In Sight

Africa, Shining as the Continent of the 21st Century

On the importance of humanistic education for fostering global citizens.

Global vision—Dr. Masumi Hashimoto Odari, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, speaks at the World Summit of Educators, emphasizing that education is “not only about getting the best grades for a better future but also about cultivating knowledge to think beyond our own personal gains, and grow into citizens who can contribute to peace and humankind,” Aliso Viejo, Calif., June. Photo: Mitsu Kimura.


Dr. Masumi Hashimoto Odari, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, spoke at the World Summit of Educators,[1]The World Summit of Educators drew over 60 educators and scholars from 32 countries, who discussed the role of humanistic education in furthering the cause of human happiness, sustainable peace and environmental preservation. The event commemorated the 20th anniversary of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda’s 1996 speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, titled “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship.” held June 12–13 at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California. Sharing insights from her longtime experiences as a student and educator, Dr. Hashimoto Odari proposes that Soka schools system founder Daisaku Ikeda’s vision of humanistic education is the key to fostering global citizens committed to living contributive lives. The following is an excerpted speech.

I have been teaching at the University of Nairobi since 1990. Some of you may wonder how a Japanese lady ended up teaching in Africa for the past 26 years. I must say that it is the result of the education I received at Soka University in Hachioji, Tokyo.[2]Daisaku Ikeda, Soka schools system founder, established Soka University of Japan in Hachioji, Tokyo, in 1971. On my first day as a Soka University student, we learned about the three founding principles of the university:

1. Be the highest seat of learning for humanistic education.
2. Be the cradle of a new culture.
3. Be a fortress for the peace of humankind.

These principles made me realize that education was not only about getting the best grades for a better future but also about cultivating knowledge to think beyond our own personal gains, and grow into citizens who can contribute to peace and humankind.

In his lecture “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship,” given in 1996 at Columbia University’s Teacher College, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda talks about the importance of humanistic education that fosters global citizens who are dedicated to making the world a better place. In this regard, he mentions three important elements of global citizenship:

1. The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living.
2. The courage not to fear or deny difference, but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures and to grow from encounters with them.
3. The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.

I strongly believe that this kind of humanistic education is what we need in Kenya. Regardless of our color, creed, religion or gender, we all share the desire to be truly happy. In my view, global citizenship means to improve ourselves to become people who can appreciate and respect one another’s differences.

Kenya, which is one of the 54 countries in Africa, is a beautiful nation with abundant natural resources—from the extensive white sandy beaches to the vast tea farms and valleys. It is also blessed with friendly people and a very rich culture. Kenya is a multiethnic country comprising more than 40 ethnic groups, each with its own language and traditions. This diversity has also been our biggest challenge. For years, Kenya has struggled with tribalism, which has not only affected politics but also education. Rather than focusing on how we can create a stronger and united country based on the strength of each ethnic group, we end up creating division among ourselves. This has sadly trickled down to younger generations.

Student politics on our campus are influenced by tribalism as well. Student leaders are often chosen based on their ethnicity rather than their leadership qualities and vision. How can we let go of the stereotyping and appreciate people the way they are? The answer lies in offering an education that teaches us how to expand our lives to become people who can be free from prejudice and genuinely work for everybody’s happiness.

Another challenge we face is that students often regard the ultimate goal of their degrees as career advancement. Education to these young people equates to the means to acquire a higher economic and social status. It is unfortunate if such desires take precedence over other essential functions of education. This is why it is important for both educators and students to reflect on questions, such as “What is the ultimate purpose of education?”

Dr. Ikeda is well known for encouraging people to reflect on the question “For what purpose should one cultivate knowledge?” Education is a right, but it also embodies a great responsibility. Dr. Ikeda states that those who have received an education have the responsibility to serve those who have not had the opportunity. Education is about looking beyond our own lives and contributing to improving the living standard of others.

Education is powerful because it can in uence people to become contributive human beings who strive to make the world better. If you recall, last year, a university in Kenya was attacked by a militant group. Close to 150 people, mostly students, were killed and many others injured. Students were separated according to their religion, and those who did not share the same religious beliefs as the militants were shot dead. I often ask myself: What did these young and bright students do to deserve such cruel deaths?” Why should one think of attacking an educational institution? One reason why a terrorist organization will target educational institutions is because true education is a powerful tool that can make students recognize and embrace their humanity, and help develop their character. Because of its power and influence, education is seen as a threat to those who are self-serving.

Dr. Ikeda proposes a proactive approach to harnessing the power of education because he recognizes that education is a double-edged sword. For instance, militant groups have been quite successful in recruiting our young, educated people, including a significant number of university students. It was even reported that one of the university attackers was a law graduate from our university. If we promote an education focused more on nurturing the students’ potential rather than only their grades and academic achievements, such students may not be willing to contribute toward a cause that does not respect and protect the sanctity of life.

To achieve a peaceful co-existence, I believe that it all starts with self-respect. Simply put, if I cannot respect myself, I cannot respect and value others. Therefore, I concur with Dr. Ikeda that we need to overcome our own weaknesses and work on our own selves as a means of developing the wisdom, courage and compassion to serve humanity. It is, therefore, crucial to proactively transform education systems, so that they can help students value themselves on a deeper level.

Dr. Ikeda’s educational philosophy is supported by the significant effort he has made in the field. One example is the educational exchange program between the University of Nairobi and Soka University of Japan. Dr. Ikeda has created numerous opportunities for people of different cultural backgrounds to come together and learn from one another, confident that this kind of interaction is the strongest means by which people can understand one another.

For the last 28 years, both the University of Nairobi and Soka University have benefitted through the exchange program. So far, our university has sent nine students to Japan and from those nine, I have seen how beneficial the program has been. I bear witness to the growth of each student who has had such an opportunity. Recognizing the positive effects of this exchange program, the University of Nairobi decided to send its student leaders to Soka University for student leadership training. Interestingly, our students seem to have had a hard time understanding why Japanese students think and act in certain ways. For example, they could not imagine how one can be a student leader without asking for any pay or privileges. In fact, they were trying to encourage the Japanese students to fight for payment. However, as they continued interacting with the Japanese students, they came to appreciate their volunteering spirit.

Our students returned with a whole new understanding of what it means to be a leader. This is one example of the proof that the exchange program is a proactive tool that educators can effectively employ to foster in each student an appreciation and acceptance of different cultures. The same can be said about the Japanese students who have studied at our university. Many graduates have come back to work in Africa, driven by the desire to contribute toward its prosperity.

In order to transform each of the challenges enumerated earlier, some of my colleagues and I are organizing the first Value Creating Education Conference to be held at the University of Nairobi this September. Many people I have spoken with agree that this conference is coming at a time when we need to evaluate the kind of graduates we are fostering. I have faith that this will be a great venue for us to introduce Dr. Ikeda’s educational philosophy on humanistic education focusing on nurturing global citizens by creating value. I hope that like-minded people will come together and make this conference a historical one in which we can take a step forward in fostering global citizens based on Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s[3]Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the father of Soka (value-creating) education, asserted that the fundamental purpose of education is to encourage youth to realize their highest potential while positively displaying their unique individuality. and Dr. Ikeda’s philosophy of value-creating education.

I consider this World Summit of Educators timely and important to actualizing Dr. Ikeda’s vision for education. I want to use this opportunity to learn more about how I can support my students and the younger generation to become the kind of leaders who serve others without hesitation or ill feeling. I want to help train African leaders who will assume full responsibility for transforming the living situation of many fellow citizens, so that Africa will come to shine as the continent of the 21st century.

(pp. 10–11)

Notes   [ + ]

1. The World Summit of Educators drew over 60 educators and scholars from 32 countries, who discussed the role of humanistic education in furthering the cause of human happiness, sustainable peace and environmental preservation. The event commemorated the 20th anniversary of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda’s 1996 speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, titled “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship.”
2. Daisaku Ikeda, Soka schools system founder, established Soka University of Japan in Hachioji, Tokyo, in 1971.
3. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the father of Soka (value-creating) education, asserted that the fundamental purpose of education is to encourage youth to realize their highest potential while positively displaying their unique individuality.