World Summit of Educators in June Builds Momentum for Founder’s 1996 Vision

April 16, 2021
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Wanjira Mathai
Wanjira Mathai will be the keynote speaker for the World Summit of Educators in June.

The global shift to online teaching will enable the second World Summit of Educators this June to reach a much larger audience than the in-person debut event at Soka University of America in 2016.

“Our goal is to build visibility and relationships with educators across the world and have strong attendance from this meeting that will lead to the third World Summit of Educators,” said summit co-chair Bryan Penprase, SUA vice president for sponsored research and external academic relations.

With the theme of “Educating for Global Citizenship: Building an Equitable, Peaceful and Sustainable World,” the summit will emphasize the SUA attributes of wisdom, courage, and compassion as well as the four pillars of education (for peace, development, environment, and human rights). It will take place June 13-14, approximately six weeks after SUA celebrates its 20th anniversary on May 3. Registration is open at the World Summit of Educators webpage.

“This is the dessert, or the icing, on the celebration,” Penprase said.

SUA President Ed Feasel will open the event, which will also feature talks from President Yoshihisa Baba of Soka University Japan and educational leaders and practitioners from around the world.

“I look forward to this year’s conference hosted by the undergraduate and graduate school programs as a wonderful expression of education for global citizenship,” Feasel said.

The second World Summit of Educators, Feasel noted, also coincides with the 25th anniversary of a seminal moment in the philosophy that inspires SUA: university founder Daisaku Ikeda’s address at Columbia University Teachers College in 1996.

“This address, titled ‘Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship,’ continues to provide inspiration and vision for our community, especially as the university celebrates 20 years since we welcomed our first undergraduate class in 2001 and, based on this milestone, recommit to the university’s founding principles,” Feasel said.

Reaching Around the Globe

The 2016 event drew 80 invited attendees from 20 countries, while this year’s summit is expected to draw hundreds from a much wider area, said summit co-chair Tomoko Takahashi, vice president for institutional research and assessment as well as dean of the SUA Graduate School.

“I had hoped this summit would become more global and the entire university would be involved and that’s happening,” she said. “For the second summit, we are expanding beyond global citizenship to respond to current affairs, which is very important. Equity, sustainability, and technology are very important for this summit, for us to be current and proactive in global education.”

The rapidly developing summit honors the legacy of SUA’s graduate students who organized the 2016 summit, Takahashi said. She praised the diverse committee that organized the summit: Takahiro Asano GS ‘21 (representing graduate students), Esther Chang (representing the undergraduate faculty), Jay Heffron (representing the Graduate School faculty), Ian Read (representing the undergraduate faculty), Kentaro Shintaku ’23 (representing undergraduate students), Janna Skye (representing SUA staff), Megumi Tanaka ’11 (representing SUA alumni) and Phat Vu (representing undergraduate faculty).

“I hope the World Summit of Educators will become a signature event that SUA holds every five years,” Takahashi said.

Principles in Action

The four education pillars will be highlighted in the keynote presentation by Wanjira Mathai, vice president and regional director for Africa at the World Resources Institute. Mathai will discuss the Green Belt Movement, an effort to reforest a span of Africa, and other work begun by her mother, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. Mathai will address education through climate change, building youth leadership, sustainable energy, and landscape restoration.

“There is a connection between the environment, education, and social justice, not just for intrinsic value but to enable prosperity for all people,” Penprase said. “Her work is an interesting embodiment of the interconnectedness of humans and nature.”

Another plenary speaker is Chula Vista Elementary School District Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, who will join a local teacher and parent to discuss “Unprecedented Student Outcomes: Toward the Oneness of Parents, Teachers, and School Leaders.”

Escobedo is expected to inspire connections across the K-12 practitioners because of his holistic leadership, Penprase said. In a message sent to teachers, students, and families in his district, Escobedo wrote that 2020 “was a year for reflection, especially about what matters most: treating everyone with respect and compassion; acting with a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work; taking time to appreciate one another and to build a stronger community; being open to perspectives that are not your own; and maintaining a laser-like focus on student outcomes.”

“You won’t find a better statement of what we are doing here at SUA, and he’s doing that in a school district with serious challenges of overcapacity, and where families often have marginal incomes, and students often lack proper nutrition,” Penprase said.

Other highlights of the World Summit of Education include:

  • Student report from the first Youth Summit hosted by SUA June 5-6.
  • Alumni based in Canada, Brazil, Japan, and the United States will speak about how their SUA education enabled them to advance global citizenship and foster peace in their work.
  • Teacher and student videos from around the world will demonstrate how they build Soka educational themes into their work. With this inspiration, summit attendees will develop ways to incorporate themes into their teaching and help shape a new Declaration for the 2021 WSE.
  • Introduction to Photovoice, an arts-based method of action, research, and education. It gives voice to participants’ experiences and perspectives while facilitating critical consciousness-raising for social action and social change.
  • Thought leaders Tracy Day (co-founder and CEO of the World Science Festival) and Justine Cassell (Carnegie Mellon University professor and founding co-director of the Simon Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning) in dialogue about how education can help humans prepare for the profound impacts of artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and other exponential technologies.
  • A Zoom theatrical piece, “The Mask Debate,” about parents of young children who are caught in awkward choices during the pandemic. The play, written by Kyung Hyun Kim, faculty member in the UC Irvine Department of East Asian Studies and Visual Studies, will be directed by the author.

—Michelle Hiskey