Can education tackle war and peace?

18 Mar 2018 |

In a world that continues to be scarred by armed conflict, many believe that education offers a solution.

But just how much of a role can education realistically play in preventing and ending wars, and in building lasting peace?

This was the question considered by a panel of experts at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2018 in Dubai.

For Patrick Youssef, International Committee of the Red Cross deputy regional director for Africa, the role of education should given a greater priority by governments and peacemakers.

“We should really look at it as essential as healthcare and building the infrastructure for a country’s future,” he said.

However, Mr Youssef warned against seeing education as panacea. Rather, it is an essential part of a holistic package to help build peace, he said.

“Protracted conflicts do not stop just by injecting education,” he says. “It is part of the bigger solution to bring back social cohesion after war.”

Building peace together

Bringing back social cohesion after war requires education beyond the classroom, according to Scott Weber, Director-General at Interpeace.

He shared his own experience of working in Rwanda and how a society-wide discussion of the atrocities of the country’s civil war had to take place before it could then be addressed in its schools.

“They stopped teaching history after the genocide, because they didn’t know which version of history to teach,” he said.

“Every textbook that had been written had been written by previous regimes to advance their particular slant on the situation, so they couldn’t use the materials they had. The teachers had been trained to advance those ideologies, so they said ‘until we figure this out we’re going to stop teaching it’.”

A country-wide process of discussing the genocide from both points of views later took place, and Mr Weber said Rwanda was then finally in a position to write a history curriculum that could be taught.

“It doesn’t hide their bad parts, it exposes them in a way that can be discussed, not taking one side or the other,” he said.

Unfortunately such a balanced approach to teaching history is rare, according to Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan.

“State-controlled education systems too often merely serve to reinforce existing hierarchies,” she said.

“National curriculums prioritise teaching of conflicts “won”, defeats never entirely forgotten, and atrocities somehow justified.”

Educating against war

For education to play a role in promoting peace, Princess Zeid said it should promote “political and social systems for coexistence and peace, international law and human rights”. Children should be taught, she added, “to perceive the world and reality in new and innovative ways” and to “dream that we can do something different than we are at the moment”.

A society that successfully educates its children in the ways of peace won’t be one that removes conflict, however.

Mr Weber said that “the definition of peacebuilding is not do away with conflict, it’s to build the capacities of the society to deal with conflict non-violently.”

This means educating people to realise an armed response should never be the first option when either individuals or nations experience disagreement and conflict.

If the people are educated to understand this, then governments will follow, he said.

“Governments don’t build peace, people build peace,” said Mr Weber. “The people need to drag their governments towards peace.”

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