By Blog Editor, on 14 June 2022
What is ‘Peace Education’?
We, unfortunately, live in a world where too often humans resort to violence and war as a primary tool to resolve disputes and responding to challenges – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the ongoing Ethiopian civil war (Tigray War), or rising tensions and standoffs between China and the US over Taiwan and the South China Sea. Amongst this backdrop, what can teachers do to support students to understand the world around them, in a safe, and supported way? The answer is perhaps a simple one – ‘Peace Education’. But what is Peace Education?
Before we look at Peace Education, a good starting point is unpacking what ‘peace’ is. We could use the dictionary definition of ‘peace’, but instead we adopt Johan Galtung’s definition. Galtung asserts that peace is like a coin – it has two sides: ‘negative’ and ‘positive’. ‘Negative peace’ refers to the absence of violence and is negative because something undesirable (e.g., violence or war) has ended, but can always restart, for example in the Korean War, where tensions between North Korea and South Korea still exist but are kept at bay by the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953. ‘Positive peace’ refers to the attitudes, institutions and structures within society that allow for peaceful societies to be born and flourish, such as charitable causes like Amnesty International.
Positive Peace is then the end goal of Peace Education, because by adopting a positive peace mindset, as individuals we can improve and clear our headspace, improve our coping and critical thinking skills, and improve our overall mental and physical health. We can then use our internal positive peace to be creative in solving problems within our daily lives in our societies and in the world. Inner positive peace will enable us to communicate with one another productively and positively, and ultimately, this will lead to the cultivation of the structures and changes in society that will allow for positive peace to flourish in society.
The question for Peace Education is then, how do we achieve ‘Positive’ Peace? It intends to allow students to explore their relationships and their belonging at the personal (inner), peer, community, and societal level. Through Peace Education, students are equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values necessary to preventing conflict, resolving them peacefully and creating the social conditions that enable peace.
Education for Peace is underpinned by 4.7 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations General Assembly, 2015). This is supported by Fundamental British Values (‘FBV’), such as mutual respect and tolerance for others, which is why it can be integrated through a curricular approach. With this in mind, citizenship education is one of the most effective ways of delivering peace education in secondary schools. The National Curriculum for Citizenship does not reference peace education explicitly, but it explores related concepts (Department for Education, 2013). In Key Stage 3, the capacity for students to foster a culture of conflict resolution extends across topics, such as, human rights and responsibilities, the global community and the role of voluntary organisations in society. Throughout Key Stage 4, students extend their knowledge through the exploration of diverse identities, the UK’s involvement in international organisations and international law.
UNICEF describes peace education as a “tool to deliver conflict-sensitive education” (2016, p.vii). GCSE Citizenship lessons that focus on balancing the right to life, the overseas work of Oxfam, the role of the United Nations Security Council and its members in armed conflict, for example, enable the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving and the foundational knowledge that is vital for this purpose. In doing so, we have the opportunity to fulfil the aims of citizenship education and create changemaking citizens with an orientation for justice.
Peace education provides an opportunity to respond to the evolving diversity of British society and addresses calls to decolonise the curriculum. It provides enriched learning by fostering an appreciation for different approaches to academic study – engaging with non-western ideology, female, and minority narratives. Importantly, peace education redresses reductive Eurocentric perspectives on conflicts which can, at times, neglect the lived realities of the global population that have been impacted by colonial legacies. Peace education presents an ideal opportunity to champion this more holistic approach to education by focusing upon a range of case studies, such as Ukraine, Palestine, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, and Myanmar. Pupils are offered a variety of historical discourses, which respond to the diversity of some classrooms and wider society.
The commitment to peace education is not a purely academic pursuit to be embedded into the curriculum, but incorporated into wider school practices and ethos. The report ‘Peace at the heart’ published by Quakers in Britain (2022) stresses the idea of the school as a community whereby a peaceful environment can be cultivated to challenge othering, nurture students’ as advocates for themselves and crucially enjoy learning. The report critiques the tendency of schools to implement strict behaviour policies which violate children’s rights outlined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which include education and dignity. Instead, the report suggests pursuing a ‘restorative’ approach of communication and problem-solving to resolve conflict, rather than focusing upon sanctioning individuals. In addition, students can also be supported to resolve their own conflict through peer mediation schemes, and as a result develop social and emotional skills including communication, empathy and awareness of wellbeing needs. Whilst the practices of ‘restorative’ approaches to behaviour and peer mediation are not new, the pursual of peace education as a whole-school approach and ethos enables schools to cultivate a safe learning environment whereby students are supported and giving the tools to engender peace, and constructive, cooperative, and healthy interpersonal relationships.
Teaching peace education may appear to be a simple, harmonious venture that instantly sparks consensus within the citizenship classroom. However, where there is peace, there has been conflict, which may be reflected in student discussion. Rather than cowering at the thought of tension in the classroom, the teacher can seize the opportunity to create cohesion between students through peace education. As the Crick report (1998) said:
“Education should not attempt to shelter our nation’s children from even the harsher controversies of adult life, but prepare them to deal with such controversies knowledgeably, sensibly, tolerantly and morally” (pp.56).
First and foremost, the teacher should anticipate the likelihood for controversy between their students. This can be optimised by considering the student demographic. For example, during one author’s experience at a secondary school, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was of imminent concern as the conflict broiled. Hence, this prompted a whole-school awareness campaign, delivered during tutor time. In advance of fostering any conflict-related discussion during tutor time, the teacher had become acutely aware of the demographic of their tutor group; including both a Ukrainian and a Russian child. Throughout delivery of Ukraine-related content and any subsequent discussion the teacher ensured to set firm ground rules and expectations of positive language and behaviour. What followed was good-natured and compassionate deliberation of a tragic ongoing war.
Peace education is not just the domain of the humanities and social sciences. Knowledge and understanding of peace can be promoted through all curriculum subjects. Below we list some examples of ways this can be done:
RE: Explore responses and campaigns for peace from religious and non-religious groups and communities. (Editors Note: This blog will explore RE as a subject to teach peace education and RE/Citizenship peace education links in future issues).
Art: Exploration and discussion around art as a form of protest against war. For example the painting ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso, which famously depicts the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
English: Exploration of war poems in the GCSE ‘power and conflict’ theme.
Geography: Human geography, exploring migration patterns and borders as a result of conflict. E.g., Ukraine conflict/ Poland.
History: War and peace treaties e.g., Paris Peace Accords post-war Vietnam
Music: Similarly, art is a medium that can be incorporated as a hook to instantly engage students in the lesson, and to explore protest songs. Linked is a curated playlist by the PGCE citizenship cohort of peace education themed songs.
Over time and as citizenship specialists, we are becoming more knowledgeable about peace education. Our role in citizenship education enables us to instil in learners the values, attitudes, behaviours and knowledge to become responsible global citizens. In doing so, we hope to upskill students in their quest for creative solutions to any type of conflict, whether it is internal or external. As teachers of peace education within the realm of citizenship, we plan to educate our students about their rights as citizens of a nation and members of a school, to establish a communal and global understanding of peace. Peace education provides a unique opportunity to do all of this and more, through adoption in the curriculum with citizenship specialists. The citizenship community acknowledges that our role is to show students that there is hope, to equip them with the necessary skills to make an impact and to demonstrate that through agency, they can be empowered to build a better tomorrow (Svennevig, 2021).
Crick, B. (1998) Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools: Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship. London: QCA.
Department for Education (2013). National curriculum in England: citizenship programmes of study.
Galtung, J. (1969). ‘Violence, Peace, and Peace Research’, Journal of Peace Research, 6 (3), pp 167-191. https://www.jstor.org/stable/422690
Quakers in Britain (2022). Peace at the heart: A relational approach to education in British schools.
United Nations General Assembly (2015). Sustainable Development Goals.
UNICEF (2016). UNICEF Programme Report 2012 – 2016: Peacebuilding, education and advocacy in conflict-affected contexts programme, p.vii.
Svennevig, H. (2021). ‘Our Responsibilities for Peace Education for the Next Generation’, Teaching Citizenship, 54, pp. 51-54. https://issuu.com/associationforcitizenshipteaching/docs/teachingcitizenship_issue54_autumn_21_digital