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Peace education



The Visualising Peace Project by Otilia Rose-Marie Meden

By Blog Editor, on 23 January 2024

I am Otilia Rose-Marie Meden, and I am one of the student researchers in the Visualising Peace Project, supervised by Dr Alice König at the University of St Andrews. This interdisciplinary project has been running since January 2022 and we have produced a wide variety of outputs like The Museum of Peace, The Visualising Peace Library, Podcasts, and other Peace Projects. We have become particularly interested in examining peace education and have researched various aspects within the field, including how education on climate change, refugees, gender, and inner peace interact with each other. We stress an urgent need for greater institutional and scholarly recognition of teachers’ and young peoples’ understandings of peace in school settings. Moreover, we call for an even greater recognition of inner peace and the need for addressing inner peace in dialogue with peace in wider society. These two calls for attention and action stem from our research and require both scholarly and practical efforts as the field of peace education expands and evolves in the future.

We hope to support the field of peace education by asking how the inner and outer dimensions of peace can be incorporated into existing school curricular, and how the voices of children and young people can contribute to this end. Particularly, we are researching three aspects of peace education: (I) teachers’ perspectives; (II) students’ perspectives; and (III) the connections between inner, local, and global peace. To the third aspect, we examine the relationship between peace education and inner peace because inner peace and mental wellbeing are often understood as extra-curricular or as separate from curricular altogether. Here, we take inspiration from Daisaku Ikeda’s peace education approach: processes of inner transformation are powerful tools to promote sustainable peace, as they allow to develop a sense of shared compassion, humanity, and responsibility – on a local to global scale.

(I) Teachers’ perspectives

To support our work on the first aspect, a former researcher Joe Walker interviewed teachers across the UK to learn how they teach about peace in different subject areas. His findings, combined with bibliographic research, show that teachers do indeed want to and already engage with various topics related to peace. However, peace education is often perceived as extracurricular because it tends not to be integrated into official, examined parts of the academic curriculum in the UK (Jones, Orchard and Paulson 2017). This is unfortunate and indicates that peace education risks burdening teachers with more workload, a counterintuitive since it aims to promote rather than stifle peace.

Furthermore, to understand the field in greater depth, we have participated in workshops held by Highland One World and the Peace Education Network with schoolteachers. We have also interviewed peace educators Ellis Brooks and Isabel Cartwright from Quakers and researchers Michael Ogunussi and Helen Berents. While a growing body of studies evidences the positive outcomes of peace education (some examples include: Ogunussi 2021, 20; Quakers in Britain 2022, 4; European Union 2023, 12; Global Campaign for Peace Education), most UK schools do not teach peace in formal or informal ways (Quakers in Britain 2022, 5). From conversations with peace educators and research on relevant literature, we have learned that one of the potential challenges to including peace education might stem from governmental institutions’ lack of emphasis, funding, and resources in education policies (For further reading, see: Jones, Orchard and Paulson 2017). Thus, our research steers us to look further into how educators can get other support to include more peace education in their work.

(II) Students’ perspectives

The second aspect is still a new research interest of ours, which asks how pupils would like to engage with the topic of peace. Previously, fellow researchers Harris Siderfin, Joe Walker, Maddie McCall, Margaux de Seze, and I were working on developing teaching resources based on our research. In a nutshell, our aim was (and still is) to pilot draft teaching resources, collect data in response, and feed this into a report to support the call for greater recognition of the field across the education sector and a wider understanding of what peace education can consist of (connecting to rights education, climate change education, and the creative arts, among other areas).

In the summer of 2023, I researched young people’s experiences with peace education, focusing on inner peace and outer peace in school settings in Argentina, Denmark, and the UK. I collected data through surveys and interviews with young people to examine what they have learned about peace and how they wish to learn about peace in school. The youth across the countries reported that they had mostly learned about peace in relation to war and conflict. Moreover, around 75 percent of the British youth voiced that they wished to learn about peace in a more positive way and that they wished to learn strategies to cultivate inner peace within and beyond educational settings. Informed by these findings, fellow researcher Lia Da Giau and I are currently working on co-producing resources with young people to center their perspectives on what inner, local, and global peace education might involve.

We advocate that young people both can and must contribute to what is known about peace in school settings, as experts in their own rights and co-producers of knowledge. This leads to another important aspect of paying attention to how and where pupils already practice peace and how we can amplify these practices in school settings. Building upon other scholars’ work, this might redeem peace education from being an extra burden for teachers and students (Ogunussi 2021, 57). However, it also requires us to consider each classroom as shaped by different contexts. For instance, my research findings suggest that young people who report that they have experienced conflict and violence are more likely to perceive peace education and inner peace as relevant topics in schools. This finding aligns with recent conflict-situated work about peace education, asserting that to cultivate peace, the inner sense of wellbeing is crucial (Obregón 2019, 4). In our research, we aim to understand how young people would like to engage with topics of peace in their different contexts.

(III) The connections between inner, local, and global peace

Building on this, our third area of research about the interconnections between inner, local, and global peace draws on insights from the Quakers’ report Peace at The Heart: A Relational Approach to Education in British schools. When the authors offer practical ways to address inner, local, and global peace in classrooms, it is supported with research from Psychology, underlying that one’s inner feelings impact one’s engagements with the outer world (for example, a thorough study is the Youth Life Satisfaction: A Review of the Literature). Additionally, a growing body of international initiatives work for strengthening the relationship between inner and outer development. For example, the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) offer a practical framework to address inner development as a fundamental pillar to progressing sustainable development. As young researchers, we experience the urgent need to address these areas as interrelated because cultivating inner peace cannot happen in solitude. Equally, building local and global peace should not curtail individual wellbeing. Thus, we are examining how the connections between inner, local, and global peace can be amplified within peace education.

Final thoughts

While we believe that teachers’ and students’ understandings of the connections between inner, local, and global peace are pivotal in shaping future perspectives on peace, it is crucial to note that our focus on these areas does not imply that they should take precedence over others. Rather, our emphasis showcases both the limitations and potentials of our research efforts to amplify different voices on what peace education can look like. Researching and developing educational resources about peace is a humbling process. We often go back to our initially posed questions, dismantle our outputs, and start over by acknowledging that peace is an ever-changing concept, that students’ varying contexts influence the focus and urgency of their engagement with the topic, and that school set-ups present a wide range of opportunities as well as limitations. At the heart of this project lies our genuine commitment to ask other young people in school ages how they want to learn about peace and relate it to their everyday lives. We continue listening to and engaging with teachers and students who speak back to our research and consider the concepts of peace with, alongside, and beyond us.

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