Peacebuilding in SE Asia: By Joe Lo Bianco

Joe Lo Bianco (front, center) with participants at the South Thailand ‘dialogue’ on language planning for peace

Professor Joe Lo Bianco (front, center) with participants at the South Thailand ‘dialogue’ on language planning for peace

My work in SE Asia is under a United Nations program on peacebuilding and including education, and specifically in my case language in peace-building in conflict-affected zones. I am working in Myanmar/Burma, Southern Thailand and Malaysia on a suite of programs that involve research, policy training, and running what I call ‘facilitated dialogues’ on language problem solving where language issues are part of social conflict. In the Thai and Burmese cases, language education issues, especially in terms of the medium of instruction, and the status of minority indigenous languages vis-a-vis the national languages, have been a source of great contestation and a component of the political insurgencies. In the Thai case, there has been a very heavy death toll since 2004 when there has been an upsurge in fighting. There has been the extraordinary situation of deliberate assassination of teachers, some 180 having been killed, some in front of their students. It is not a common feature of conflict that teachers are deliberately targeted in this way, but this situation underscores the central role of education and specifically language as part of messages of inclusion and exclusion that curricula often project. Recently I have facilitated dialogues in the Burma/Thai border with refugee and displaced groups, and in South Thailand, in which I used a method I have developed to try to replace ideological and emotional ways to represent conflict with a technical and collaborative joint production of policy alternatives.

I then spent time consulting with UNICEF and UNESCO in Bangkok, practically a city under siege at present. Next, I went to Mae Sot, a small town on the Thai side of the Burma/Myanmar border, for a four-day workshop. This too was a facilitated dialogue with representatives of 22 refugee and displaced persons groups, 12 ethnic groups and a total of 68 people. We jointly wrote a Declaration on the topic of language and peace. In all cases there are a large number of mother tongues, single national official languages of the states involved, and English as the official and shared language of the Association of SE Asian Nations, to which all the countries belong.

These projects, as well as others in peninsular Malaysia, in Sabah and Sarawak, are all part of the UNICEF peace-building project. This UNICEF project is addressing (1) language planning, language rights, and education in Myanmar; (2) issues involving stateless children in Sabah and Sarawak, Oran Asli in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, and vernacular-national schools (Chinese-Tamil-Malay) in Malaysia; as well as (3) similar issues in the deep south of Thailand, including in Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkla, and Yala.

Japanese Teachers-in-Training Volunteer Service in Cambodia

Students in Cambodia

Professor Yoshida’s teachers-in-training conduct an English lesson outdoors for Cambodian students in Siem Riap, Cambodia.

Professor Kensaku Yoshida, a TIRF Board member, teaches at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. Starting in 2009, he took a group of English teacher training candidates to Siem Riap, Cambodia, where Sophia University has a Personnel Development Center. The purpose of the center is to assist the Cambodian people in preserving their own history and culture, with specific concern for Angkor Wat.

Professor Yoshida notes, “The President of Sophia University, Professor Yoshiaki Ishizawa, has expressed his wish for Sophia University students to contribute to the development of Southeast Asia. When I heard a couple of years ago that there were people in Cambodia who wanted to learn English from other Asians who also had to strive to

learn English as a foreign language, I went to the President to see what he thought of our teacher-trainees (who are themselves EFL learners) going to Cambodia to teach English. He, of course, was all for it. Then I talked to the students and several expressed their desire to participate in this initiative.”

Yoshida and Narong

Professor Yoshida (left) with Mr. Narong, the principal of Wat Chok Junior High School in Cambodia.

In 2009, eleven Japanese teacher trainees served as volunteer EFL teachers in Cambodia in the town of Seim Riap. Ten more participated in the summer of 2010. Three of the four college seniors who went to Cambodia in 2009 travelled all the way to Siem Riap again to support and encourage the present teacher-trainees, and to and meet some of their own Cambodian students from 2009. The teacher-trainees themselves raised the money to defray the cost of the project. In 2010, they also received a grant from a Sony international volunteer foundation (without help from any of their professors) to pay for part of the expenses.

Sophia University English teachers-in-training have been going to different parts of Japan for the past 40 years to teach English to local junior high and elementary school students. In 2010, there were about 100 teacher trainees working in six different cities around Japan, teaching a total of nearly 400 children. One of the students who went to Cambodia this year was himself a junior high school student who took part in this program as an English language learner in his city several years ago.

Professor Yoshida says, “I want my students to experience the kind of motivation children in other parts of the world have towards education in general, and especially towards learning English. My hope is for my students to realize the importance of education and the learning of English for the Cambodian children’s future, as well as the future of their country. Hopefully, they will become more aware the importance of learning English in Japan as well.”

Pictures Worth Thousands of Words

TIRF is grateful to the many people who submitted photographs for use on our website. The revolving images on the home page were sent by two Peace Corps Volunteers:  Amanda Bradford is seen with her secondary school students on the beach in Mozambique, and Sky Lantz-Wagner with his young EFL students in the People’s Republic of China. Another photo of Sky can be found in the section about “Links”  and Amanda’s students are also pictured in the section on “Access to Resources.”

Kensaku Yoshida contributed the photos of Japanese teachers-in-training working with EFL students in Cambodia. These trainees and students are also featured above.

The History section features a picture of Yunjung Kim and her elementary school students in Pacific Grove, California.  The photo of dancers in Peru was sent by Lauren Todaro. There is a group photo of Kevin Jepson’s Hungarian secondary school students in a dual language program. They were studying Edgar Allen Poe, so they thought the skeleton was appropriate!

We also have photos of  Jill Neuendorff (on the far left) and her Russian students, and Ryan Damerow’s Chinese teachers-in-training. Panita Chobnitas (third from right) is shown with her EFL students in Thailand. There is also a picture of Peace Corps Volunteer Stephanie Farrell and her secondary school students in Mauritania.



[8] comments

On Oct 19, 2013: Wakhidin said:
It was a good project to help Asian students learning English. As the teacher has the same language background, probably the project might have proved very effective. Can I share the result of the program. Thanks.
On Aug 30, 2012: Anonymous said:
This I have to say is some excellent work! I mean you guys go out of your way to assist people who are in need. I'm guessing the school you assisted in Cambodia was a small but well meaning school. I plan to train to become a teacher and this is definitely something that I would do to keep me grounded and not high and mighty like many faculty members today! God bless you guys and keep up the good work.
On Feb 11, 2011: frostwire said:
You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!
On Feb 10, 2011: limewire said:
I am not sure where you are getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this information for my mission.
On Feb 10, 2011: frostwire said:
We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with valuable info to work on. You've done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.
On Feb 09, 2011: posicionamiento google said:
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On Nov 18, 2010: admin said:
@ Toshimi Yasuda - Thank you for your comment! TIRF would like to provide an approximate translation of your message above for our web visitors worldwide: "An article about our volunteer experience is now posted on the world scale education foundation Webpage ( It even mentioned that we traveled and went to encourage younger generations!! We are happy that the activity started by two people is now shared all over the world."
On Nov 12, 2010: Tweets that mention Projects | The International Research Foundation for English Language Education -- said:
[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by おおたまりこ, Toshimi Yasuda. Toshimi Yasuda said: 自分たちの代から始めたSTPカンボジアの記事が(教授曰く)世界規模の教育財団のHPに掲載されてます! うちらが旅して、後輩応援に行ったことまで載ってる!!わずか二人で始まった活動が、世界に羽ばたいと思うと感慨深いものがあります [...]

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