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Peace education



Archive for February, 2022

What can peace education do on the eve of war?

By Blog Editor, on 22 February 2022

Ellis Brooks

At the time of first writing, the headlines were saying invasion is “imminent” in Ukraine. Now Russian forces have occupied Donetsk and Luhasnk, with the threat of more intense violence still looming. That shouldn’t mean educators fall silent.

Young people do not exist in a bunker from reality – they hear the news and others talking about it. Many will know that something is up with Ukraine, Putin and Russia, even if no-one has talked to them about it. Silence about war is scary.

When violence escalated in Gaza in 2021, downloads of our education resources about Palestine & Israel increased dramatically, suggesting teachers were responding to the news in their classrooms.

Peace education can sometimes (and powerfully) focus only on the interpersonal level and leave war aside, perhaps fearing it is “too political”. This feeling may be still greater among teachers in England following the government’s new guidance on political impartiality. But a peace educator doesn’t campaign against war in the classroom. They help students build the combination of knowledge, empathy and critical reflection needed to be ethical, active citizens. So what would a peace education lesson about the prospect of war in Ukraine look like? What questions might we ask in the classroom?

Who is involved in the conflict?

Neville Chamberlain, UK Prime Minister at that time, said of the 1938 crisis in Czechoslovakia, it was a “quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing”.

Today, despite the internet and increased global travel, many of us could say the same of Ukraine. How much do most British students – or indeed adults – know about Ukraine and Ukrainians? Or Russians for that matter, outside the stereotypes of James Bond movies. How do the Russian and Ukrainian students feel in the classroom as the news unfolds?

There are good human geography lessons to explore these diverse cultures. There are also compelling real stories of the people experiencing conflict, including journalists risking it all to tell the truth, Russian conscripts or Ukrainian conscientious objectors like Ruslan Kotsaba. What would we do in their shoes? Students could explore religious identity in both societies, including the 2019 split of the Eastern Orthodox Church and faith communities working for peace. Who are the Crimean Tartars? Ethnic Russians?

These are real people. Building empathy is one component of peace education. Chamberlain was in effect saying that the British people at the time, still living with the memory of World War I, wouldn’t care to go to war for so remote a people, but the effect can work the other way. A people ‘about whom we know nothing’, or not enough, is one whom we can unconsciously dehumanise, reducing them to statistics on the news.

Why could war break out?

To understand the present conflict, peace education can lead us to study history, and there’s lots to understand about Ukraine. As the Soviet Union came to an end, many Russians and Ukrainians were involved in nonviolent mass-movements including 300,000 Ukrainians who made a human chain for independence in 1990. There is more on the timeline to understand: Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons and joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty; NATO’s expansion and Russians’ sense of betrayal’, Ukrainian movements from the orange revolution to the Maidan Revolutions. Perhaps it would be useful to look back further, to Britain’s Crimean War; to the USSR’s experience of World War 2 or ‘The Great Patriotic War’; to the Cold War and life in the USSR; to the Chernobyl disaster; or to the Holodmor, in which millions of Ukrainians starved under Stalin’s rule. What in this history contains the roots of the present conflict, and what needs to be addressed to make peace?

There are also contemporary Citizenship questions: what role do the arms trade or fossil fuels play? What is the UK’s role? What international law applies to war? What are the rights of the people involved: children, refugees, casualties, prisoners? From peace studies, learners can also gain insights into ideas such as structural violence, conflict escalation, cycles of violence.

During the onset of war, leaders’ rhetoric can be reductive, decrying any diplomacy as ‘appeasement’. We also know propaganda and “psy-ops” are an omnipresent part of modern warfare. If the first casualty in war is the truth, then education becomes doubly important so that citizens can see past the slogans, and exercise critical thinking. Perhaps that would make a good English Language or media studies lesson, but students need to be capable of evaluating the narratives purporting to explain why war is happening.

Is war bad?

Yes. War is bad, and it’s OK for teachers to say so.

Even those who say that war is sometimes necessary would generally concede that the experience is grim for everyone, unbearable for many. There’s no shortage of human experience teaching us about the suffering war causes.

For soldiers and their families, for civilians caught in the middle, for those forced to flee, for those left behind. This is not controversial, and our experience shows students can and want to grapple with the moral questions it raises.

But society is guilty of mixed messages on war. With media and culture rife with stories of redemptive violence and triumphs of arms, it is understandable if young people are drawn to the glamour and numb to the dangers. The regular presence of arms companies and military activity in education may also undermine a school’s duty to provide balanced views. Education needs to address the reality.

There are many perspectives to explore. RE teachers can draw on the different ideas on war and peace across different faith traditions. Literature can immerse us imaginatively in war; one of Britain’s most celebrated poems, The Charge of the Light Brigade, depicts heroic folly in war. History can explore the causes and effects of war, zooming in on the lived experience as well as the politics. The lives of Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale might feel relevant too. Given four of the powers negotiating over Ukraine’s fate are nuclear armed states, the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons is also worth understanding, perhaps with resources from CND Peace Education or the Nuclear Education Trust.

Photo: Quakers in Britain






The facts of war must be handled sensitively in the classroom – students shouldn’t be traumatised. Teachers should also strive to be impartial about the political agendas surrounding war. But if democratic citizens are to engage meaningfully with a question like “should this war be fought?” it should be done with an understanding of the human consequences.

How do we make peace?

Peaceworkers time and again have to work against short-termism. The dilemma on the eve of war is too often reduced to “will you fight or do nothing?” What this ignores is the peacebuilding that can and should be done long before violence, addressing the needs of the parties involved and binding their interests. Think of the politicians desperately flying around on diplomatic missions, of the weapons flowing from East and West; could this energy and wealth have been more wisely spent in the preceding years?

A helpful model of war from Peace Studies is the hour-glass. At its widest it provides space for conflict transformation, building peace and justice. As it narrows, options become limited to mere peacekeeping, or failing that, striving to contain the excesses of war.

The hour-glass also opens up gradually after we pass the narrow aperture of war, allowing for gradual normalisation and perhaps even reconciliation; planning for this post-war is important too. Lessons from the Rwanda genocide or the Coventry blitz show the power of peace even in the recollection of horror.

This model can help students understand many conflicts past and present, including Ukraine. It suggests the skills we could learn for each level: exchange and co-operation to build relationships when we see difference; mediation to get parties talking when they become polarized, which many school children practise every day; restorative justice when harm has taken place. There are myriad peacebuilding practices, and indeed careers for young-people so led. As Ivan Hutnik, a Quaker experienced in international conciliation and conflict transformation, puts it, ‘for real peace, the solutions need to be multi-layered and nuanced.’

Peace education is itself part of peacebuilding. Activities like the World Peace Game can help students role-play international challenges. The skills and processes required by the leaders responding to conflict in Ukraine can be learned, and students can practise them in the classroom, their everyday lives and careers.

The hour-glass is a reminder that education shouldn’t wait until that narrowing of options; the peace education ought to long before the eve of war.

Start somewhere

Peace education should start long before the eve of war and it’s no less relevant when violence breaks out.

If you had to run a 15 minute presentation the day war breaks out, what would you say? Perhaps I’d attempt a truncated version of this blog. First, war is bad and scary; talk to staff about your feelings. Second, the story behind the war is complicated, so ask questions and learn. Remember real people are involved, whether friend or enemy; we can hold all frightened people in our thoughts or prayers. And finally, there are ways to work for peace. That’s about all you could say.

But what else could you teach given time? Peace education isn’t extra-curricular. Throughout RE, English, History, Citizenship, PSHE, Social Studies, RE, Geography, not to mention Further Education or Higher Education, inspection frameworks, learning outcomes proliferate including conflict resolution, understanding the UK’s relations with the wider world, the Cold War, understanding different cultures, human rights, evaluating different narratives, reflecting on one’s own beliefs, religion peace and war. Across curricula a combination of knowledge, emotional engagement and ethical reflection can combine to help students own their own civic responsibility. Teachers and educators shouldn’t be afraid to go there.

War today is the failure of yesterday. The shadow of war continues to throw up some of the worst experiences and dilemmas humans can face. Questions that seem unanswerable, stakes incalculable. That is why they can’t be avoided – teachers and educators have to start somewhere. If we are to find better answers than war, we need peace education.


Author Biography:

Ellis Brooks is the Peace Education coordinator at Quakers in Britain. His passion for peace and justice comes from volunteering in Palestine, Afghanistan and in his home country of Britain, campaigning on issues including the arms trade, nuclear weapons and violent immigration systems. Having worked as a teacher, Ellis has experience of the both the pain and the peacebuilding that exist in schools. Find out more at www.quaker.org.uk/peace-education

Our responsibilities for peace education for the next generation

By Blog Editor, on 1 February 2022

Hans Svennevig

“I am going to do something different… I am going to ask you the reader for your time”.


In this blog post I share a piece that is featured in the ACT 54th issue of Teaching Citizenship Journal which itself is a write-up and slight modification of a conference keynote that I presented on 21st May as part of the ‘The Possibilities of Peace Education: Evidence and Opportunities’ QCEA online conference from Brussels, Belgium. I consider how we all need to think differently about how we frame peace for the next generation, some of the resources and techniques to use to develop skills and knowledge in this area. I consider how peace education can be used as part of citizenship education and how this can be developed over institutions at any level especially within UCL I discuss how this is being included in teacher education at IOE including within PGCE Citizenship currently. Most of all I ask a moment of your time.

Our Responsibilities for Peace Education for the Next Generation

I am going to do something a little different at the start of this article. I am going to ask you the reader for you time. This is a bold move, as we all are short of time and we want to read and get through things as quickly as possible. I ask that if you are reading this, and have no time, come back to it later (as a free to access blog, that’s easy to do). I do not ask this lightly – you may indeed read the whole piece and feel that I have missed something out – I am sure I have. But I ask this of you so that you can explore the elements of peace education that I tried to present to the conference delegates when this was originally presented. I thank you for allowing me the indulgence of your time.

As you cannot immediately ask me any questions (you are welcome to write to me) I want to pose some questions to you. I would like you to spend some time – maybe a minute or so to consider and reflect on each question before moving on to the next. The power of silence in our busy and chaotic lives brings with it a form of inner reflection, inner peace.

In peace education, how can we teach young people about:

Drone warfare?


The impact of COVID on structural inequalities?


The consequences on warfare due to the climate emergency?


Increased militarisation and securitisation in nation states in Asia, Europe and the Americas?


Potential conflict in places like Palestine/Israel and Ukraine/Russia?


Continued turmoil in nations such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethopia, Sudan and Cameroon?


The continuing global arms race, including the increased proliferation of nuclear weapons?


Countering violent extremism?


Social injustices?


Violent knife/gun crime in the streets?


Divisive messaging leading to increases in ‘othering’?


The large displacement of people around the world and their treatment?


Thank you reader for thinking through these questions and giving them some real pause and reflection. When considering these very hard hitting questions, you may have started to think about all the problems and complications in the world, the challenges we all face in our various nations related to authoritarian governments, the creeping securitisation of the state, the limiting of freedoms and so on. To me when I wrote those questions and thought about my role at UCL, Senate House, kept coming to mind. Senate House was the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. It speaks to me of the doom and gloom of what might happen, and often creepingly seems to be happening, or the consequence in doing nothing.

When thinking about those questions that I presented before and thinking about our responsibilities we may feel that the urgency compels us to talk and consider what will happen if we don’t do something, anything. It may compel us to consider the very big problems, which in turn may make us and others to feel very small and hopeless and focus on the worrying thoughts, and that these are all really too overwhelming to do much about. That we are in fact hopeless to make a difference.

The Norwegian sociologist and founder of peace and conflict studies Johan Galtung says “the view that one cannot meaningfully work for both absence of personal violence and for social justice can also be seen as essentially pessimistic as some sort of intellectual and moral capitulationism”  (1969: 186). The next generation has enough doom to experience by watching the news, yes they need to be informed but they are often more informed than we, through their connections to social media – and an education many of us never had.

I pose that our responsibility to the next generation is to provide hope in a world of hopelessness to provide the skills that they can use to make an impact, to consider and understand the world around them, to be accepting and encouraging, kind and compassionate, to build transformative relationships with the big questions, to consider notions of peace education in all subjects at all education levels and through all themes, and to be empowered through their agency to build a better tomorrow with small steps. To build empathy and to lead the way. As you develop teaching materials for big questions like those that I have posed think about how to reframe the discussions. Think about your responsibilities, the glaring obvious are the problems we face – let’s talk more about the solutions and provide an opportunity for hope, for learning about what can and often is being done.

It is our role to reframe how we engage with young people and students, and how we talk to them, the expectations we have of them as citizens of our communities, the skills they possess to help us to be better. This is how we can start working toward notions of as Galtung said the two types of peace, negative (absence of personal violence) and positive peace (absence of structural violence). It is our responsibility to do so.

In my own work at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society I have the privilege and opportunity to educate the next generation of citizenship teachers with strong citizenship subject knowledge and citizenship pedagogic skills. As well as the various curriculum requirements of the PGCE, and principles of social justice, human rights and democracy I’ve worked to intersect peace education into the curriculum to ensure that these new teachers are appropriately trained to teach such elements effectively. As we know Citizenship education is often contested in the UK and England as much as it is throughout other nations and so at the IOE we enable citizenship teachers to have a full breadth of the notion of citizenship education in England as first conceptualised by Crick and added to over time by various changes in the national curriculum, as well as the rich work of individuals and groups such as Ajegbo, Starkey, Jerome, Kerr, Osler, Hantzopoulous, Bajaj, Hess, ACT, Young Citizens, the Politics Project, Parliament Education Service the list goes on and on.

As Professor Hugh Starkey notes citizenship education is about ‘learning to live together’ and this is a key element of peace education. Citizenship education in the English context is about our rights as democratic active citizens and it is about exploring these rights in the classroom, peace education and positive peace is clearly an essential component of these. We work to develop student teachers knowledge of the curriculum, but also the skills that they will come to develop in their own students – to participate and lead active citizenship, transformative peace education, sustainability education, human rights, and political democratic organising. At UCL through our new Peace Education Special Interest Group and this blog we are also working with colleagues to increase peace education more widely among students and staff wherever they may be found.

I ask you to look back at those questions that we reflected upon earlier, again. How can you as an educator of any other subject specialism reframe the answers? To empower and enrich our students no matter their age? How can you give actionable hope to the next generation?

Let’s think about how we pose the answers, how we share and frame the discussion, how we can pose these with positive local, national and international actions that have led to change, that have led to peaceful resistance and campaigning for human rights and peace perspectives, that have led to the skills and knowledge that we can bring about to resolve these complex themes. I ask you to ponder how can we bridge negative and positive peace, inner, interpersonal and wider world peace?

I suggest that we can start to do this through empathy. Through celebrating and recognising difference. Through educational resources such as Fly Kites not Drones inspired by Afghan Peace Volunteers, or resources from CND Peace Education, or QPSWs Razor Wire and Olive Branches or celebrating the success of the ban on nuclear weapons (a huge success). We can consider these notions of peace when using resources from ACT on the deliberative classroom or building resilience project or the range of ideas and materials in Teaching Citizenship Journal for example on Protest Songs or Critical Media Literacy. We can build peace when we consider the role of Race, LGBTQ+ rights and decolonising the curriculum through schools and university reading lists to incorporate wider voices. We can use resources from the Peace Education Network such as Teach Peace Primary or the soon to come Teach Peace Secondary. Resources from The Black Curriculum, Diversity Role Models, CitizensUK, Protection Approaches, The Refugee Council, the Peoples History Museum, The Migration Museum. We can utilise the voices of film makers like Leon Oldstrong and films such as https://www.fairtrademovie.co.uk/ or social influencers that tear down the walls of othering to explore what unites us, food, travel near and far. We can use the voices of students themselves like social action opportunities developed for young people from FirstGive or Young Citizens or pupil power initiatives set up by Aliyah York or the work of the Hamilton Academy #OurVoiceYourChoice students or for Higher Education via the National Union of Students or work like the Student Action for Refugees Project. The list of possibilities to improve the lives of our young people and students, and give them the skills to live and make hopeful change in a complicated world are endless, indeed they are essential for everyone’s long term enjoyment of peace and prosperity. That is particularly why when working with my colleague Alexis Stones we decided it would be useful to set up a Special Interest Group in Peace Education to promote the work at every level of UCL.

While we are considering the resources to use to inspire the next generation, let’s think about our own everyday language and how we can work to change that, to be hopeful and inspiring, recognising the hard work needed but enabling us all to work towards tangible small, medium and long term impacts. Let’s think about resources and skills that we can use promote inclusive opportunities. Let’s talk about how movements build and grow over time and how small steps lead to positive action. Let’s empower young people to know that small things can and do make a difference. That they REALLY do make a difference. Just look at the Friday climate strikes and the attention we now have on that issue. Let’s empower agency, that is our responsibility to the next generation. We owe it to them to give them the skills to make change, and then helping them to make the change.

As I draw to the end of this blog post I thank you the reader for that time you gave me at the start, and I hope that what I have written about has given you a few ideas, has made you feel a bit more hopeful about how things are, and have reminded you that you can and ARE galvanising young people and students to lead us forward. You might feel that I am being overly positive, I too am human and see how things are all around, but with the privilege that I clearly have I need to do all I can to work towards hope.

I just want to remind you of what all of this is about, it’s about our universal human rights wherever or whoever we are. It’s about our rights to peace. And let’s not forget the enormous hope and hard work that went into creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after war and how countless young and old people have benefitted throughout the years through that work. We must continue our responsibilities to the next generation to enable them to continue that work, to strengthen it. As QCEA’s 2018 report indicates we need to move away from just good intentions we need to continue to raise awareness and build secure peace education learning opportunities that everyone can access regardless of background, identity or citizenship status… as we are all citizens, and so we need to make sure that these places of peace education are conflict-sensitive.

There is work to do – but let’s be proud and hopeful of that work to inspire others and enable the next generation to lead. Because none of us are free, and safe from incivility or structural violence until we all are, that we as individuals only have dignity when we all have dignity.


Other resources I recommend reading – that inspired this piece:

-https://freshedpodcast.com/hantzopoulos-bajaj/ Maria Hantzopoulos & Monisha Bajaj; Education for Peace and Human Rights

-Amit Puni’s Podcast on Citizenship education: https://citizenshippodcast.podbean.com/

-Educating for Peace and Human Rights; Hantzopoulos & Bajaj: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/educating-for-peace-and-human-rights-9781350129719/

-Children’s Rights Education in Diverse Classrooms: Pedagogy, Principles and Practice; Starkey & Jerome: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/childrens-rights-education-in-diverse-classrooms-9781350062825/

-The Prevent Duty in Education, Impact, Enactment and Implications; Buscher & Jerome: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-45559-0

-Lessons from Lockdown;  Breslin: http://www.breslinpublicpolicy.com/transform-education-dot-org-dot-uk/



Blog purposes

By Blog Editor, on 1 February 2022

The Peace Education Special Interest Group Blog Purpose:

The purpose of the peace education special interest group blog is to bring together ideas around peace education and how these can be developed at UCL and in education more widely. As the SIG progresses we will be able to start putting forward suggestions for developing peace education at UCL. We are very pleased to be able to invite and include different academics and peace educators within this blog and later in the year at the start of our formal celebratory launch we will develop these conversations through networking opportunities both online and in person to bring together a range of practitioners.

In our first post – I (Hans) write about how we can think about peace education for the next generation.