The Power of a Holistic and Values-Based Education for Building Sustainable Peace

Peace is not a status. Peace is not the absence of violence and war. It is a holistic process of learning to live together on and with the earth. The United Nations’ International Day of Peace celebrated on 21 September, constitutes a propitious opportunity to reflect afresh on the central role of education in building sustainable peace.

Graffiti, Peace, Sign, Symbol, Design

The many violent conflicts in our world teach us how vulnerable peace is. No society, no community can free itself from the perpetual challenge of renewing its commitment to peacebuilding. This is valid in as much as people engage with one another, collectively and at interpersonal levels, against the background of diverse identities, interests and claims. These require a continuous societal dialogue and normative consensus-building.

Societies, over time, have developed refined mechanisms on how these processes of consensus-building – naming and framing how people wish to live together – can look. The broadest possible participation in decision-making in democratic societies, the public expression of protest and resilience through civil society movements, and first and foremost the establishment and monitoring of solid legislative structures to ensure that individual and collective rights are protected. Time and again, however, the international community is confronted with the failure or insufficiency of these systems, and sometimes the malfunction of entire states to protect their citizens and provide conditions for peaceful cohabitation. It is crucial to understand peacebuilding as an intersectional mandate that touches upon the responsibility of the individuals to deal constructively with self-interests in respect of others, the responsibility of governments and their institutions to safeguard equitable principles of societal participation, and the responsibility of civil society actors to serve as critical and transformative agents of change against violent interactions. believes strongly in the transformative role of education. Such an education needs to be conceptualized and practised as a holistic and values-based education in order to make a long-lasting impact on peacebuilding. Four dimensions have been highlighted in the international public and academic debate. First, peacebuilding is about learning to know ‘the other’ and to establish bridges of understanding to worldviews, practices and lifestyles different from one’s own. UNESCO emphasizes global citizenship as one approach that will help foster such an inter-contextual learning on the peaceful integration of differences, without succumbing to the fallacies of domination and uniformization. Second, to develop a lifelong learning awareness from early childhood into adulthood about values as drivers of peaceful relationships, such as respect, tolerance, trust, and recognition. Third, to create meaningful pedagogical environments, in which these values can be put into practice, sustained by lived experience, and probed. Last but not least, peacebuilding is about strengthening structures of restorative and transformative justice in communities and societies, especially for people who have become victims of violence, and developing instruments of self-reliance and community building that allow to escape reductionist views of victimization.

Educating for peacebuilding or peace education is therefore not so much about the transfer of knowledge and the acquisition of specific contents, but more so about a continuous and intrinsically motivated learning process of carefully reading conflict-generating situations and identifying solutions at grassroots and at international levels. Examples illustrating such ‘bottom-up’ peace education approaches can be found in diverse contexts, and are especially encouraging as they showcase the community-based internal capacities, as well as the resilience of people, in addressing violence and creating a culture of peace. I recall the valuable learning I gained, by way of illustration, from the young women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who united to heal their wounds of the traumatic civil war, in which many have experienced sexual violence, through storytelling. Another example brings to mind the students of the Young Adults Training for Religious Amity programme, which aims to equip young people for becoming active peacemakers in their respective contexts by engaging common justice-related issues in their communities through the lenses of different religious traditions.

Peacebuilding, as these and other cases show, is a whole-person educational engagement. It begins with the understanding of human beings and their underlying mimetic desires – of wanting to have what the other possesses – and of coming to terms with the destructive consequences of these desires in rivalry and conflict. A holistic and values-based education for peace acknowledges how individuals and communities can learn to critically engage with their own propensities to violence, and at the same time cultivate the positive impulses for peace emerging from shared values and the dedication to shape a world in, which all can lead dignified lives in respect of the environment and future generations.     

As former United Nations General Secretary, late Kofi Annan, formulated: “education is, quite simply, peacebuilding by another name. It is the most effective form of defense spending there is.” In times like these, in which we are painfully reminded of the porosity of international relationships, this message cannot be overstated. Investments in a holistic, values-based peace education need to become a shared responsibility for all societal actors to be kept high on the international agenda.

At the beginning of the new semester, renews its invitation to all people of goodwill to join an alliance of creating cultures of peace. The first part of our Interreligious Cooperation for Peace executive course programme – a qualification suite of 24 units in total –  will be offered as 10 October 2022. Course participants will benefit from this didactically well-designed course by learning the practice of active listening, a conducive method for engaging with diverse religious communities, and discovering how amidst the recognised differences viable avenues for peace can be built.

We all are invited to respond to the question on how we want to live together and to translate our responses in our local settings by considerate actions for creating a climate of peace with justice. In this sense, education for peace remains grounded in our lived realities and connected to a renewed responsibility to build bridges of understanding together.

Amélé Adamavi-Aho Ekué
Academic Dean

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