The crucial role of teachers in peacebuilding

New paper focuses on centrality of teachers to peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts

A community teacher posing by a blackboard in the Central African Republic ©UNICEF CAR/2015/KIM

‘The Role of Teachers in Peacebuilding’ is the latest literature review from the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding. Carried out by a team of experts from the University of Sussex, the review explores the role of teachers in promoting peace, reconciliation, social cohesion and violence mitigation in countries affected by conflict.

The revealed centrality of teachers

Teachers often play a central, but revealed role in peacebuilding. This is the crucial conclusion of the new literature review. More credence should be given to the transformative capabilities of well trained, supported, motivated and remunerated teachers. Deeper understandings of the myriad of pressures faced by teachers both inside and outside of the classroom are required, allied to a clear recognition, backed by positive policy and funding initiatives, that education and teachers hold one of the keys to building successful and sustainable peace in post-conflict situations around the world.

Teacher supply and deployment

Usually, there is broad societal consensus that ensuring educational opportunities is crucial for a peaceful future.

But when addressing efforts to ensure that teachers are available in post-conflict contexts we noted that, in the initial stages of rebuilding an education system, it can be difficult to attract the most qualified candidates and ensure a representative teaching body, including male and female candidates.

Solutions for teacher deployment range from incentives such as hardship grants, employment of personnel from remote communities who are provided with school-based training, scholarships for female teachers who commit on completion to teach in remote schools where girls face barriers to enrollment, and the appointment of teachers from historically marginalized groups, although each of these policy decisions may exacerbate existing or even create new inequalities.

The complexity of the issues and the contexts in which teachers operate can result in unintended consequences from well-meaning interventions with diminishing effects on peacebuilding, creating dilemmas for teachers, policy makers and donors.

Developing teachers as agents for peacebuilding

Professional development for teachers is considered vital in supporting teachers to ensure equity, peace and social cohesion.

While teachers can be victims or perpetrators during a conflict, it is important to see them as part of the solution when rebuilding an education system.

The literature has many examples, illustrating the potential in developing teachers for peacebuilding, including the development of individual competencies to deliver both the skills for employment and social cohesion. Both initial and continuing/in-service professional development are vital to ensuring that teachers develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to become active agents of peace and social cohesion in classrooms, school and communities.

Teachers, as key agents in educational systems, address the legacy of civil conflicts in contexts where ethnicity, race or religion have mitigated against the promotion of social cohesion. A significant vehicle for teacher agency as proponents of or against social cohesion is the curriculum and, within that, the use of textbooks.

Textbooks are not used in isolation, and their content is mediated by teachers and students to create meaning in specific social contexts and in classrooms. The degree of agreement or discrepancy between text book content and a teachers own positions and experiences will result in a degree of negotiation between the teacher and the textbook. A teacher’s ethnicity, geographical location, personal beliefs, political leanings, and perception of the desirability of relationships with ‘the other’ will impact on how they negotiate the text ranging on a continuum from upholding its narratives to subverting them.

Systematic and systemic approaches

In drawing together each of the strands outlined above, it becomes clear that the way in which teachers teach is just as important as what they teach, in facilitating the knowledge skills and attitudes that facilitate or obscure peaceful futures.

It is also crucial to realize that an education system is a whole that requires coherent thinking, that there is a symbiotic relationship between all dimensions and levels of the system, requiring a systematic and systemic approach to peacebuilding in education. And crucially, as with all interventions, context matters.

The Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding is a partnership between the UNICEF Peacebuilding Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA) and the University of Amsterdam, the University of Sussex, Ulster University and in country partners. The Consortium has undertaken to release a number of publications and has started with a short series of Literature Reviews, which draw together and landscape a disparate research base. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have completed a review addressing, ‘Youth Agency, Peacebuilding and Education’ and colleagues at Ulster University will publish ‘The Integration of Education and Peacebuilding: A Review of the Literature’ in the coming weeks.

Author(s)

Yusuf Sayed is the South African Research Chair in Teacher Education, and the Founding Director of the Centre for International Teacher Education (CITE), at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT),...
Deputy Director, Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex
Professor Mario Novelli is Professor of the Political Economy of Education and Deputy Director of the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex. Previously he worked at the University of...

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