As highlighted by our introductory article on the state of education in Africa, the continent continues to suffer from immense challenges in education. Though literacy is increasing, there are huge gaps in terms of the quality of education received, between primary, secondary and tertiary education. These gaps are further disturbing when looking also at the gender imbalance in attaining education throughout. A lot has been said, and most attention focused on ways in which one can bridge these gaps. Not wanting to add to the debate, I’d rather focus attention here on the social aspects of education which are often forgotten in these conversations specifically as they pertain to peace education.
Africa has been ravaged by many conflicts in the last decade, and even those countries ‘safe’ from conflict within their borders are greatly affected by those happening in their regions. Most responses to these conflicts are focused on ending violence, involving all ‘adult’ parties in peace negotiations, and putting an ‘end’ to the conflict so-to-speak. Addressing the role of children and young people in the conflict, the focus is oftentimes on re-building schools, and re-integrating child soldiers into their communities and providing a sense of stability to those most affected by the conflict. These efforts are extremely necessary and go a long way towards healing wounds; however I believe they can be further enhanced by developing a culture of peace among this fragile group. According to the United Nations, “a culture of peace is an integral approach to preventing violence and violent conflicts, and an alternative to the culture of war and violence based on education for peace, the promotion of sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights, equality between women and men, democratic participation, tolerance, the free flow of information and disarmament.” I like to think of it in much simpler terms, as infusing unity and tolerance into daily practices.
One of the ways to infuse this culture into any society would be to involve children and teenagers in peace education in schools. Peace education is very broad, and can be understood in a myriad of ways. For the purposes of this article, peace education involves imparting learners with knowledge on the skills, values and behavior that promotes a culture of peace, and an end to violence and injustice. Addressing those underlying factors that could cause conflict in the first place could go a long way to improving conflict prevention, mediation and post-conflict reconstruction.
I can already imagine teachers reading this and shaking their heads at the additional workload required to develop peace modules and curricula and adapt these for schools. Bearing in mind challenges already faced in education, as highlighted above, teaching peace at schools could operate differently from standard subjects. My proposition is to use Peace Clubs, as a medium of education to develop a culture of peace among children and teenagers at schools. These clubs would be a network of children from various schools, who get together after classes to play games, debate, watch films, listen to music, and have conversations on peace and conflict issues in their country, region and beyond.
The actual content used for these various activities should be carefully selected as conveying values and ideals that speak to the value of nurturing peace, and working together towards resolving any existing or future societal tensions. A number of NGOs working in the field of peace and security would be more than interested in partnering with schools to not only provide the content, but also implement the various activities in support of undertaking this peace education. Going one step further, using these clubs as peace caravans could go a long way towards giving young people ownership of the process. The caravans would ideally go from school to school and those young leaders from the various clubs would ‘teach’ others about the value of peace, how they as young people can act as mediators in their schools and homes, and their key role in supporting the re-habilitation of child soldiers in communities affected by conflict.
In order to transform our societies, we need to change the way in which we think about each other, about ourselves, and about our responsibilities in situations of conflict. If we start early, and involve the future generation in these efforts, we have a greater chance to nurture peace within our societies.