Social Education 58(7), 1994, pp. 438-439
National Council for the Social Studies

Teaching about the United Nations through the Hunger Issue in an English as a Foreign Language Class

Atsushi Iino
Recently, seventy-three Japanese high school students, aged 15 and 16 years, were asked to respond to the question "What do you imagine when you hear the term 'United Nations'?" Their responses (with the number of responses given in parentheses) were war (10), peace (7), peacekeeping operations (6), Cambodia (4), doing something internationally important (3), my name (2), UN force (2), and individual responses. To the question "List the names of organizations you know in the United Nations," their answers were UNICEF (23), UNESCO (7), GATT (7), IMF (5), WHO (4), UNTAC (the peacekeeping operation in Cambodia [4]), IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency [3]), Peace Keeping Operations (2), and none (38).
The implications from the results of these two questions are that Japanese students tend to think of the UN as something relevant to conflicts. Their knowledge seems influenced by mass media news coverage of the IAEA investigations in North Korea and the peacekeeping operation in Cambodia by the Japanese Self-Defense Force, or by television charity shows for UNICEF. Given limited coverage of certain issues worldwide, I think educators should provide some balance to what students learn. In this article, I will report on a brief process of teaching the hunger issue in an English as a foreign language class and its connections with teaching about the UN.

In dealing with world hunger as one of the global issues in my English reading class, students viewed the videos "The Making of We Are the World" and "Hunger and Famine" (produced by the Hunger Project) and read the accompanying texts. After spending several hours watching the videos and reading in English, using the world map on Infant Mortality Rates, we worked in groups to brainstorm why there are so many hungry people in the world today and to find out more about the vicious cycle of life for people in this situation.

Students used their mother tongue to brainstorm, but were asked to put into sequence the following words as they might apply to the cycle, using English passages to help them reach a decision: poverty, hunger, malnutrition, health, school, vocational skills, unemployment, and income shortage. Each word appeared on a card showing the word in English, followed by descriptions. Students had to find the Japanese equivalent to each term as they brainstormed the sequence. Information provided on the cards was the following:

Poverty: About 25 percent of the children in the world live in poor conditions.
Hunger: Children in poverty tend not to eat enough and not to have enough nutrition to grow.
Malnutrition: Those children fall into the state of malnutrition and cannot grow well.
Health: Malnourished children are not strong enough to protect themselves from epidemics and other diseases.
School: Children in poor health cannot go to school every day.
Vocational skills: Children who are absent from school often or who drop out of school do not acquire essential vocational skills such as reading, writing, mathematics.
Unemployment: Grown up children seek jobs. Those without fundamental vocational skills have difficulty in finding jobs and maintaining their living.
Income shortage: People who are unemployed or people without a full-time job cannot earn enough cash to buy enough food, clothes, a house, etc. New babies are born under these impoverished circumstances.
Students were then provided with the list of UN organizations and their functions and asked to connect the work of these organizations with each phase of the sequenced activity above. For example, for the problems of lack of schooling and weak vocational skills, the work of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) was cited; for children's health care, UNICEF and WHO; and for food and agriculture, FAO (the Food and Agricultural Organization), WFP (the World Food Programme), and IFAD (the International Fund for Agricultural Development). Students matched the acronyms and the exact name of each organization together with their Japanese names.

Discussions in Japanese followed in which students were asked to prioritize the problems, but students appeared to have difficulty even in thinking about these issues. Some groups had a variety of opinions. Among them were health issues, especially for children. In reaction papers addressing the question "What will you do to solve the issue?" many students wrote that they would never waste food from then on, and would even make a small donation to UNICEF and other organizations. One student wrote that he would go overseas and actually help people in hunger. Papers were written in Japanese.

Japan is the second largest budgetary contributor to the UN at this time. Our students have to be more aware of the UN and think more about the Japanese role in the organization in order to realize world peace.

Atsushi Iino teaches at Tamagawa Technical High School, Saitama, Japan.