Research on education and conflict shows that education systems are not politically neutral but are an important part of the political economy that can exacerbate or mitigate conflict (Novelli et al., 2014; Bush and Saltareilli, 2000). The curriculum can be used as a vehicle to promote dominant ideologies. There are numerous instances where school curricula have been used to oppress particular ethnic groups and to promote hatred, xenophobic and racist ideologies, militarism and religious warfare (Dupuy, 2008). On the other hand, there are also many examples of curricula that have been deliberately designed to promote peace. This paper looks at a range of approaches to developing curricula that promote peace, and the evidence, where available, of the effectiveness of such approaches.
The paper notes that:
- The evidence base on the impact of curricular approaches on peacebuilding is limited. Programmes are rarely evaluated using rigorous methods and most of the research is observational and qualitative.
- Education to promote peacebuilding, or Learning to Live Together, can be introduced into curricula through stand-alone subjects such as peace education, ethics education, human rights education, or integrated throughout the curriculum using carrier subjects such as history, social studies, life skills, civics, art and physical education.
- Peace education programmes that combine school-based lessons supported by well-designed teaching and learning materials with teacher training and community based training have been found to have positive impacts on participants’ attitudes and behaviours in conflict-affected settings, at least in the short term.
- History education is contentious and sometimes removed from curricula in the post-conflict period. Innovative approaches to history teaching with potential to promote peacebuilding have been developed but these are rarely used in mainstream curricula.
- Citizenship education can be used to promote national unity and develop peacebuilding behaviours among youth.
- Mother tongue education can reduce learning disparity between groups but there can also be a case for using a single language of instruction to promote national unity.
- Technical and vocational education and training can provide youth with economically attractive alternatives to joining armed groups and assist with the reintegration of ex-combatants into society. However, there is a danger that such programmes can raise false expectations of employment prospects.
- A participatory approach to curriculum development can ensure that the needs of marginalised groups are taken into account and can be a peacebuilding process in itself. A project involving youth as facilitators of community consultations on the national curriculum in Somalia has shown many positive outcomes.
- A significant challenge for curriculum development for peacebuilding is to achieve an appropriate balance between embracing diversity (e.g. cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious) whilst seeking to promote national unity and identity.