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March 2006 - Issue No. #60 (p. 15 - 16)

Developing a Peace Studies Course for Japanese EFL Students

by Gregory Gray

Matsuyama University, Japan


The purpose of this brief article is to describe my first attempt at developing a content-based course on peace studies for Japanese university students. Most people reading this newsletter probably have more experience in teaching global issues and/or peace studies than me. This article is not an attempt to preach to colleagues already active in the field. Rather, my primary purpose is to encourage other EFL professionals to design their own peace studies or global issues courses.

Course Description

The course was a one semester elective class open to sophomore and junior students in the humanities faculty. I was allowed the academic freedom to design and teach any type of content-based course that I wished. The course had 3 general themes: world religions, social activism, and learning about war from our elders. The goals of the course were:

  1. to improve students’ awareness of the concept of peace.
  2. to introduce the basic concepts of the five major religions.
  3. to have students be able to make an oral presentation about a person who has contributed to world peace.
  4. to introduce local citizens who contribute to world peace.
  5. to have students interview and record in their native language an elderly person who experienced the horrors of World War II.
Major World Religions

This unit was designed to have students think about the purpose of religion in the daily lives of people around the world. The intent was to have students identify similarities of the major religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and to think about the role that religion plays in the daily lives of most people in many societies. In this one semester course for middle level EFL students, I purposely did not touch on the negative aspects of religious fundamentalism and separateness.

As part of the conclusion to this unit, I invited guest speakers from different religions to come to class to give a short talk and answer questions about their religious doctrines, beliefs, and practices. This was a great opportunity to have several foreign students interact with my class. It was the first opportunity for most of my students to meet and talk with people of the Islamic, Hindu, and Jewish faiths.

Local NGO’s and Social Activism

In this section of the course, I tried to shift the students’ thinking from a global perspective on peace to a more pragmatic point of view. The purpose was to research and study in small groups about NGOs in our prefecture. Each four-member team had to make a short presentation about a local NGO. The purpose was the have the students learn how non-famous local citizens can and do act to help bring about change and a more peaceful world.

At the end of this section, I invited the founder of a local NGO to give a brief lecture about a locally initiated project that helps people who suffered from a recent civil war in Mozambique. This presentation dramatically demonstrated how a slightly built young Japanese housewife and mother started her own NGO and is contributing to making the world a better place. In this presentation, the students also met and learned from a former Matsuyama University student about volunteerism and internship opportunities with NGOs. When the students listened to his lecture (in their native language) about his year-abroad as a volunteer working with homeless people at a shelter in California, it really opened their eyes and made them think how they might be able to over-come their own fears (eg language ability, personality) to step out of the safe environment of the classroom into the real world.

Reflecting on War, Learning from Elders

As I began planning this course one year ago, I wanted to incorporate something that would help my students seriously think about the horrors of war and about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In an informal survey conducted in Japanese during the first meeting of the semester, I wanted to know from what sources the students had learned about World War II. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of students’ information came from high school textbooks. Without venturing into that minefield, I decided to design a final course fieldwork project to be conducted in their native language, but to be written up as a report in English.

Without going into all the details of this fieldwork and oral history project, the students interviewed elderly citizens (male or female) who had lived though the era of the Second World War. A local citizens group provided me with a list of people that the students could contact if they did not have any relatives or friends they could interview.

The purpose of this project was to have students learn from their elders and to reflect on the horrors of war. It also helped them realize how lucky and fortunate they really are.

Summary and Reflections

As a veteran EFL professional, designing and teaching this peace studies course helped stimulate my love for teaching. Content-based courses in peace studies and global issues can and should be a vital part of the curriculum in Japanese universities. In these types of courses, students learn in both the affective and cognitive domains.

The feedback from students at the conclusion of the course was very positive. However, they correctly pointed out that I tried to cover too much material, especially in the first section. The students also indicated, after the initial readings and vocabulary work, that I did not allow them enough time to discuss and talk about the content presented. They indicated that the religious section was interesting, but at some points over their heads.

They really enjoyed the section on NGOs and the chance to meet graduates from Matsuyama University who are socially active in bringing about positive change.

The students were very apprehensive about the final oral history project. They weren’t so enthusiastic during the preparation for this fieldwork. They wanted and expected me to write the interview questions and do everything for them. However, the reports they turned in were very authentic and personally rewarding for the students.

As most of you know, one of the most important aspects of developing a course like this is to utilize the people and local resources in your area. It is a lot of hard but enjoyable work and very rewarding.

This article is based on a presentation by the author given
at the PGL 4 conference in Kyoto, Japan.

Special thanks to Ms. Yoshiko Takauchi, founder of Ehime Global Network, an NGO in Matsuyama and Mr. Koichi Hida. E-mail:

Gregory D. Gray Matsuyama University, Humanities Faculty, 4-2 Bunkyo-cho, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan 790-8578 E-mail:


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