Culture of peace: Building peace defences in the fabric of society

The founders of UNESCO conceived peace education when they coined the above axiom. 

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UNESCO's primary mission post-World War II was to heal broken relationships and promote peaceful coexistence around the world. The mission appeared ambitious, aiming to prevent destructive conflicts and bring lasting peace through global educational campaigns.

Yet the world has never achieved peace with itself, constantly facing conflicts and wars as evidenced by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Israel-Hamas war. Ambassador Dennis Francis, President of the United Nations General Assembly, emphasised that the world was losing ground to peace when it needed it most.

Peace education

Peace education is defined as a process that teaches learners values, knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviour to live in harmony with others and the natural environment. It is focused on promoting peace as a superior form of human existence, enabling maximum potential through harmonious co-existence and understanding others' rights to share a common space.

Peace education is a strategic approach aimed at preventing violence and managing conflicts arising from injustice and inequality. It also fosters unconditional care for one another, enabling ethical decision-making and action irrespective of religious, cultural or legal beliefs.

Debate

The debate over whether peace education should be treated as a separate programme in schools or integrated into existing curriculum still rages on, with each country attempting to adopt it to suit its cultural and educational context.

As a society confronted with conflicts and violent extremism, it is important for all education stakeholders to prioritise peace education into the first and second cycle institutions’ curriculums.

Peace education programmes aim to foster individual and systemic changes in students, promoting responsible citizenship and a safe learning environment.

Peace defences  

Peace education is crucial for building peace defences in younger populations, fostering a desire for peaceful resolutions, combating violence and benefiting macro society. In other words, it is an effective way of constructing defences of peace in the minds of young people.

Younger populations are ideal for acquiring peace building skills such as negotiation, mediation, dialogue, non-violent action and conflict transformation, as they are ready to absorb knowledge and ideas.

It is important that peace values are instilled in the children from a young age. As Colman McCarthy observes, “Unless we teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”
 

Culture of peace

Research indicates that schools can serve as agents of social change, but they can also serve as safe spaces for dehumanisation. It is imperative that school environment is characterised by a culture of peace to promote respect, empathy, diversity and tolerance.

A culture of peace should foster self-respect and respect for others' rights, while also acknowledging differences can lead to personal growth. Peaceful schools uphold human rights principles and philosophical values of equity, fairness, social justice and solidarity, encompassing civil and political rights in all aspects of human activity.
 

Peace educators 

Educators must teach children conflict resolution skills, negotiation, dialogue, active listening, empathy and emotional capital to foster supportive and healthy relationships, overcome early prejudices and confront innate fears and a genetic predisposition to violence.

Teachers should assist students in acquiring various communication tools to enhance their social and emotional self-awareness. Equally important is providing peace educators with the necessary training to impart these values.

Therefore, it is essential to equip peace educators/teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to teach peace education. By empowering teachers, they are able to address sensitive topics and facilitate meaningful discussions.

In conclusion

By prioritising peace education in basic schools, it will equip students with the desired skills, knowledge and attitudes that promote personal growth, active and responsible societal actions that uphold peace values, enhance self-esteem, and foster nonviolent conflict resolution competence. When a culture of peace is fostered within the educational institutions, students are empowered to become agents of peace.

These individuals may have the skills to resolve conflicts peacefully without resorting to violence. Student riots that are prevalent in our second cycle institutions will be reduced to the barest minimum.

We can all bequeath a world devoid of conflicts, violence, killings, human rights violations and violent extremism for future generations to inherit and flourish.  

The writer is a peace practitioner.
E-mail: [email protected]

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