What role do teachers have in peace building?

With global inequality levels at historic highs and where conflict, war, instability and violence is widespread, understanding how educators can help promote peace is more important than ever.

Academic research indicates the important role of teachers in peace building. But how do teachers actually go about this, and what conditions are they working under? How do decisions about management and governance affect education in practice? And what challenges are teachers facing on a day-to-day basis?

Professors Mario Novelli and Yusuf Sayed have been trying to answer some of these questions. Their recent research draws on evidence from a UNICEF- and ESRC-funded project on education and peace building, using data collected from fieldwork across Myanmar, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.

Previous approaches have regarded education as peripheral to peace building, but Novelli and Sayed highlight the need for a more holistic approach. Their research recognises teachers’ potential to contribute to peace, social cohesion and sustainable development, but also suggests that peace and economic development are inseparable. Therefore, peace building initiatives should be tailored to their particular historical and political context and the lived realities of the teachers and students.

Teachers can aid development goals by using the classroom as a space to introduce ideas such as sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, non-violence, global citizenship and cultural diversity.

Novelli and Sayed's findings have implications for teachers’ governance, teacher training, and education policy and practice more generally. Poorly-paid, demoralised, overworked and poorly supported teachers are unlikely to become effective agents for positive change. Their research recognises that teachers need conducive working conditions, professional support and an enabling policy environment, including textbooks free of bias and discrimination.

This research is funded by UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy (PBEA) programme and an ESRC-DFID Pathways to Poverty Alleviation Research Grant led by the University of Sussex (2014–16).

Mario Novelli is a Professor of the Political Economy of Education and Director for the Centre for International Education (CIE).

Yusuf Sayed is a Professor of International Education and Development Policy at Sussex.

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