The National Dowa Educators' Association or ZENDOKYO celebrated its 50th year in 2003 as an organization of teachers fighting against discrimination in Japan. It is known for promoting the principle of "learning from the reality of discrimination, improving lives and ensuring our future."
It held its 55th General Meeting in 2003 in Fukuoka discussing human rights education practices. More than 150 reports from schools and regions were presented.
Fukuoka, the site of the 55th General Meeting, is important as the place where the literacy movement for people from so-called Buraku communities (communities of discriminated Japanese) began. The teachers in Fukuoka started in the early 1960s a program to teach the parents of children who were unable to go to school the basics of reading and writing.
Teachers founded ZENDOKYO in 1953 in response to the poverty and discrimination faced by children in the Buraku communities. They initiated a program to bring the children to school. This started the education against discrimination, or Dowa education.
At its 50th year, ZENDOKYO has member-associations from 35 prefectures. Only 11 prefectures have no members yet. People with different backgrounds from all over Japan come to its General Meetings. 20,000 participants attended its 55th General Meeting.
The history of Dowa education is at the same time a 50-year history of developing the concept and institution of human rights in Japan.
Dowa education led to the free distribution of textbooks for mandatory education (6 years primary school, 3 years in junior high school). This system started in Nagahama, Kochi city in 1963 when children, parents and teachers demanded free textbooks.
It also encouraged the children of laid-off mine workers in Kyushu to continue going to school despite economic hardship. Even today, with the economic downturn disrupting the livelihood of many families, the system enables every child to receive textbooks, the most basic educational materials.
In 1973, a common format for job application forms was introduced in high schools to eliminate discrimination in labor recruitment. The idea went a long way in ensuring careers for all high school students, and not just those from the Buraku communities. Through this system the students and the people involved in recruiting them learned the idea and practice of creating a fair and just society.
Dowa education nurtures scientific understanding of the problems faced by children in their daily lives, and practical skills to solve human rights issues in society. It fosters the independence of, and career opportunities for, children in the discriminated Buraku communities. Its 50-year experience is being harnessed to face today's problems.
New human rights issues resulting from globalization and rapid societal changes are adversely affecting vulnerable communities. Many initiatives under Dowa education are being undertaken to promote education as a venue for human rights-based community-building.
Dowa education will be further enhanced and developed by disseminating and verifying the experiences of these initiatives at the national level.
It is most appropriate to use the experiences of the past 50 years in further improving Dowa education (which is part of human rights education), extending its reach to more areas, and progressing towards the institutionalization of human rights education in Japan.
Kiyonori Konishi is the Chairperson of the National Dowa Educators' Association (Zendokyo).
For further information, please contact: National Dowa Educators' Association (Zendokyo) at firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.zendokyo.com (Japanese)