Educating for Peace in a Frightened World

Editors’ Intro: New Challenges.  Colins Imoh, a Nigerian peace educator, presented these remarks during the April 13 webinar, Peace Education and the Pandemic: Global Perspectives. In this Corona Connection, he reflects on how some of the basic concepts of peace education, among them, equality, solidarity, and universality, are challenged by the unprecedented conditions of a pandemic in which all are literally “in fear for their lives.” He informs us that international elites on the higher levels of the socio-economic ladder have no more immunity to the virus than the structurally vulnerable at the bottom. He questions the common wisdom that the virus has been a leveller.  In light of the Nigerian elites being the first infected, and of the intensification of fear at all levels of the ladder, he invites us to renew our thinking about more learner relevant forms of peace education.

Editors’ Suggested Inquiry.  Accordingly, the editors suggest that we include in that renewed thinking the likelihood that the elite, too, will ultimately suffer the consequences of other potential planetary disasters which are also cause for “a culture of fear.” The potential disasters addressed in previous Corona Connections, two on nuclear weapons and one on climate change, are now augmented by COVID-19 and the possibilities for future pandemics. What might be an appropriate peace pedagogy for elites to address this possibility and make for a more equal society? What priorities in learning for a just and equitable recovery process and a renewed order of universal human dignity come to your mind in reflecting on “Educating for Peace in a Frightened World?”


By Dr Colins Imoh*, Nigeria 

COVID-19 has shown no respect the rich or poor persons. This also applies to nations; it does not look at the GDP of nations. It is assumed to be a complete leveller. This brings us to a unique feature of activism.  Activists always advocate for a better world where people are equal and treated with respect.  Activists envisage a world where people live in peace and solidarity.

As I struggle to make sense of nightmare and disaster unfolding in the world, I ask myself has COVID-19 achieved a level world? Where nobody is bothered about the status of rich or poor but where people strive for common solidarity and humanity? I sincerely doubt; but is it possible?

On deeper reflection, it sounds strange, but there is a common trend in what is happening in the world. It is that the world has entered a culture of fear.  We are frightened about a virus we cannot see, we do not understand, and cannot control. A virus that is not a conformist and a mind of its own. This presents a new twist in the way we educate for peace.

Maybe fear is not always negative, it might be the stimulus we need to change the world to be a better place

I am a Nigerian; in March we have about 370[1] cases with less than 10 deaths (stats as of May 13 – 4,971 confirmed cases and 164 deaths). The country was then placed on almost on complete lockdown. Nigeria is a poor country where a majority, close to 70% of the citizens, depend on going out daily to earn their daily bread as paid workers, traders, or working in the informal sector. The closing of the country is having a profound effect on the people.

How do you educate for peace in this situation for people in Nigeria? They are not expecting any funds if they don’t go out to work or trade or do business, yet they are expected to stay at home for the common good.

The joke on the streets in Nigeria is that the virus came into the country and the first sets of people that were infested were big and mighty. The reality was that the index cases were people who travelled into the country having been infected from abroad. This class of people mix with the high and mighty. Therefore, the initial index cases were wealthy people. This has not shown solidarity among the poorest and the poor?

Therein, lies the contradiction in my earlier statement that the virus is a leveller. What is it levelling? The poverty that will make the poor poorer or an increase in solidarity for the world? This is the challenge I will try to highlight in this webinar.

Does fear dictate what we do? Should that be the case?

At a basic level, fear is a survival mechanism that guides our fight or flight responses and helps to keep us safe and alive.  The negative side of fear is when it holds you back from doing something positive.  Has COVID-19 inspired a survival mechanism in humans: YES and NO! Those who feel the most vulnerable are scared, but what do we hear about people who are ignoring the expectations?  The negative aspect of fear is our reluctance to do good: our holding on to our basic instinct of selfishness and considering only what is good for us.

This is where peace education can make a difference!

Peace Education means different things to different people; it serves different purposes based on need, the time and the people (Salomon, 2011).  Therefore, there is no generic model for educating for peace. However, there are embodiments that educating for peace should contain or accommodate.

There is a need to build solidarity among citizens classified as global citizenship and kinship, this is where institution plays a significant role in building the process. We need to start enhancing the knowledge and skills of our citizens to promote solidarity and create a peaceable climate.

We need to tailor our message to suit the need of the people, it should be based on the realities of the specifics of the intended participants. The essence is that the context and geographical realities should be an important consideration; we should consider the age, social status, and environment as well as various interrelationships to achieve the transformation envisaged in the society.

If we take the Nigeria example, the way you educate for people in a frightened middle-class Nigerian working in Chevron who earns $40,000.00 per year is not the same way you educate a poor labourer that earns less than $3,000.00 a year. How do we build solidarity among these two groups of Nigerians? One can happily work from home and is assured of his salary monthly. He has enough funds to stock food at home. The other cannot stock food because he does not have the funds. He lives in neighbourhoods where social and physical distancing is not possible. How then do you convince him that there is a need for him to stay at home? His argument is that if he stays at home, he cannot feed not take care of his family which is almost like death.

This is where educating for peace will play a vital role for there is a need to acquire the values and knowledge and developing the attitudes, skills and behaviour to live in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the natural environment. The aims to reduce violence, support the transformation of conflicts, and advance the peace capabilities of individuals, groups, societies and institutions.

The reality of the two groups of persons are different, therefore the engagement should be different. There is a need to facilitate a practice of freedom facilitated by a healthy and respectful dialogue. It is very important to reflect on social and economic injustices within a context of ‘structural inequality’ based on local ‘meaning and experience.’  The essence is that the effort at the grassroots to enthrone social justice and human rights should serve as a pivot for peace education.

We also have to interrogate what is right. How do people define what is right and just? Our peace is a product of worldview and reality shaped by our various encounters and relationships. Conflicts are not caused by abstract beings, but by individuals, therefore if the individual is changed, the conflict will transform. While it may be difficult to change a violent situation when it starts, it is better to learn the skills of preventing it from happening. This is how to transform the root causes of violence into a culture and way of peace through a change in the way we construct our ‘social values and world views’ This transformation will not happen by chance but through a carefully planned strategy of intervention, it is a change the world needs to be more peaceful.

In this respect peace education has to move from a conflict-based model to a unity-based model that is integrative of the ‘psychological, social, political, ethical and spiritual state’ giving expression in the development of the person. This development will lead to the person doing what is right. This education for peace can take place in various formats, it can be in school or in the communities or both situations. It can be integrated into teaching, or it can be stand-alone learning. The essence is that the requisite knowledge is shared and used for the transformation.

Peace Education will lead to achieving a vision of peace and justice through the protection of human rights. These are rights that are attributable to us as humans, everybody on earth irrespective of sex, origin, status, or belief is entitled to be respected and honoured for who they are, and it prevents discrimination and upholds the dignity of humans. Human rights are essentially the core for peacebuilding. Respect for human rights breeds accommodation and tolerance among people.

Conflict is a necessary fact of life because people have differences, and when they meet disagreement can occur based on these differences. However, respect for human rights will lead to the settlement of difference without resort to threats and violence.  This is possible because of the shared humanity that human rights upholds, thereby leading to peace. It is this shared humanity that COVID-19 is showing. The question is how do we explore the positive element of fear, to achieve solidarity? Appreciating human rights is vital for the attainment of a just and humane society.  Human rights, therefore, is the soul and core of peace education; it is through it that the dignity of humans is restored, and a just and peaceful society entrenched. Those charged with the responsibility of protecting and safeguarding our rights need to understand peace education.

This is possible only when the beneficiaries of the system are willing to appreciate the transformation and learn. Reardon and Snauwaert, (2014) state that “The conscientization of the elite may be the process upon which the future depends” (p. 15). It is the elites that put up the system and structures that dehumanize the people and create violence; therefore, their learning and transformation will change society. They should be a target of peace education. This learning should also take place in communities where people are made aware of the benefit of peace education.  Communities should involve all segments of the population to imbibe the principles of peace education; this should include the elites, who can them transform themselves into agents of peace by acquiring the required skills and changing their attitude.

Finally, educating for peace in a frighten world should start with educating the elites. If the elites appreciate the effect of the policies that they are making, it can lead to having a human face in the policy. A situation where rules have an adverse effect on the poor cannot lead to peace. COVID-19 is a lesson for the world to start reflecting on our shared humanity and build solidarity. The coronavirus does not know the rich nor the poor, all are affected. The effect is that all are afraid. Now is, therefore, the best time to live our dream of a level world propelled by solidarity!


Reardon, B. A., & Snauwaert, D. T. (2014). Betty A. Reardon: A pioneer in education for peace and human rights. London: Springer.

Salomon, G. (2011). Four major challenges facing peace education in regions of intractable conflict. Peace and conflict17(1), 46-59.

About the Author*

Dr Colins Imoh is the convener of the Nigeria Network and Campaign for Peace Education.  He obtained his doctoral degree from the Department of Educational Foundations & Leadership at the University of Toledo. He is currently an Adjunct Faculty in the Division of Criminal Justice at the California State University, Sacramento. His area of interest is social action, nonviolent movement, multicultural movement, sustainable development, diversity, and peacebuilding.

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