It is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed

By Salma Yusuf

It has been said that since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.

Logically following from this has been the statement by Maria Montessori that ‘establishing a lasting peace is the work of education. All politics can do is keep us out of war’. Hence, the importance of Peace Education cannot be over-emphasized.

Peace education may be defined as the process of acquiring the values, the knowledge and developing the attitudes, skills, and behaviours to live in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the natural environment. In other words, peace education should be an integral part of a child’s life. Through a humanizing process of teaching and learning, peace educators facilitate human development. They strive to counteract the dehumanization of poverty, prejudice, discrimination, rape, violence, and war. Originally aimed at eliminating the possibility of global extinction through nuclear war, peace education currently addresses the broader objective of building a culture of peace. In this global effort, progressive educators worldwide are teaching the values, standards and principles articulated in fundamental human rights norms, principles and practices.

Peace and non violence are becoming priorities in education. Knowledge, and know-how, are both enriched when children are taught to know themselves. Decades of psychology and personal development, linked to the need for a more peaceful world, are naturally leading humankind into an era of interpersonal skills contributing to health and well being.

It’s where young people, the future of the nation, spend most of their time. School helps shape a person’s character. Classrooms and school-yards are places where every child can be heard, where conflict can be resolved positively, where critical skills can be learned among friends. Teachers can teach peace by integrating the values, facts and methods of peace and global education into the curriculum.

Many teachers are already doing so, for instance, in elementary grades children learn to cooperate and share through games and role-playing. They recognize their responsibilities for making their classroom a peaceful place, and begin to handle positively their own conflicts.

In middle school teachers introduce global education and concepts of peace from other cultures. Students learn to work cooperatively, to research and analyze media, to track the political and social trends of a global economy in the light of some national objectives.

Secondary school students examine some realities of global interdependence, for example environment, economics, law. They critique national and global organizations and their own expectations for peace and development.

Peace education helps students to transform conflict in their own lives, understand and respect other cultures and ways of living, and treasure the earth. Teachers of peace education encourage their students to cooperate with each other, think critically, solve problems constructively, take part in responsible decision-making, communicate clearly, share their feelings and commitments openly. These skills and values are essential for survival in an increasingly interdependent world, where violence has become an instrument of policy, yet still breeds more violence.

In a period of transition and accelerated change in Sri Lanka, which is presently emerging from the throes of a three decade conflict and grappling with the challenges that emerge in such a post-conflict setting, marked by the expression of intolerance, manifestations of racial and ethnic tension, intolerance towards those regarded as the ‘other’ and the growing disparities between the rich and the poor, action strategies become necessary both at ensuring fundamental freedoms, peace, human rights, and democracy and at promoting sustainable and equitable economic and social development all of which have an essential part to play in building a culture of peace between individuals and nationally.

Peace education is most effective when the skills of peace and conflict resolution are learned actively and are modeled by the school environment in which they are taught. In a number of countries, emphasis is placed on improving the school environment so that it becomes a microcosm of the more peaceful and just society that is the objective of peace education.

This creates a consistency between the messages of the curriculum and the school setting, between the overt and the ‘hidden’ curriculum. Interventions on the level of the school environment tend to address how children’s rights are either upheld or denied in school, discipline methods, how the classroom and school day is organized, and how decisions are made. Training of teachers and administrators is critical to enabling teachers to examine these issues from the perspective of peace education. The programme in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia contains elements of this approach. Peer mediation programmes have been set up in countries such as Liberia, where youth leaders are trained to be ‘conflict managers’.

A number of countries have developed peace education curricula, usually consisting of activities around themes such as communication, cooperation, and problem solving. Manuals have been produced to guide teachers in using these curricula with children in Burundi (1994), Croatia, and Liberia (1993). In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a series of workshops on peace education themes has been created for primary school children (1996). A series of readers has been developed in Rwanda for primary school children and adult literacy classes with stories and poems on peace themes. Sport and physical education have also been used in Rwandan schools as a vehicle for developing skills and attitudes of peace. Operation Lifeline Sudan has developed activity kits for schools that build cooperation and respect for differences through sports, art and science projects. Community service that is facilitated by the school is another feature of some programmes.

In a number of countries, efforts are under-way to upgrade the quality of pre service teacher education. Training may include a focus on such skills as the use of interactive and participatory teaching methods, organising cooperative group work, and facilitating group discussions. The use of these types of teaching methods is essential to quality basic education, and enables teachers to convey values of cooperation, respect for the opinions of the child, and appreciation of differences. Participatory teaching and learning strategies can be used throughout the curriculum, and are an essential component of efforts to promote peace through education. Examples of interactive approaches to pre-service teacher education come from Burundi and are a recurring theme in workshop reports from the ESAR region (1997).

In-service teacher education has been carried out in Burundi, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Tanzania. As is the case with pre-service teacher education, in-service teacher education may focus on participatory teaching and learning methods, as well as content areas such as children’s rights or conflict resolution skills.

The aims and objectives, the perspectives of the subject, the working methods and other theoretical and practical approaches are decisive variables. Furthermore, place, period, local environment and other internal variations are major affective components in deciding the kind of peace education, its scope, its nature and the values one would attach to it. Owing to these factors, peace education necessarily varies from country to country, and even between regions within one country. However multifarious the approaches are, all educational programs and activities collected under peace education would seek to prepare the students for peace.

To put it in a nutshell, peace education sees to the construction of defences of peace and fences of justice in the minds of the younger generation, and to making the youth hold to peace individually in life, since peace is ultimately constructed in the minds of men and women in the same way that war once was