Generations for Peace: Jordan Schools Programs

Grace Mariana Rector
Georgetown University

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Introduction

As of March, 2017, approximately 657,000 Syrian refugees live in Jordan (Jordan Times), but according to the Jordanian government, it is suspected that almost 1.5 million Syrians live in Jordan, making up approximately 16% of the population. With such a large influx of people of a different culture, the resulting social tensions have been highly visible, including routine violence between students in the education system. In 2007, HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein created a leading global non-profit peace building organization, Generations for Peace (GFP) to empower young people to promote tolerance in communities experiencing conflict and violence. This program was then expanded in 2014 to address the prevalent ethnic violence in Jordanian schools. In the context of the social tensions between Syrian refugees and Jordanians, this program has been successful in empowering youth to solve conflict peacefully through its use of pedagogies including collaboration, participation, and sustainability. However, the program’s weaknesses, such as timing for its students, exclusivity, and effect on other academic classes, prevent the organization from attaining the best impact possible.

Context

In order to fully comprehend the extent of GFP one must be informed of the contextual conditions that spurred its Jordan Schools Program. Main societal factors resulting from the mass migration of Syrians to Jordan include an overburdened educational system and stigma against Syrian refugees (Generations for Peace). The influx of Syrian refugees brought many families who sought education for their children.

Students in a public school in Jordan. (Photo: Rawan Da’as / World Bank)

As the numbers of children increased, schools resorted to the double shift system starting in 1960, in which Jordanian students come to school in the morning and Syrian students come in the afternoon. This system has further entrenched the division between the two cultures and thus reinforced a lack of understanding between the two groups. Anti-Syrian sentiments have also been seen among the adult population, and their opinions are passed to their children, who then imitate their parents’ discriminatory behavior in school. Many programs focus on educating children because they have the greatest ability to impact the future and they are more willing to spread what they’ve learned. The GFP Jordan Schools Program focused on this audience to address the violence against Syrian refugees. The culture of violence domestically and towards “foreigners” in Jordan demonstrates the need for the Jordan Schools Program to act and empower youth who can change the social norms about violence.

Goals and Approach

To address the aforementioned tensions, GFP hopes to see three goals achieved for every group they facilitate each year:

  1. Participant students’ enhanced ability to address conflict without violence
  2. [Improved] quality of interactions among students and between students and teachers
  3. [Improved] Participant students’ academic achievement. (GFP Final Report)

These goals not only focus on a long-term solution of socially integrating Syrian refugees into Jordanian society and creating a new standard for inclusivity and understanding, but also, in the short-term, decreasing the frequency of fights or other forms of violence in Jordanian schools. The GFP Jordan Schools Program has sought to achieve these goals through various approaches primarily social-emotional learning. One of the key strengths of this program is its emphasis on collaboration and bringing students together despite the divided nature of society.

Social and emotional learning focuses on teaching students how to acquire and use skills vital to understanding one’s own self-control and the way in which they interact with others. A main point of this project is to emphasize empathy and solidarity with fellow students in order to create a more united community. GFP chose social-emotional learning to highlight the common humanity of people with other backgrounds and for students to understand their own emotions; how would a Jordanian student feel being forcefully removed from his home, going somewhere unfamiliar, just to be met with verbal and physical violence from students at school? In addition, GFP identified pedagogies to facilitate a change within students so that they can skillfully and peacefully resolve conflict.

Pedagogy and Theory of Change

In order to properly address the impacts of Syrian migration on Jordanian students, the GFP Jordan Schools Program has succeeded in creating an effective program through pedagogies of peace education including collaborative and participatory learning. According to Peace Education (2013), written by Ian Harris and Mary Lee Morrison, key principles of positive peace are cooperative behavior and democratic participation. This project addresses the two successfully, thus contributing to an active pursuit of peace rather than the sole absence of war. Collaboration is one of the best tools for peace-building because it allows students to engage with people of diverse perspectives, thus creating more comprehensive solutions to conflict. Contrary to the two-shift schools where different cultures were kept apart, the GFP Jordan Schools Program brings both Syrians and Jordanians together through weekly sport and art activities to give them the opportunity to engage and work with each other. Collaboration is a valuable opportunity for students to build leadership and practice teamwork. Collaboration demonstrates the value of diversity as an exciting possibility for exchange and peace building. Collaboration can happen through participatory learning as well, however this type of learning is more geared on developing speaking skills and other ways of self-expression.

The program utilizes discussion-based participatory learning to engage the students beyond a standard classroom environment. Starting with small focus groups, in which students respond to pre-determined questions, the program then has students join a large discussion group to discuss more broadly answers to the prior questions, and finally, each student writes their reflection from the dialogue so they may process the experience more effectively. This participatory learning results in long-lasting education and emphasizes that everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. This pedagogy equips students with the skills to socialize peace and to peacefully defend and present their beliefs. The final writing portion is crucial to the process of peace building because “reflection is a requirement for responsible action” according to Betty Reardon in Key Texts in Gender and Peace (Reardon, 2014, p. 22). In order to fully recognize the extent of what one is discussing and therefore what appropriate action would be for impactful change, one must actively reflect through journaling or discussion. Through reflection we can find our responsibility to “acknowledge the cost of our own complicity in the violence and injustice of the war system” and to those that we are interconnected with (Reardon, 2014, p. 99). Moreover, through participatory learning, students have the ability to build their confidence, reflect, and uncover their responsibilities as global citizens.

While collaboration and participation are effective pedagogies of peace building, a theory introduced in Peace Education addresses the necessity of peace through sustainability. While peace through sustainability refers to environmental sustainability, one can argue that the same strategies of creating long-lasting solutions can be applied. The sustainability of an initiative is a crucial aspect of the program to ensure that the educational investment today will last and impact the next generation. In response to the violence against Syrian refugees, the program focuses on sustaining the impact of their initiative by equipping students with long-lasting skills. Such skills include anger-management and self-control, which are developed in conflict resolution education, and they often result in a decrease in bullying and violence Once this skill set is attained, students can use the education they received throughout their life and pass on their knowledge to others. Another important part of achieving ongoing peace is through moral care and concern. Through working collaboratively with diverse groups consistently over a period of time, students are come to appreciate ethnic and cultural differences. This cultural appreciation is hard to obtain for students raised in a country filled with ethnic biases, but once one gains this appreciation, they will use their developed perspective consistently for the rest of their life. The impact that this program has on its students has become a long-term contribution to society thanks to students sharing their ideas from the program with their family and friends.

Observed / Recorded Impacts

According to the GFP Jordan Schools Project Final Report, the project has made a tangible impact on their participants. A significant impact that this program initiated was the passing of knowledge from students in the program to their siblings at home. Simply having participants tell their family about the skills they gained from the program and ways to address conflict nonviolently can significantly impact the culture of society. When more students inform their families on tolerance and inclusion, potentially, their community will learn of these values and use them. More specifically the following statistics were concluded by GFP’s efforts: over the course of one year in their first four schools, there was a decrease of 80% (among female students) and 52% (among male students) of students who reported responding to conflict with others using violence. Additionally, there was a decrease of 63% (among female students) and 85% (among male students) that were sent to counselor for violent or disruptive behavior in the semester. Not only did use of violence among students decrease, but also it has been shown that participants’ communication abilities flourished. Families commented on their child’s enhanced communication and 97% of female and 98% of male students reported improvement in their ability to communicate with their teachers.

Assessment of Strengths

Through GFP’s comprehensive use of pedagogies and application of theory, they were able to address the cultural violence against Syrians. In the Jordanian culture, Syrians experience social exclusion and thus have difficulty getting jobs or finding a good school for their children because of racism and xenophobia. By openly discussing the social issues students see and by acknowledging the way Jordanian society is socially set against Syrian refugees, students are closer to recognizing their responsibility in addressing this issue. Through collaboration and participation, students can reflect and create innovative ways to bring peace to their schools. The program equips the students with public speaking skills, increased confidence, and the ability to solve problems, which enables them to be participants for peace.

Assessment of Strengths / Weaknesses

While the program has many impressive and effective facets that address the issue at hand, there are significant weaknesses that should be addressed in order to allow for a more inclusive and impactful effect. This program is a one-year investment into a target group of students who are nominated for the program. [GR1] The organization chooses this target group based on certain outcome indicators. Based on surveys that the students complete, the organization creates a diverse group of students including social students, students who resort to violence, and students with low grades for more productive and inclusive discussions. While there have been favorable statistics about the impacts of this program, there are also students in this program, that could not extract all the skills necessary in on year. As all students are diverse in their learning styles, some students may require more time in the program in order to develop and reflect more on the activities they have done. Additionally, since the program is not school-wide and only addresses a small constituency of students, students outside of the program have mentioned the exclusivity of GFP. While the focus of the project is to include students with diverse backgrounds, the nature of the program excludes non-members from gaining skills applicable and necessary to every student. Peace education is an essential tool that may be integrated into every class, thus I wonder why this program decides to isolate a select group of students to participate. Lastly, it has been recorded in program feedback that members are often taken out of other academic classes for programming, and thus fall behind academically. This completely goes against the point of the program as a whole. One may argue that a smaller group allows for more comprehensive dialogues, but peace is about inclusivity, thus it is antithetical to exclude another from learning about peace. A favorable solution to the aforementioned weaknesses of this program is to integrate pedagogies and educational theories into every class at the partner schools. Inclusivity, collaboration, and participation can be worked into any class with proper preparation. While this program has made impressive progress with their students, it would be more influential if the trainers for teacher volunteers lead a workshop for all of the teachers on the principles of peace and nonviolence and how certain educational approaches can promote inclusivity and decrease violence among Syrian and Jordanian children.

Conclusion

The GFP Program has provided for great discussion of implementing peace education programs. Practitioners can take away successful aspects of this program such as addressing the issue at the roots: ignorance of another race can lead to a lack of understanding, which leads to justification of oppression. The program also has unsuccessful aspects, such as isolating the program from all students. By integrating peace education, it promotes a view of a society that lives in peace (in every aspect) rather than living next to peace, and only engaging in peaceful resolution occasionally. It would benefit the program additionally to look more deeply into how stigma against Syrian refugees initially form and how to nip the issue at the bud to prevent further fruition of discrimination.

Works Cited:

  1. Generations for Peace. (2014). Teachers and students prove impact of Generations for Peace Jordan Schools Programme. Generations for Peace. Retrieved from https://www.generationsforpeace.org/en/teachers-and-students-prove-impact-of-generations-for-peace-jordan-schools-programme/
  2. Peace Insight. (2015). Generations for Peace. Peace Insight. Retrieved from https://www.peaceinsight.org/conflicts/jordan/peacebuilding-organisations/generations-for-peace/
  3. Luck, T. (2013, April 21). Tensions rise between Syrian refugees and host community. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/in-jordan-tensions-rise-between-syrian-refugees-and-host-community/2013/04/21/d4f5fa24-a762-11e2-a8e2-5b98cb59187f_story.html?utm_term=.b693e4f10d8d
  4. Ghazal, M. (2017, March 21). Jordan hosts 657,000 registered Syrian refugees. The Jordan Times. Retrieved from http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/jordan-hosts-657000-registered-syrian-refugees
  5. (2015). GFP Jordan Schools Programme Participatory Evaluation. Generations for Peace. Retrieved from https://www.generationsforpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/GFP-JOR-Schools-Programme-2014-2015-PE-Report-Final.pdf
  6. Reardon, B. (2015). Key Texts in Gender and Peace. New York: Springer.
  7. Harris, I.M., & Morrison, M.L. (2013). Peace Education. North Carolina: McFarland & Co.
  8. LIU Post. (2018). Social Emotional Learning. LIU Post. Instructional Media Center. Retrieved from http://liu.cwp.libguides.com/IMC/SEL
  9. Shteiwi, M. (2015). It is time to restore public education in Jordan. The World Bank. Retrieved from http://blogs.worldbank.org/arabvoices/it-time-restore-public-education-jordan
  10. Hiltermann J. (2016, March 29). Jordan: How Close to Danger. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/03/29/jordan-refugees-extremism-how-close-to-danger/

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