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Education must promote peace

Sofonea Shale

ALTHOUGH Vision 2020 speaks directly to the United Nations’ call for inclusion of peace education in the school curriculum under the International Decade of Peace (2000-2010), Lesotho schools are increasingly becoming violent places where battles are fought.

Throughout the country, students resort to violent means to address their problems.

This happens at high schools and the institutions of higher learning alike. 

Some of these strikes have ended with the death of some students.

Some have been injured while property worth millions has been destroyed.

Is what the students are doing foreign to what other sectors of society are doing to resolve conflicts?

Do we think they choose the violent route because they are young and they will change when they are grown up?

Are we not educating them so that they are better citizens tomorrow with the foundation and skills they are receiving now?

If that is the purpose why should we expect them to learn violent means of resolving conflicts today and still hope that Vision 2020 is possible?

The strikes, class boycotts and demonstrations in schools are but manifestation of the violent society Basotho are and how easily students are learning it.

For many, peace means absence of war but in reality it is more than that. 

Peace is a situation where individuals commit to ensuring that all enjoy their rights, have human dignity and are not subjected to any form of violence. 

This is the situation where people make a commitment that they will resort to peaceful means of resolving their differences. 

Besides physical and direct violence where people kill, fight, rape and torture, violence can still be perpetuated through laws, institutions, culture and norms.

Peace is therefore the absence of violence not the absence of war.

So does our education promote peace or violence?

Has the UN declaration of International Decade for Peace brought any change to the content and purpose of education we provide to our children?

Has the Ministry of Education and Training changed what it has been teaching in order to ensure that the ideals cherished by the Vision 2020 becomes a reality?

In one of the public fora, where inclusion of peace education in the curriculum which is in line with the UN declaration was suggested, Minister of Education and Training Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla rejected the proposal “as one of the usual calls for everything to be included in the school curriculum”.

Many policymakers hold the similar view that peace could be achieved through other means and it does not need to be incorporated in schools.

Perhaps what could be helpful in this important debate could be what is peace education and then see whether it is right to have prompt and conclusive negative response.

Peace education is the process through which learner’s critical consciousness is developed.

It promotes the culture of peace.

The culture of peace as defined by the United Nations is “a set of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations”. 

This is a departure from the culture of violence observable in government, schools, political parties, civil society organisations, families, sports associations and everywhere.

If the Ministry of Education and Training is ready to discharge its national mandate towards Vision 2020, it has to replace the culture of violence inherent in the current education system.

The culture of violence believes in power based on force, having enemies, authoritarian governance, secrecy and propaganda, armament, exploitation of people and  male domination.

The culture of peace believes in dialogue to resolve conflicts, tolerance, solidarity, understanding, democratic participation, free flow of information, disarmament, human rights, sustainable development and equality of women and men.

So the question is: do we still find peace education elusive and having no place in our curriculum? 

If so what would be the contribution of the Ministry of Education and Training in realiSing the Vision 2020?   

Lesotho needs a clearly defined policy on peace education in schools. 

This policy which shall be complimented by the curriculum should be entitled: Turning schools into peaceful learning environment.

This should be the policy that prepares schools to deal with all forms of violence.

It should outlaw ill-treatment of the newcomers, outlaw the culture of teachers imposing leaders over students and democratise all levels of school governance.

Every school should have a democratically elected student council made of groups and associations operating in the school.

All those willing to contest for leadership should be given opportunity to canvass and in doing so learn some key features of the electoral processes and code of conduct. 

The council of students should be empowered by the regulations to engage the school administration on issues of interests to students. 

The relationship between the council and the management should be cordial and be formalised.

All students’ organisations operating in school should be registered and commit to adhere to the minimum standards of code of ethics. 

In this way students would be continually trained into responsible leaders, learning to tolerate different views, learning to resolve conflicts peacefully and being helped to see how possible it is to have a peaceful world.   

The policy shall move away from teacher-to-student centred approach and the classroom shall be a platform for students to explore their potential under guidance.

When students are taken through peace education they will acquire progressive virtues.

Where a student pride is derived from him/her topping a class in mathematics and science, with peace education a student’s target and pride should be that no student in his/her class should fail maths. 

In this way a student would learn to see his/her success in the light of interests and success of others. 

In other words peace education is educating children to competently deal with challenges of the world and creating a better world for all.

In fact no child who went through peace education should ever be ready to serve under any form of dictatorship.

If we adopt peace education, we will hardly have people ready to harm and hurt others.

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