Building a culture of peace (Trinidad & Tobago)

(Reposted from: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, February 12, 2024).

The President of the United Nations General Assembly, ambassador Dennis Francis has recently warned that the world is losing ground on peace, precisely when it is needed most.

Given the unprecedented levels of violence that is prevalent in many of our schools, it is critical that educators strive to ensure schools are characterised by a culture of peace through a targeted programme of peace education.

Peaceful schools are not just about the absence of violence. They feature respect, empathy and tolerance as strengths rather than weaknesses.

The need for peace education in our schools was recognised over two decades ago. There have since been several initiatives attempted as schools became penetrated by a growing trend of dehumanisation that has engulfed the macro society.

Peace education is a process whereby values, knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviours are acquired by learners to enable them to live in harmony with others and the natural environment. It is focused on instilling an appreciation of the concept of peace as a superior form of human existence, one that will empower them to realise their maximum human potential through harmonious co-existence, understanding and appreciating the right of others to share a common space. Teachers must help them acquire an arsenal of communication tools to unleash social and emotional self-awareness.

Unfortunately, the twin evils of greed and the desire to exert dominance over others remain huge barriers to theCultural understanding is a precursor to peace education, for it unleashes the capacity of individuals to address innate fears and insecurities which oftentimes form the basis of conflict.

Peace education will assist learners to understand the intrinsic need to care for one another unconditionally, equipping them with the capacity to make decisions and act ethically, regardless of religious or cultural belief systems or legal prescriptions. Peace education is a planning strategy to eliminate violence and manage conflict caused by injustice and inequality.

Peaceful schools are rooted upon fundamental respect for principles of human rights and universally accepted philosophical values of equity, fairness, social justice and solidarity. It covers virtually all aspects of human activity, including but not limited to civil and political rights.

Peace and human rights education go hand in hand since their primary focus is the promotion of equality in human dignity, coupled with intercultural learning and the participation and empowerment of all, including minorities.

Schools must now reorient curricula, both formal and informal, to promote fundamental freedoms and the value of human dignity in validating the existence of all.

A culture of peace must emphasise self-respect and respect for the rights of others through an understanding and appreciation of diversity. Students must be taught that diversity is a strength to embrace and that by acknowledging and accentuating differences one can experience personal growth.

Students must be taught to overcome prejudices acquired from a tender age. They must be taught the skill of confronting innate fears and a genetic predisposition to violence in a rational and logical manner to ens attainment of these ideals. Given the prevailing trends of social norms, educators must now make conscious decisions to imbibe children with basic skills of conflict resolution, including the art of negotiation and dialogue through active listening and empathy. They must seek to build on the emotional capital of students to help them form more supportive and healthy relationships with others.

Self- and impulse-control must be targeted areas of development in this curriculum. Restorative justice techniques must also feature prominently in schools’ modus operandi, shifting focus from punishment for wrongdoing to mediation between offender and victim. This capacity enables students to heal and build healthy relationships among community members.

Peaceful schools are not just about the absence of violence. They feature respect, empathy and tolerance as strengths rather than weaknesses. It’s the basis of targeted programmes of behaviour modification whereby behaviour repertoires that are violence-based are identified and painstakingly peeled back.

Efforts at peace education and attempts to re-establish schools as safe sanctuaries for all have been meeting with resistance by a society impregnated by hate, intolerance and entitlement. Vengeful principles of an eye for an eye and retribution have become the guiding dogma of large segments of the society, infiltrating schools with devastating social consequences.

Compounding the social conundrum is the role of social media in promoting and glorifying violence as the solution to all disagreements. Victimhood has become a prized state of existence for many and thus all others are perceived as targets for retribution.

Teachers are once again being called upon to lead the social re-engineering process, thereby restoring true principles of democracy to our society.

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