Dr Anna Korula, is a former Senior Human Rights Officer and Adviser at the UN and OSCE. She now works as an independent Consultant, Advisor and author on human rights, mediation, peace-making, conflict transformation and peace education. She recently contributed to the Citizenship PGCE and makes strong suggestions here about how universities, schools and NGOs can collaborate.
Helping to shape the future: For and with pupils and students
By Dr Anna R. Korula
In the educational sphere there are innumerable opportunities for teachers, particularly PGCE graduates working with pupils or students, to shape the future. Together with staff, other academics, and relevant university departments they might link with think tanks, NGOs and governments to draw attention to and generate action on a host of pressing societal issues during the course of their entire teaching careers. IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society for example, is very well placed to propel forward movement in many potential areas. Drawing on my own insights gained over three decades of a career in the human rights arena, including research, as well as a decade of active peacebuilding in five field missions based in Europe, Africa and Asia, with the United Nations and OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), I outline some ideas in case they are of some potential interest to teachers engaging with various cohorts. I have attempted to set it squarely in the context of education and social impact, also given the many pressing issues that are pertinent for the pupils and students of the present and future. I do this in the hope that they will be given due consideration, and that they may help shape some future directions, as well as discussions.
- As I see it, I think it important to have stronger elements of Leadership Studies included in the curriculum or extra-curricular courses offered in schools, with emphasis on ethical leadership. Practical implementation could also draw on the model used by the Obama Foundation to train youth in leadership, for example. Several charities in the UK, e.g., Quaker for Peace and Social Witness, the British Red Cross, Amnesty International, The Prince’s Trust, and others train or use staff or community members to become leaders in their fields, even if not always through specific leadership programmes, so it would seem the knowledge and capacity exist, but have to be included in a more systematic way. My hope is that including such practical knowledge, as well as leadership studies per se will help shape more ethical young leaders for the future. Needless to say, embedding these courses within an overarching human rights framework would make eminent sense.
- I believe it important to consider, with some urgency, how AI, robotics, ChatGPT, Google Bard and other such tools will need to be managed by students, teaching staff, administrators and government agencies so as to draw on their strengths, whilst recognizing and managing their negative impacts. These are concrete challenges everyone will face, which will have very long-lasting impacts, also in the legal and ethical spheres. Here it becomes an imperative perhaps to adopt or adapt new EU legislation on AI regulation (currently being negotiated) for example, and include or tailor it to specific local i.e., national contexts and needs as well. For example, EU legislation proposes that ChatGPT must disclose that content was AI-generated, which is an absolutely crucial pre-requisite and should be the minimum that is required by all teaching institutions. I am also particularly concerned about the developments in thought/brain controlling AI tools that have evolved with as yet no legal or ethical guidelines in place on their use and proliferation. It is perhaps essential to consider how best AI, robotics, and other tools currently under development be challenged more systematically (e.g. for bias; fake news, lack of ethical and legal norms) as well as built upon to propagate peace education, human rights education, but also e.g., generate wellbeing, supportive peer relationships, and enhance mitigatory approaches like restorative justice, mediation etc. The possibilities are challenging, but also endless in their potential for good.
It is worth noting here that the commercial sector, as recognized just recently by McKinsey (June 2023) for example, is welcoming tech developments such as generative-AI with open arms as it is estimated to contribute $4.4 trillion annually to global GDP, so will not be ignored or marginalized, but embraced. Education needs to embrace this trend as well.
If undertaken in the near future, these initiatives as summarized above, could also feed into my third prospective initiative suggested below:
- Based on my subjective experience and insights I suggest a good way forward may be for academics/universities, NGOs (charities) to work via governments and the UN, with a special committee or subgroup set up primarily under the UN’s aegis, but with sub committees in all countries (lead and supportive countries initially) to work toward specific goals, as described briefly below. The SDGs may provide the lead-in required, as well as the glue, as they are now well established and gaining currency worldwide, so linking these initiatives to the SDGs will have many advantages, as the framework and structures already exist and they have cross-cutting themes across the main UN pillars.
UCL/IOE could for example, together with other relevant UCL departments as well as networks such as OxPeace, CPERG, charities such as the Association for Citizenship Teaching, Quaker for Peace and Social Witness Peace Education, the Peace Education Network, Peacemakers and so forth spearhead some of these initiatives. This could, over time, ensure global convergence of peace and human rights education in these areas, as foreseen in some of the literature on peace and human rights education (e.g., Hantzopoulos and Bajaj, 2021). At present the division is still quite marked, also because the UN core pillars on security (including peacebuilding) and human rights are seen to be inter-related but separate, i.e., as parallel entities. So let’s hope this long overdue convergence and coordination will now begin and the overlap eliminated, streamlined, or rationalized.
Possible long-term outcomes therefore might be an UN Convention on Peace and Human Rights Education, though a Draft Declaration would be the first step toward this. Although the plethora of existing laws is an impediment to budgetary allocations and implementation, there is evidence to suggest that working toward a Convention would raise awareness globally, encourage governments, NGOs and community groups to become more active in establishing this as a part of the curriculum, provide the backbone for more ethical leadership, inform as well as strengthen democratic governance. This could spur greater citizen participation, particularly with youth and children becoming a natural part of the process. In addition, UN Conventions generally spawn ad hoc working groups or committees, Special Rapporteurs or other experts at the UN’s top tiers, who work to raise awareness and further the objectives of the convention or declaration.
In fact I suggest here it has to become an imperative to set up, perhaps as a first step, task forces managed and directed by children and youth, also linked across the globe, in keeping with the requirements of the CRC, and also enabling cross-cultural critical examination of issues of global concern such as climate change, the impact of technology etc.
At the very least, or as a first step, one could work to institute an UN International Day for Peace and Human Rights Education as this too raises awareness worldwide on both the necessary foundations as well as ongoing work in the area. Initiatives could coordinate with existing ones such as those undertaken by e.g., Global Peace Education, enabling a streamlined approach, as well as helping coordinate the innumerable local/national initiatives under way, and to augment as well as enhance them.
Perhaps pupils and students in global hubs could also be mentored or linked to former and serving UN and others peace workers to shape a new generation of peace workers who bring science and tech more into play in peacebuilding activities and institutions of the future, with a greater focus and emphasis on prevention.