ and ‘diversification’. This is a constantly evolving process we experience. Given the complexities of globalization, cultural identity is of utmost vital concern. This is because it is about survival.


The Role of EIU

What role then do educators have to play within this landscape of today’s world? The answer is EIU, “Education for International Understanding”.

Certainly, terminologies like ‘globalization’, ‘cultural pluralism’ and ‘cultural identity’ along with such issues as integration & diversification may lead us to believe this is primarily a job for policy-makers to tackle. Not so. At the bottom-line EIU holds the conviction that education can make an impact on the minds, especially of young school children, about cultural knowledge and sensitivity. And it is only through cultivating knowledge and sympathy that we can begin to envision peace and tolerance. Therefore as educators we have a crucial role to play.

The education of young people to raise cultural awareness for international understanding is nothing new; in fact UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet) was launched in 1953 to promote intercultural learning. However, more recently there have been many initiatives made by various organizations, foundations and governmental bodies in a concerted push to strengthen and promote the idea of EIU. The need for EIU has become a matter of urgency and it is widely considered that it should constitute a substantive part of any country’s national curricula. This is because young people can be encouraged and supported to become protagonists active in their communities rather than remaining as passive recipients.

What constitutes EIU?

EIU is akin to values-based education. The search for ways to improve the quality of education is global and one area of focus has been that of values, attitudes, and behavior and how to develop these aspects of character in a positive and productive way. How do we empower individuals to choose their own set of values? What kind of specialized training is necessary for educators to integrate values into existing programs? How can values-based education prepare students for lifelong learning in their communities? 
These questions were asked when Living Values: An Education Initiative (LVEI) was conceived by twenty educators from around the world who gathered at UNICEF Headquarters in New York City in August of 1996 to discuss the needs of children, their experiences of working with values, and how educators can integrate values to better prepare students for lifelong learning. They developed a Living Values Educators Kit which became available for piloting in March of 1997, and by late spring that year was being piloted at 220 sites in over 40 countries. It offers a variety of experiential values activities and practical methodologies to teachers and facilitators to enable children and young adults to explore and develop 12 key universal values: Cooperation, Freedom, Happiness, Honesty, Humility, Love, Peace, Respect, Responsibility, Simplicity, Tolerance, and Unity.

The Role of Educators

As noted by the LVEI team, the call for values is universal as educators, parents and more and more children are increasingly concerned about and affected by violence, growing social problems, the lack of respect for each other and the world around them, and the lack of social cohesion. Educators are, therefore, once again being asked to address problems that have arisen within their societies.
As UNESCO’s Commission, headed by Jacques Delors, reports in Learning: The Treasure Within (1996)
"In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice. The Commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a magic formula opening the door to a world in which all ideals will be attained, but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war."


Southeast Asia is the cradle of some the world’s richest and most diverse cultures evident by the existence of several hundred ethno linguistic groups of people. As a region, there are as many shared similarities as there are unique distinctions. It is essential that we identify and teach the special characteristics that define each country that makes up the wonderful region called Southeast Asia. Along with this, we also impart the cultural heritage and values that sustain our people.

In line with the above principles, SEAMEO-SPAFA and UNESCO-APCEIU have undertaken the project of creating an EIU teaching tool kit. This takes the portable and compact form of a card game. There are 64 cards that contain questions and answers on Southeast Asian arts, culture and general knowledge, targeted at students aged 10 and above. Not only will the game itself encourage active interaction amongst students, teachers can also readily use the cards for quiz sessions in class.

This project specifically for youths is just the first step. The wealth of knowledge that we can pass on to our young generation is vast. As a fast-developing region, cultural identity is constantly hybridizing and diversifying.

In this context we hope the EIU tool kit could help to promote a better understanding and appreciation of other customs, traditions and values.

Over the past four years SEAMEO-SPAFA has also held 2 international conferences and 10 workshops on the topic of culture and development in Southeast Asia. From these activities we have now produced two practical Guidelines* kits with a focus on cultural analysis. The ideas and activities presented in these Guidelines kits can easily be adapted and adopted by educators for practical classroom implementation. As noted above cultures are in a constant state of change and thus cultural analysis is an adaptive evolving process. As a process it raises awareness of relationships of power, influence, initiative and creativity. It encourages us to examine and better understand our own culture as well as the cultures of others we engage with. Importantly it helps us predict cultural constraints and devise ways to identify potential conflicts and thus manage to resolve possible conflict situations. We believe the SEAMEO-SPAFA series of activities on culture and development can thus contribute effectively towards EIU and also reinforce the four pillars of Learning for the 21st Century: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.

The scope and challenges that EIU face are immense but at the same time, rich and rewarding.

Education for International Understanding really can make a significant contribution to the steadily gaining impetus to ensure mutual understanding & respect in our quest for peaceful developments within our societies.


SEAMEO-SPAFA is the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education’s Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts based in Bangkok, Thailand.

UNESCO-APCEIU is UNESCO’s Asia Pacific Centre for Education for International Understanding based in Seoul, South Korea.

  • Guidelines for Managing the Integration of Culture into Development Programmes are available for electronic download from the SEAMEO-SPAFA Web Site at
  • Hardcopies can be obtained from SEAMEO-SPAFA, 81/1 Sri Ayutthaya Road, Bangkok 10300, Thailand. Telephone (662) 280 4022-29.
  • Please also contact SEAMEO-SPAFA at the above address should you require an EIU card game kit.

This paper is adapted from The Importance of Education for International Understanding (EIU) presented at the World Teacher’s Day 2006 International Conference on 05 October 2006 at the panel discussion on Education’s Role in Responding to Social, Cultural, and Ethical Challenges.  The paper was prepared by Kevin Charles Kettle, Tang Fu Kuen, and Pisit Charoenwongsa. Presentation was made by Dr. Pisit Charoenwongsa, Director, SEAMEO-SPAFA.


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