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Peace Education in Fragile States: A Hope for the Future

Children in classroom_2_700
Mombasa, Kenya - January 11, 2004: Classroom with small school kids in the African school in the suburb of Mombasa.

By Tina Robiolle-MoulFletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

In 2009 and 2010, I had the great opportunity to be involved with the Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP) in the development of a conflict resolution curriculum designed to instill a culture of dialogue and non-violent conflict management among secondary school students in Burundi. Funded by USAID East Africa at the request of the Burundian Minister of Education, through both the Wilson Center's Africa Program and CMPartners, this initiative's main goal was to complement efforts already underway within the Ministry to promote citizenship and human rights education through its national civic education curriculum. Tested in ten secondary schools, the conflict resolution module received very positive feedback from students and teachers. Consequently, the Minister of Education endorsed the module and requested BLTP's collaboration for the extension of the program to all secondary schools in Burundi, with the hope that it would be a robust asset to post-conflict reconstruction and the future of the country.

The key to the consolidation of Burundi's tenuous peace lies with its youth. Youth (ages 7-19 years) comprise more than 32% of Burundi's fast growing population and they are potentially volatile and easily influenced. Inheriting a country still beset with division and uneven resource distribution, Burundi's youth will be at the forefront of the transition from post-conflict peace consolidation to sustainable economic development. A program focused on secondary schools is particularly important in Burundi given that schools were often sources of child soldier recruitment and served as the incubators of ethnic polarization, with outbreaks of inter-communal violence during the war. Yet the BLTP and the Ministry of Education did not forget the primary schools, recognizing that less than 30% of Burundi children reach secondary schools. Ultimately, they decided that the program targeting secondary schools would be a first step towards a broader future implementation.

The theory of change in such education programs is often described as follows: if, thanks to peace education, youth develop not only a new way of thinking and seeing conflict, but also a new behavior that could give them the ability to work better together, then they will contribute to changing the structures and cultural practices in their communities or societies, and enjoy sustainable peace and development in their country in the future. Unfortunately, national school-based peace education programs are still rare in fragile states. The practitioners in this field are facing political and technical challenges in the design and the implementation of such programs. But most of all, they are confronted with a lack of funding available for these initiatives because of the competition with other peace-building programs on the one hand, and with other educational programs that are considered a higher priority on the other hand. Additionally, there are significant challenges in assessing the long-term impacts of such programs, especially in fragile contexts. This lack of tangible evidence of peace education's long term impact does not encourage donors and policymakers to place these programs higher on their peacebuilding agenda.

Still, various scholars argue that peace education is a "component of a child's right to education" and that the first fundamental recognition of peace education lies within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Education shall be directed … to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship … and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace." The Declaration of the Rights of the Childreaffirmsthis idea by stating that a child has the right to an education that will develop a "sense of moral and social responsibility."

The commitment of the United Nations to peace education has increased gradually over the years and reached a certain momentum with the proclamation of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace. As the principal UN agencies with a mandate for education and children, UNESCO and UNICEF are the most involved in peace education programs. UNESCO promotes peace education activities by helping its Member States "integrate a holistic vision of quality education that promotes the values of a culture of peace at all levels of their education systems." UNICEF adopted peace education as part of its antiwar agenda: "Disputes may be inevitable, but violence is not. To prevent continued cycles of conflict, education must seek to promote peace and tolerance, not fuel hatred and suspicion."

This relative gap between the UN's commitment and practice on the ground has been noted, especially by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report published annually by UNESCO. While the 2008 report called for the prioritization of peace education programs,[5] the 2011 version regretted the still widely neglected role of education in "preventing armed conflict and promoting rebuilding of societies," because this neglect increases the "risk of a return to violence."

However, it seems that 2012 has been a good year so far for peace education. Last February, UNICEF published a key report on the role of education in peacebuilding. In addition to several recommendations, the report concludes that education can play a crucial role in peacebuilding during all phases of conflict, outlining how education can help prevent conflict and contribute to long-term peace; therefore, access to quality education is a right that should be maintained even in the most complex conditions. UNICEF will use the recommendations of this study for its four-year Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme that will further test various approaches in fourteen countries, including Burundi. The most recent sign of the UN's commitment to peace education is their Education First initiative, launched by UN. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 26, 2012 in the margins of the 67th session of the UN.  General Assembly. The good news for our field is that the UN. Secretary-General secured over US$1.5 billion in commitments for this initiative. The main objective is to make education a top priority of the global political agenda and to boost progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on education. This initiative also places the promotion of Global Citizenship as one of its top three priorities. Fostering Global Citizenship implies "transforming the way people think and act;" giving Education a "central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies;" and providing people with "the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st Century."This is what peace education is about! Peace education is only one aspect of the peacebuilding puzzle, but it is a necessary one, and our field is more and more invested in the search for tangible evidence that will make this assertion harder to contest.

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