Let’s teach our children peace (India)

(Original article: Rudrashis Data, The Statesman, Nov. 15, 2015)

In the first book of ‘The Histories’, Greek historian Herodotus said, “In peace children bury their parents. War violates the order of Nature and causes parents to bury their children.” The history of human civilization has seen this aberration happening repeatedly and as the quote unerringly suggests, each violation of peace has cost children either their lives or their right to have a decent life with needs fulfilled. At the level of pedagogy, peace education is a relatively recent concept with modalities of instruction still being fine-tuned to ensure optimum impact on children in a world that is becoming increasingly oblivious of the natural demand for peaceful living.

Exactly a hundred years after Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands convened a meeting for disarmament and promotion of peace at the Hague in 1899, more than 10,000 peace activists from across the world met at the same venue to fashion what has since become a universal cry to mainstream peace education across the globe. Resulting in a document titled ‘The Hague Appeal for Peace’, the gathering called for treating peace education as a human right. Accepted by the United Nations, the Hague Agenda is now an official UN document which calls for a plan of action by governments and has a 50 point charter.

The last decade has seen governments across the globe acting on the requirement of integrating peace education in schools. This has invited intense debates and intellectual involvement resulting in significant literature emerging out of the academic contexts of peace education.

Though Indian academics had a tradition of peace education in the last few decades modeled on Gandhian Studies, it was with the NCERT publication of a Position Paper on ‘Education for Peace’ in 2006 that the concept of peace and its importance was weaved into the school curriculum. Significantly, the Indian position was a departure in that it approached the issue not from the context of conventional ‘peace education’ but from a wider and more flexible ‘education for peace’.

The Position Paper says, “Education for peace is different from peace education. In the latter, peace is a subject in the syllabus. In the former, peace becomes the shaping vision of education.”

The Position Paper says, “Education for peace is different from peace education. In the latter, peace is a subject in the syllabus. In the former, peace becomes the shaping vision of education.”

While the importance of peace has always been non-negotiable in academics, what makes the subject important is the manner in which diverse aspects of modern-day living could be seamlessly woven into its domain. Peace studies has evolved into the three critical areas of conflict resolution, education for democracy, and education for human rights. What makes education for peace imperative is the manner in which it plans to shape a child’s need for peace. It is this context that makes our value education tradition a fit academic avenue.

Unlike other school education disciplines, peace education is an area that requires precise curricular modifications so as to make the content not merely relevant but also identifiable by the immediate stakeholders – the parents, the children and the teachers. It is this aspect that has eluded our children, and with the Position Paper nearly a decade old, precious little has been achieved in the area vis-a-vis our school curriculum.

With awareness of the environment getting the importance it deserves in our curriculum in the last decade, awareness of the notion of peace and its importance in maintaining and sustaining life and growth is yet to get a place of importance. Clearly, peace education goes beyond mere propagation. An ideal construct of education for peace approaches the issue of peace not as an absence of violence but as an exercise where children would grow up believing that peace has no options in any aspect of living and thinking.

It is common experience that our children grow up within conflicts. Some school subjects come with conflict and violence integrated in them. For example, it would be impossible to write a history book for children without mentioning wars and battles. It would be difficult to write about the animal world as a geography lesson without mentioning the predatory food cycle nature has ordained for the living world. Also, a gender conflict at home transfers into a social conflict in school and a conflict of opinions in the media.

While escape from a situation of conflict may not be possible for children, what matters most in such situations is the child’s ability to see such conflicts in proper light with due objectivity and without bias. Once this fails, the child gets sucked into the vortex of conflict he encounters around him and becomes an agent of violence or conflict himself. As such, a curriculum that empowers the child to approach all conflicts with a healthy mind underlines the importance of education for peace.

With increasing complexities of living making childhood in India more difficult to negotiate than ever before, it is important that all educational boards across the states absorb the spirit of the position paper on education for peace and weave it into the school curriculum. But the curriculum should not be theoretical alone. Most successful peace education initiatives across the world have attempted to build the vital value of empathy for the living through socially useful service undertaken by children. Empathy for the living is the best antidote for violence. The landmark 2004 UNESCO document ‘Mainstreaming the Culture of Peace’ famously declared that “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”  The abiding defenses of peace can be built only in the minds of young children and it is in this context that weaving education for peace in the Indian curricular structure is important.

While we justly condemn violence around us, it is to be recognized that every violent adult is the consequence of a child whose education for peace has either been absent or gone wrong. The price of this aberration is the intolerance we see around us and unless we take the promotion of peace as an important goal in the education of our children, the vortex of violence shall only spiral higher.

(The writer is Assistant Professor in English, Raiganj B Ed College.)

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