(Reposted from: The Earth Charter, May 18, 2023)
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In this Earth Charter Podcast episode, Mirian Vilela talks to Dr. Amr Abdalla, Professor Emeritus at University for Peace, about his 25 years of experience teaching peace and conflict resolution. Dr. Abdalla emphasizes that there are no simple answers on how to build sustainable and long-lasting peace. For that, he indicates, it is essential to develop critical thinking skills to be able to deal with the complexities of conflict since critical thinking helps individuals examine established assumptions, think critically about themselves, deconstruct their ways of thinking, and see the big picture with a 360-degree view.
In this conversation, Dr. Abdalla highlights that “it is in that intersection of transforming conflict and learning to prevent violent conflict where education is essential.” He talks about the importance of connecting theories on peace and conflict studies with the experiences that participants of a course bring and to help people learn how to deal with conflict to avoid violence.
Dr. Abdalla shares his views on the similarities between Peace Education, Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship Education. He emphasizes the importance of student-centered, participatory, horizontal approaches in education; while recognizing that in some parts of the world, conventional, top-down education systems are still the norm. He comments on cultural differences in how students interact in the classroom, and on the importance of remembering that not everyone will or can embrace these new paradigms quickly. Therefore, it is important to adapt and be mindful of various cultural contexts. He relates an anecdote from his son’s Kindergarten show-and-tell that made him confront the conventional education style that he grew up with and tells an example of when a student made him think differently about violence.
Finally, Amr reflects on his work in interfaith dialogues. One of the biggest battles in this work is reaching young people in communities that are at risk of becoming radicalized. He shares that conflicts arise when people believe that their religion or belief system is the only correct way, and they put up a “wall” around it. To break through these walls, he says it is important to emphasize the universal / common values that all religions share, rather than focusing on differences.