The Essential Skills of Peace Education

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Kate Moriarty

Chief of the Section of Education for Peace and Human Rights, UNESCO

(Featured article:Issue #100 December 2012)


With the drive towards 2015 the final year of the programs for EFA (Education for All) and MDG (Millennium Development Goals), thinking about the post-MDG context, UNESCO is placing the promotion of peace and sustainable development at the centre of its new education strategy. UNESCO’s banner statement, “Building peace in the minds of men and women” will be reflected in commitment and action. Peace is not a dividend of sustainable development, but fundamental building block for its achievement.

Violence and conflict blight the lives of millions of people on a daily basis; costing lives; forcing people to flee from their homes; denying children and young people their futures as their schools are targeted and their right to education disrupted. Conflict is a major barrier to education, as the 2011 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (GMR) revealed, with over 40% of out-of-school children living in conflict-affected countries.

Education can be an instigator of conflict, perpetuating forms of inequality, discrimination and marginalisation that divide societies, laying the foundations of hatred that facilitate a path to violence and incite conflict. It can also play a critical role in mitigating conflict and building peace. “Education may therefore be a driver of conflict (fuelling grievances, stereotypes, xenophobia and other antagonisms), but can also be a way of contributing to ‘conflict transformation’ and ‘peacebuilding” (Smith, 2010 ‘The Influence of Education on Conflict and Peace Building’).  

As the goal of achieving peace through education is reinforced in UNESCO’s education strategy, the Organisation is working with its member states to ensure not only that all children have access to education, but that the education they receive prevents conflict and fosters peace.  In part, this can be achieved through promoting equitable access and inclusive education – according to Collier (2005) participation in education can significantly reduce the risk of young men engaging in conflict. Education can mitigate tensions that often lie at the heart of conflict.  There is a growing recognition of the need for a conflict sensitive lens to be applied to education policy and planning, to diagnose and remedy the sensitive issues or at the very least ‘to do no harm’ (Conflict Sensitive Education Policy’, 2012, Education Above All). This is clearly an important step, especially in countries in conflict, at risk or recovering from conflict, however, a more proactive approach is needed; UNESCO is working for the integration of peace education into policy and programming and to be embedded in the curriculum. 

A priority focus for all of UNESCO’s education work is Sub Saharan Africa; home to over half the world’s out of school children and a fifth of illiterate adults globally (UNESCO GMR 2012). The region also has one of the world’s highest incidences of violent conflict; as such UNESCO is seeking to strengthen the systematic promotion of education for peace in the region. There are many excellent peace education initiatives already underway, implemented by a range of actors, and an increasing number of governments also recognise the importance of peace education in their national education plans. This week (Dec 4-6), for example, more than a dozen countries will participate in a discussion on Inter-Country Quality Note drafted in 2009 that aims to bring together countries facing similar challenges “to promote dialogue and collective learning and to create space for collaborative action on education for peace” (ICQN Concept Note Fostering a community of practice in Africa to promote peace through education). UNESCO will be at the table encourage its member states to increase their efforts for peace education.

One of the countries participating in this meeting will be South Sudan, a young country struggling with extreme poverty and a legacy of violent conflict.  UNESCO is supporting the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) to strengthen the overall provision of education in the country through policy, planning and capacity development with Ministries of Education in all 10 States, including in the area of peace education. Earlier this year the GRSS, with the support of UNESCO began a review of its curriculum and a specific focus was on how peace education can be embedded in the new curriculum. The Government’s commitment to peace education is very encouraging, and UNESCO looks forward to continuing engagement in the process.

As part of UNESCO’s Peace Education programme in South Sudan, the office has developed (together with the Education Cluster) teaching and learning materials in the areas of Life Skills and Psychosocial Support.  Master trainers from all 10 States have been trained to use the materials and the training is being rolled-out county-wide. Equipping teachers for the challenges they face in the classroom, providing them with the tools with which to respond to their students’ questions and concerns is a critical aspect of promoting peace for families and communities.

EFA_2011Together with UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador, Forest Whitaker and his foundation ‘PeaceEarth’, UNESCO Juba is implementing a ‘Youth Peacemaker Network’, bringing together one male and one female youth from each county in each State of South Sudan. The youth will be trained in peace building; communication and stress management skills as well as involved in culture, arts and music training and events. Computer centers will also be established within State capitals with a view to promoting youth engagement, communication and skills development. The project will run for two years and will engage and empower youth who are interested in becoming agents of positive change in their communities. The first event will take place in Juba between 12-15 December ad will bring together youth from Jonglei, State, South Sudan’s most conflict-affected area.

UNESCO will also be playing a leading role in the provision of non-formal peace education in South Sudan as part of the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programme. UNESCO aims to provide life skills and peace education training to over 1500 ex-combatants over the next few months. This is an ambitious programme that is vital to support a smooth transition from conflict and to prevent a return to violence.

Peace education is also the order of the day in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire). UNESCO and its partners are organizing two workshops: Last week (26 to 30 November) a workshop for trainers on the use of the ‘ECOWAS Reference Manual on the Culture of Peace, Human Rights, Citizenship, and Regional Integration’. This workshop will be followed this week (3 to 5 December) by a capacity building workshop for planners and developers of curricula aimed at raising awareness of the need to consider conflicts and natural disasters in the educational policies. The work will guide countries in establishing national frameworks for education as an important means of enhancing national cohesion and peaceful coexistence.

UNESCO is also at the early stages of a new initiative designed to encourage and support its member states in Africa to promote a culture of peace and non-violence through education for peace and conflict prevention. This new project aims to draw on the rich resources and diverse experience of UNESCO in this field by comprehensively mapping existing education for peace and conflict prevention resources.  The review will inform the development of a specific package of capacity support for key stakeholders including Ministries of Education and teacher training institutes in Sub Saharan Africa with a view to strengthening policy and programming in this area.

Given the significant impact of education on an individual’s life chances, it is essential that peace education is given the space within formal and non-formal education to bring about positive changes among individuals and in society more broadly, so as to reduce violence and conflict, promoting tolerance and respect for all, regardless of gender, economic status, ethnic or religious background.

UNESCO believes that just as we learn key literacy skills to help us read and write; children, young people and adults also need to be equipped with the essential skills of peace education.

This need requires an approach to education that encourages reflection, critical thinking and active learning that promotes participation and co-operation.  It calls for an education that empowers learners to resolve differences peacefully without recourse to violence, learning to live in peace with their neighbours. This type of education is a central focus of a new education initiative launched by the UN Secretary General in September that calls on governments to put education first. The Secretary General’s new initiative seeks to bolster efforts to meet the 2015 EFA deadlines and to ensure that education remains a priority in the post-MDG period. It has three main strands (1) put every child in school (2) improve the quality of learning (3) foster global citizenship. Peace education is a core part of this effort to foster citizenship through an education that is intrinsically linked to the idea of empowerment of all learners as proactive contributors to a more just and peaceful society.  

Peace education provides an opportunity for younger generations to learn and develop attitudes, skills and behaviours that promote and help sustain peaceful relationships, it is essential to placing countries on a trajectory towards the peaceful, sustainable development that lies at the heart of UNESCO’s mission.


Kate Moriarty is Chief of the Section of Education for Peace and Human Rights at UNESCO HQ in Paris.


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