Education can produce good citizens for a better society

Kakamega Hill school pupils rehearse cultural dance during drama festivals held at St. Peters boys primary school in Mumias. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The latest developments in eastern Europe, pitting Russia against the Nato alliance-backed Ukraine got me thinking: How can education be used to create a more peaceful world?

The flurry of diplomatic activities, peppered with grandstanding from both Nato and Russia, is reminiscent of recent global events in the political, cultural and religious spheres that have caused division, discrimination and distrust among the masses, thereby unsettling the foundations of peace and harmony between communities.

It is therefore necessary that children, from an early age, be taught the imperatives of peace, and that includes recognition and rejection of violence, understanding differences and addressing them through dialogue, critical awareness of injustice, and pillars of social justice, among others.

Imparting the skills of peace-making in children relies on four basic concepts: accepting self and others, communicating effectively, resolving conflicts and understanding intercultural differences. The prime responsibility of a teacher and the larger school community is to help students become good human beings who are motivated to fulfil their true potential for their own benefit as well as for the betterment of society as a whole.

Education is the best tool towards creating peaceful and sustainable societies. Through cross-cultural education, people are living harmonious and sustainable lives because they are educated global citizens who embrace multi-culturalism. Developed societies comprise enlightened people living in diversity for which education plays a crucial role.

Education ought to be more about practical life. Learners must be equipped with transfer skills to effectively apply what they learn in class and outside of class to real life. My view is that, most of the time, education teaches us to earn a living, but not the values we need to live in a better society. Education ought to aim at creating peaceful societies. Focus ought to shift from creating human labour to moulding better human beings. There ought to emphasis on ethics, morals, and creating motivation. Education needs to create good citizens who are also ethical beings.

The role of education is to empower children and adults to become active participants in the transformation of their societies. Education can create peaceful societies by strengthening the teaching and understanding of shared knowledge, values and attitudes, and enabling individuals to live together in diverse environments. Our curriculum should aim at developing inclusive and equality-centred dialogues, and promoting shared knowledge and values.

For instance, the International Baccalaureate curriculum aims to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through education that builds intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organisation works with schools, governments and international organisations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”

There are several ways that teachers and school leaders can incorporate peace education into their work, teaching students how to be empathetic, responsible, and active learners and leaders:

Model kindness and empathy

Teachers, principals, and staff can model how to love and care for others through their interactions among each other and with students. Adults should get to know students individually, appreciating the unique strengths and needs of each student and member of the school community.

Repair, don’t punish

When students commit an offense, use models of restorative justice to help them understand the effects of their actions and how they can repair any damage done. Instead of punishing or excluding offenders, facilitate conversations on what would need to happen to restore balance in the community. The end goal is for children to understand the impact of their actions and to learn to take responsibility for them.

Create a democratic space

Involve student voices in establishing and revising school and class norms. Create classrooms where children are encouraged to share their ideas. Share power with students and give them the space to question authority. Great injustices, inequalities, and atrocities take place when people either are uncritical of authority or aren’t given the appropriate space and courage to question and resist it.

Use experiential learning

Arrange lessons so that students learn by doing. Give students assignments that promote creativity and critical thinking. Whenever possible, instead of lecturing material, allow students to grapple with and debate it, to conduct experiments, or to participate in projects.

Give a voice to the excluded

On a micro level, this means encouraging students who are commonly excluded to speak up in class. On a macro level, this means incorporating into lessons the narratives of people who have been historically discriminated against or excluded. Have students think critically about why the knowledge and experiences of some groups of people are privileged over the knowledge and experiences of others.

Encourage collaboration in diverse groups

Emphasize collaboration and teamwork and de-emphasize competition and self-interest. Structure long-term projects that allow children from different social or ethnic groups to work together toward a common goal. Opportunities in which children get to know one another as individuals may help break prejudices and establish caring relationships among members of different groups.

Discuss controversial issues

Facilitate discussions about divisive civic and ethical issues for children of all ages. These debates teach students not only about viewpoints different from their own, but also that it’s okay to disagree with authority figures and peers as long as it’s done respectfully and in a safe environment.

Integrate service learning

With younger students, this can mean identifying and solving problems within their classroom. With older students, it can mean creating service projects that help their school, community, or people across world. Children need to practice, from early on, how to take action, to solve the problems in their community, to have a positive effect. They don’t need to wait until they grow up to change the world.

Emphasising on critical thinking, problem-solving, language and life skills, as well as open-mindedness, expressiveness, peacefulness, flexibility and sensitivity towards various global issues, provides comprehensiveness to peace education. To integrate such a fundamental framework in our curriculum, strategies like offering courses in peace and security studies, developing a relevant pedagogy for peace practitioners in higher education setting, collective varieties and deeply rooted historical memories and societal beliefs, art-making activities, employing think-aloud strategies and mind\body-oriented methods, setting up solidarity camps, among others, can be employed.

An attempt should be made to introduce new longitudinal and durable ideas for peace by suggesting a mandatory peace curriculum. Any curriculum of peace must have at its core, teaching of empathy. An infusion or integration of principles of peace into the teacher education programmes ought to be advocated. Discourses of empathy and reconciliation in curriculum and pedagogy are critical components of the reformation of peace education goals.

Teaching of war literature is an essential part of peace education curriculum. World peace is impossible to achieve without humanity possessing common historical ideas. Peace education must deal with collective varieties and deeply rooted historical memories and societal beliefs. Encourage and empower all to take necessary roles for responsible global citizenship.

Students and teachers should employ think-aloud strategies as they read literature, compose poems and create artwork related to the theme of peace collaborative teaching among classrooms, art and technology. Help to recognise contributions and success, act with respect, share power to build a community with peace effective strategies include reflective listening, reading and storytelling, journal writing, creative drama, dramatic play and problem-solving techniques.

Language and literary experiences can foster peace. Students are introduced to critical thinking, problem-solving and peace-making strategies. It aids them in developing a range of skills, including research, mapping, dialogue, debate, roleplaying, creative writing and informed analysis. A variety of strategies like role-playing, story-telling, game playing, humour, mnemonics and metaphors should be encouraged.

Curriculum-based on the peaceable classroom model which emphasizes cooperation, appreciation of diversity, healthy expressions, feelings responsible for decision-making and conflict resolution is emphasized. Curriculum design needs to be informed by a holistic approach to peace education.

Cooperative learning techniques should be encouraged as they have immense value in developing a peaceful culture. Students should be taught how to engage in integrative negotiations and peer mediation to resolve conflicts constructively. Civic values should be inculcated that focus student on the long-term common good of society.

Teacher education programmes at all levels are to be reformed and radically reorganised in light of the avowed goals of education and the specific requirements of peace education. The effectiveness of peace education cannot be judged by whether it brings peace to the world but rather by the effect it has on students’ thought patterns, attitudes, behaviours, values, knowledge stock.

Education, either formal or informal, serves as the pillar, cornerstone, and bedrock for sustainable societies. Especially by reorienting learning, public awareness, and training, can we contribute to solving some of the problems our Earth is currently facing such as conflicts, poverty and inequality. Thus, education serves as catalyst for development.