Head to Head

Promoting the Development of Young People through Peace Education

Nurturing living, learning, and working together.

The current Covid-19 Pandemic has drawn our attention to the mental health of young people. There is a growing understanding, long advocated by Irvine Yalom, the psychotherapist and author, that well-being is fundamentally nurtured by positive personal interactions with others. Feeling included and accepted by families, in a group at school or with friends, is an important element in young peoples’ personal development. Nothing is more important than inclusion, and nothing more devastating than exclusion.

Peace Education is about learning to live together, and about creating a culture within an educational institution which grows inclusion, by collaboration and the understanding and acceptance of differences between all participants. It is an outlook which is strongly experiential and can be developed as part of personal and social education in practice.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) views Peace Education as an important element for creating a more peaceful world and reducing conflict and the abuse of minorities. It is also associated with the United Nations Human Rights for the Child, Article 26. Peace Education builds up young peoples’ sense of their personal value through collaboration and inclusion.

Some of these experiences are already present in each institution, even if they are not called Peace Education.  Interactions which promote a deeper understanding of each other is a good starting point and remain light and good fun, perhaps using the expressive arts. An example would be to ask each pupil to draw a picture which represents their view of ‘Peace’ (It is not an Art competition!). Ask them to explain it to others in a small group. This group then works together to incorporate as many ideas as possible from everyone, into a larger group poster to be presented in turn to the whole group or class. The focus is on valuing each individual’s contribution, no matter how different it is, and to understand the differences in views for one word. The teacher or group facilitator may discuss how the groups listened to each contribution and how the result can be an inclusive and collaborative piece of work, displayed and greater than any one individual’s thoughts. The process is ‘Peace’ in action.

In other activities, we notice that we make presumptions about others and stereotype them. This is a common way of managing our interactions with others. People are labelled by their role in life or  by an aspect of their personality. Others are stereotyped by national, ethnic, political, and religious characteristics. By doing this, we are consciously or unconsciously narrowly making assumptions  about others, which may lead to misunderstandings and even prejudice, discrimination, and potential conflict. Instead we can try to begin to see each person as unique and with a variety of  characteristics. In coaching someone who has problems with another individual, we may ask if they can see any good qualities in this person. This process smooths away the sharp focus of irritation and is a step in the right direction for dialogue.

In classrooms and even work situations, participants may voluntarily agree to take part in conflict resolution approaches. They listen to others’ opinions, are encouraged to value these opinions, without judgement of the other person, enter a dialogue and look for solutions which are mutually agreeable. A group coach may facilitate and ask members: “ May I ask what’s going on here?”; “Can we explore this together?“. This is the basis of mediation and arbitration processes which are now universal approaches in relationship and work conflicts. Young people need these approaches to be modelled, and try out, to grow an understanding of how to deal with differences and tensions. They learn about their personal value, and how to live together through the experience of interacting with others with respect. Experiencing what is unique about themselves is important, and how others see them.  Learning that others have different opinions and working with misunderstandings is a necessary element in building out tolerance, self-value and an ability to find solutions.

One other important strategy of Peace Education is the value of ‘pastoral’ groups’. These are groups or classes formed for pastoral reasons for study, for creativity, or for voluntary service. The creation of a Peace Garden by pupils of different ages in a school in Malta is one such project, but there are many more of different purposes. Many of us will recall, the feeling of collaboration and well-being from being part of a group which is engaged in a joint project of value. These group experiences grow personal maturity through a stronger sense of our ability to contribute to others, while having collective acceptance of responsibility for each other in safety and well-being. ‘Giving help’ builds personal self-esteem. Relationship experience is grown from interactions with others in the group of diverse backgrounds in age, gender, ethnicity, and disposition. Diversity is therefore an asset to value. These experiential approaches contribute towards the growth of the Four Capacities of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.

There is a growing number of those in education who perceive the approach of Peace Education as one of creating a more tolerant world, for the personal growth of individuals and better communities. UNESCO publishes valuable advice on Peace Education and the differences in Pedagogy for Teachers. The teacher may not act as a formal teacher in these circumstances and more of a group facilitator. There are also good ideas on Peace Education from Service Civil International (SCI), an international volunteer organisation bringing people of different ages and ethnicities to work together on voluntary projects. The European School Head Teachers Association (ESHA) has been involved in the creation of an online Peace Lab at the San Remo Humanitarian School of Law. Peace Education Resources are gathered online from many international sources, including Canada, Italy, France, Belgium, Malta and India, search http://eiplab.eu/ .

You are welcome to view the resources and international bank of ideas, and even contribute your own ones. There are no strict rules for Peace Education, other that any idea which builds understanding of others is important. The teacher competencies are also of interest and there are evaluation tools for use as a school.

Euan Mackie, former Scottish Head Teacher, AHDS Area Officer and Educational Coach, currently Peace Educator (SCI), and Ambassador (ESHA), and author of his forthcoming book on Promoting the Personal Development of Young People.