Peace education in the COVID-19 context (Part 1)
How can we promote peace education during a pandemic? This is the first of a 2-part series examining the state of peace education in our schools, and ways that organizations like PeaceQuest can team-up with teachers to provide students with transformational peace learning opportunities.
When the PeaceQuest Leadership and Education Initiative set out in January 2020 to promote peace education – we thought our job was pretty straight forward: promote our online resources, work with teachers, and voila! Millions of students learn about peace, alternatives to war, and ways to prevent conflict.
But things got a little bit complicated when the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in late March.
How could our organization interact with teachers when all the schools were closed? The situation did not improve much when teaching went online, as teachers and students and parents grappled with the new technology and unfamiliar teaching methods using video chats from home.
As confusion slowly became the “new normal” in the following school year, PeaceQuest joined with others to find solutions.
In December we wanted to kick-start a conversation about how we can help to advance peace and social justice education during the COVID-19 context.
So, we assembled 20 people working in peace education from many areas, 7 teachers, staff from 2 school boards, and representatives from 11 leading non-profit groups working in peace education.
We asked each other about our knowledge of peace and social justice education:
- What are the critical challenges that need to be addressed?
- What are the gaps in our knowledge?
- What opportunities do we have?
The discussion identified lots of challenges. “Teachers are in “crisis” mode, addressing the pandemic first, extracurriculars and professional development falling behind,” said one teacher.
But even in “normal” times, peace education is not always easy.
For instance, some pointed out that peace education is not explicit in curriculum. “There are refences within different courses and lots of teachers doing creative things around conflict resolution, restorative justice, etc. But it’s not as explicit in the curriculum as we’d like,” said one teacher.
Our educational system is very averse to dealing with subjects that may cause controversy with parents.
Others noted the definition of peace education can be elusive. There is a “lack of clarity about what peace education actually is,” said one participant.
Some researchers have identified the problem that our educational system is very averse to dealing with subjects that may cause controversy with parents. There is a “lack of understanding about how adults can speak with students about the issues,” said a teacher in our group. We need to be, “creating a safe space for dialogue.”
In part 2 of our series on peace education in the COVID-19 context, to be published next week, we will look at how teachers and non-profits are developing innovative solutions to these challenges, and creating opportunities to greatly expand peace and social justice education for students enrolled in K-12.